In any running activity they tell you to keep your eye’s forward and focused, and to never look back. When you look back, it slows you down and can cause you to lose your focus. I remember I was running at a race in junior high, and I could tell with each step, that one of my opponents was gaining speed behind me. I jolted my head back to see how close they were getting, and in the process they raced passed me. I felt discouraged and frustrated as I heard my coach’s voice screaming, “Don’t look back Tiff, stay focused! Looking back will only slow you down!”
Moving forward after any tragedy can be very difficult, and many times we find ourselves looking back or stuck feeling as if our feet are planted where we stand. We don’t want our loved one to feel that they are forgotten or no longer loved. Many times we get so wrapped up and swallowed in our grieving and forget to move forward. We look back constantly, not getting to see the great things that are ahead of us. Our healing progression slows down with each look back.
A few weeks ago my cousin Ashlee and her three oldest children came to visit Abbey and me. I couldn't believe the light and joy that I saw in their eyes, and was so grateful to see them progressing and doing so well. Children have such an incredible gift to make people feel so loved and special. I was spoiled with hugs and “I love you” statements all week during their visit. I was amazed at the progress that the children had shown in the last three years. They walked around with such a confidence and love of life. I watched them explore more freely and openly than I have seen them do it in years. I remember going to town with them right after Emmett had passed away. They had darting eyes and were terrified of everyone. We never had to worry about them wondering away from the cart, because they were too scared to. I can’t explain the joy and happiness that this brought me. But how did they get there?
1. One on One
Spending one on one time with grieving children is vital. They need someone to make them feel special, safe and loved. For many of us who are older, we have seen or heard of many who pass away, and we begin to understand the cycle of life. That doesn’t mean it makes it easy, but our brains are able to understand and wrap itself around the concept of loss. For children, it is most likely a new and uncharted path that is confusing and frustrating to them. Trying to figure out why they are sad, why dad and/or mom are sad, and what next is going to happen. Many children act out in fear. Fear that finds its way manifesting in various different ways. One thing Ashlee and I both did the summer following Emmett’s death, was make sure each child had one on one time. A lot of times that “one on one” time ended up being car rides to and from therapy sessions, or ice cream on the way home from an activity. However busy your schedule is, there is always time for the one’s you love most. Go on a walk exploring, take them on a bike ride, or go swimming. Activity generates focus and relaxation in a child’s mind, and allows them an escape from their confusion and sadness.
2. Heal together as a family
This message goes out to parents trying to help a grieving child. I know this isn’t an easy task, and it’s one that you never wanted to go through, but you will find strength in healing side by side with your child. When you have a child, your first thoughts are to their well being. In this situation, I want you to be a little selfish, and don’t put all of your attention and energy in healing them. If you aren’t taking care of yourself and pulling things back together, how do you expect them too? All of your energy and time towards helping your child heal is wasted when you don’t heal alongside them. A stable parent heals more than anything else. I can attest to this. When we lost my dad, my mom’s stability and mood really affected how much we progressed or digressed through the process of healing. I remember one day my mom had a melt down and told all of us kids that she just wanted us all to do well, and to be happy again. All of us were old enough to understand the concept that if Mom’s not happy, no one is happy. She was putting all of her energy in trying to help us heal, but was making no effort in moving forward herself. Therefore, none of us progressed. As soon as she put her focus on healing herself, we all moved forward with her.
3. Laugh it out
My mom always said, "Laughter is the best medicine." I remember so many times coming home from school or work upset, or having an off day, and somehow it would end with me and my mom laughing on the phone, instead of crying. Even during some of my mom's hardest times of brain tumors and cancer, she had such an optimistic view and a hope for great things ahead. I remember right before one of her brain surgeries, she looked at the doctor and sang, "If I only had a brain," the whole way as they strolled her down the hall. To her, laughter was healing. While living with Ashlee, our laugh attacks were some of my favorite memories. The kids would say some of the funniest things. Bailey came running in one day out of breath and kept saying,"Mom...Mom....Mom...what does a partridge look like?" Ash and I both look at each other super confused as Ash told her she had no idea and asked why. Bailey excitedly responded, "Because I looked outside, and I think we have a partridge in our pear tree." We could not stop laughing, and still to this day laugh about that story. What makes you happy? It might be things that happen around you, or a TV show. I promise if you look for it, there is something you can laugh about every day.
4. Count your blessings
When things are going bad, the last thing you want to hear is “Count your blessings.” During the summer I lived with Ashlee, we tried to make it a point to count our blessings. Every day we counted the children as incredible blessings, but many days we struggled to find more blessings than that. With more and more information being called in, it was so easy to look at all of the terrible things going on around us, instead of the good. In any situation where you feel like you have been wronged or you are unhappy with the way your life is, counting your blessings will humble you. There is always something to be grateful for. Even the little things like someone to talk to, a friend, warm running water, cereal, or a roof over your head. What are you grateful for? Before putting your children to bed talk about positive things from the day and what you are grateful for. Allow the child to also show gratitude and remark on blessings they see in their lives.
Even though we are told not to, we all look back. But by striving to see the good, spend time with your families and heal, we can progress and heal. There is not one universal answer for healing, but I recommend following these steps. Each one of them will bring you joy and happiness on your road to recovery.