Kids and Kangaroos Keep Jumping Forward
By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, VOICES director of family programs
March 19, 2007
As surely as the darker days of winter lead to brighter days of spring, life is forever changing. Years have a set number of minutes and hours but individuals have a rhythm of their own. Regardless of what happens - good and bad, sad and joyous - life "goes on." Children and teens in particular are the most striking example of the momentum of life. They are constantly growing and changing - in the blink of an eye their shoes are too tight and their jeans too short. They race through life, acquiring new experiences and meeting new people as they go. Along the way, a bereaved child's grief and memories change shape as well.
An important step on the bereavement journey is redefining the relationship with the person who died and committing to new relationships with others. It is not easy to find a comfortable and comforting place in one's memory to keep a relationship with a cherished person. It does and should happen but can feel confusing if someone important in a child's life has died. Children can feel disloyal or guilty if they have fun or find someone new to share their secrets with. The challenge is to strengthen and maintain memories while also adding new experiences.
Keeping memories of the person who died alive can be done in a casual way - by having pictures around or mentioning the person in everyday conversation - "Dad loved blueberry pancakes for breakfast just like you." Also keep in mind the non-routine dates and occasions that are special, not just national holidays but times that are more personal. What if Mom always rented movies for Friday family night but Mom has died? Don't just ignore the night but rather talk as a family about addressing that strong memory and activity.
Children may need help balancing the reality of a person no longer being physically present - perhaps not cheering from the sidelines at every basketball game - with carrying memories onward. A child or teen can always keep and imagine the feeling of support a reassuring Dad provided. Even further, children and teens need to understand it's OK and necessary to have other people take on different roles.
Help the child or teen identify what things the person who died did that were especially important and search out new supports - perhaps a favorite uncle is head family cheerleader now. He can never replace Dad, and things will never be the same, but it's healthy when supportive relationships take new form.
Regarding kids and kangaroos? Kangaroos can not walk backwards - they only jump forward. Bereaved children and teens often do their best when they keep moving forward while holding precious memories and feelings in a pocket close to their heart and mind.
And for VOICES kids, teens, and caregivers, check out our VOICES For Kids website to find art, thoughts, and articles just for you.