Here we are, weeks into quarantine, and there is so much that has changed in so little time. In my house, I have a son who is in eighth grade and a daughter in fifth grade. This year marked graduation, special trips, and many events to commemorate the completion of one milestone and the start of the next one.
Last week, my daughter shared with me that she felt sad. She was sad that she would not be able to enjoy so many activities that a large group of parents and I started planning in June 2019. She’s sad, and I felt sad, too. I wanted to make it better for her but realized I couldn’t offer her a consolation prize or anything else in its place. Nothing.
Everyone is Grieving
My heart breaks for all of our kids, our fifth grade, eighth grade, high school, and college seniors. I realize that it is OK for our children to feel sad and to grieve the experiences they won’t have. I was speaking with my neighbor, a grandmother who is a retired teacher, who offered this perspective: “In a few years, we hope that our kids will move on to other milestones, and these milestones won’t hurt as badly.” One can hope and pray.
According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief that we tend to pass through. Those who are sad and grieving are likely to witness different emotions that they are likely to experience as they process the loss:
- Denial. The belief that this really isn’t happening. It just can’t be true.
- Anger. Once a person can’t hold on to the denial because things really have changed, he or she may feel angry and argue, “Why me? Why is this happening to me?”
- Bargaining. In this stage, the person tries to avoid feelings of grief by the desire to create a compromise, such as, “If I get to do XX, then I would be OK.”
- Depression. When a person reaches this phase, he or she feels sad.
- Acceptance. When a person is able to make peace with the loss.
So, what can we offer our kids when they share that they are sad, that they are missing their friends, their activities, their school, and their milestones?
Listen, Just Listen
As parents, we often feel the need to fix it, to make it better. In this situation, just listen. Let your child share with you what it is they are feeling sad about.
- It’s OK.
- It will get better.
- Everybody is missing XXX, not just you.
- Don’t get upset about it.
- Try not to think about it.
These statements can be invalidating and minimize how your child is feeling. Engage your child and give him or her the space to feel his sadness. They’re not going to break or shatter. They may cry (which will break your heart), so instead, offer a hug, a big bear hug. Rub your child’s back, share your warmth and nurturance, and be in the moment with your child, adolescent, or young adult.
- I hear you.
- I understand.
- I’m sorry you’re sad.
- What do you miss the most about school? Your friends? Your activities?
Don’t avoid the topic or try to distract your child, but rather, just let him or her be to experience the emotions and work through them with you. Sometimes, words don’t need to be said out loud. Sometimes a rub on the back, a hug, and a kiss are comforting and say, “I understand, and I’m sorry.”
And for us adults who may be starting to feel angry about the fear, protecting ourselves and our family, and needing to balance work and homeschooling, it’s OK to feel angry and sad. It’s OK to not like being socially isolated. It’s OK to miss your parents, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends.
For those who have lost friends and family members to the virus, your grief is especially intense. Give yourself space, time, and permission to feel sad. It’s OK. If you have a therapist, talk to him or her. If you don’t, find one. We are available via video and can support you.
This is a time that will be a part of our history, our world, and personal history. Take time to acknowledge your children’s and your own feelings. Don’t hide from them. Seek support and give yourself space and permission to grieve.
Kübler-Ross E (1969). On Death and Dying. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04015-9.