In our final installment honoring Children’s Grief Awareness month, guest writer Lisa Appelo shares her wisdom from shepherding her own children through grief after the unexpected death of her husband.
When I was newly pregnant, I bought all the books – What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the La Leche League handbook and more. I had dreams for my kids. I wanted to be the best mom I could be and give my children the best childhood I could.
But we don’t get a say in all of life’s paths. One day, I was the happy wife and mom of seven kids and the next? A widow and single mom, thrust into a new path we’d never expected.
My husband’s death affected every corner of our lives — every holiday, every milestone, every celebration, every struggle, every weekday dinner.
Excruciating as my grief has been, seeing my children in pain has been harder still. This is not the childhood I chose for them.
And yet, God has. While I was busy buying books and prepping a nursery, God knew this would be my children’s story.
I’ve come to see our children’s grief isn’t something to be fixed but an experience we need to help them navigate.1
Parents are essential to helping our children not just get through grief but grow in grief. Here are a few ways I’ve found to help shepherd my children in grief.
Give each other grace to grieve. Days after Dan’s memorial service, the kids and I gathered on couches and chairs in the family room. It was our normal morning Bible time, but I first needed to address our churning emotions. We’re going to need to give each other grace to grieve, I announced. Grief looks different for each of us. Children grieve differently than adults, teens grieve differently than preschoolers and girls grieve differently than boys.
I didn’t hide my sadness from my kids. They saw me cry as we did Bible time each morning, recalled stories of their dad and faced new tasks together. My children’s emotions often surfaced at inopportune times. My teen daughter would invariably need to talk just as I was dragging myself to bed and my four-year-old broke down every day for well over a year saying she missed her dad. Grace to grieve, I told myself, and each time I stopped what I was doing to enter the conversation on their terms.
It’s also important to create a safe space for hard questions. I was surprised when my three older kids approached me the night after my husband’s death, wanting to know if we had enough money. It was a real fear for them. Sitting down together, I gave them enough information to assure them we’d be okay without disclosing every financial detail.
Grief triggers other hard questions and even young kids often understand more than we think. Will you die too, mom? Will I die young like dad? Why didn’t God answer my prayer? I answered honestly with the information that child could handle. We looked up scripture and trusted God with questions scripture doesn’t answer.
Because children continue to grow into grief, I’ve tried to keep an ongoing conversation. After the first couple months, my kids rarely talked about their feelings or cried openly, though research tells us children think about their deceased parent daily. I’ve read kids don’t want to make it harder on the grieving parent but I also found mine wanted to feel like things were “normal.”
Telling stories about their dad is a great way to open a conversation. We’ve also watched a few grief videos at home and read books on heaven and loss together. I will sometimes put into words what is obvious in the moment – dad would have loved watching your game tonight or I know it was hard doing that without your dad.
Finally, it’s important to give our kids a Biblical context for suffering. In a world obsessed with itself, our kids need to know this world is not our home. Suffering is a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world and our only hope is in Christ. Death reminds us that a life of any measure is short but that being about our Father’s business can make it deep.
Suffering is not the childhood I would have chosen for my kids. My prayer has been that my children and I won’t just accept God’s will but that we will agree with it. That we will agree God is right and good and that he used what threatened to undo us to shape us as his own.
Lisa Appelo is a speaker, writer and Bible teacher who inspires women to deepen their faith in grief and cultivate hope in life’s storms. Nine years ago, Lisa became a sudden widow and single mom to 7. She’s passionate about rich Bible study and teaches a weekly ladies Bible class. A former litigating attorney, her days are now filled with parenting, ministry, writing, speaking and running enough to justify lots of dark chocolate. Get your free 5-day Bible study on Flourishing in the Unexpected here and connect with Lisa on Instagram @lisaappelo.