Coping with Loss
While it’s true that dealing with death is a part of life, this isn’t comforting to someone who has lost a loved one. The death of a family member or close friend can be devastating, and it will take time for the grieving process to end. However, grief and mourning are typically more difficult for a child with special needs.
Any child can have trouble coming to terms with loss, and some may not fully understand what’s going on. But there are ways you can help a child get through their mourning.
What Grief Looks Like
Whether someone has special needs or not, they typically go through the same five stages of grief.
Denial and isolation: Refusing to accept the death and deny that anything has happened.
Anger: Feeling strong, negative emotions, often centred on others who had nothing to do with the death.
Bargaining: Trying to feel in control of the situation by running “What if we only ….” scenarios.
Depression: Getting sad to the point where you obsess over the death and how it impacts you.
Acceptance: Finally coming to terms with the passing and getting ready to live a normal life again.
When this happens to a child with special needs, these stages can come in any order. For example, a child with anger or anxiety issues might skip denial and start with anger and depression. That’s fine, as no one must go through those stages in order.
Before a child can go through these stages, they need someone to explain the situation. It might be tempting to consider not telling your child, but that wouldn’t be in his or her best interest. Your child deserves to know the truth no matter what they’re special needs may be.
Be honest about how you are feeling when talking to your child. Don’t avoid using terms like “sad.” Along the same lines, understand that a child with special needs may not understand phrases like, “Going to sleep,” as they will likely think you literally mean sleep leads to death. Use simple words and explain what’s going on in a way you think will best help your child understand that he or she won’t be seeing Grandpa again. You can also take time to celebrate the life of the deceased which can help your child focus on the positive aspects their memories of their loved one.
Once you’ve explained what has happened, you need to be there to help your child cope with these stages of grief. Here are some tips:
– Be patient as your child processes their grief. Everyone’s mourning process is unique and takes a different amount of time.
– Help them when they are hurting, but let them experience the pain. They need that to finally reach acceptance.
– Allow the child to ask questions, and when you answer, try to be honest but concise. Longer answers can just complicate the situation.
No one wants to think about the death of a loved one or even our own mortality, but unfortunately, we must be realistic. Since many children with special needs have limited speech and communication abilities, simplify the language as best you can in a way that you think will get through to them. It’s not an easy feat, but try not to underestimate your child, he or she may understand more than you give them credit for.
In addition to all of this, you may be in mourning as well, so this and incredibly overwhelming time. Ultimately, you will do the best you can to help your child through this, but take care of yourself too.