It had been an emotional evening as children and family members gathered in early December to prepare for the difficult holiday season ahead. All of the GriefWorks children and their families had lost a significant loved one. Some of the children had lost a parent. Others had lost a sibling or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle. Although every loss was unique, all of the mourning families had one thing in common. They were all missing their loved one at a time when the importance of family being together is stressed.
The most touching element of the annual GriefWorks Commemoration is a candle lighting ceremony in which children and family members can honor and remember their loved one. Each GriefWorks family came forward as their loved one’s name was called. Each child lit a candle and shared some important, valued memory about their loved one.
Once all the families had lit a candle, staff members and volunteers had an opportunity to participate also. One by one the staff and GriefWorks volunteers lit candles and shared their losses.
At that time just two months prior to the commemoration ceremony my 76 year-old mother had died of cancer. I struggled with the pros and cons of lighting a candle. Somehow then it seemed too soon for me to be able to share my very personal grief publicly. I wasn’t sure if I could light the candle without having a major grief outburst in front of a group of impressionable, vulnerable children. (Yes, I know that grief outbursts are healthy but I struggle at times with when and where it is appropriate for me to mourn.)
When the opportunity came, I lit the candle in honor of my mother. I shared with the group her name, the details of her death and how much I miss her. My tears welled up as I spoke, but the devastating grief outburst that I had feared did not happen.
After the close of the ceremony, one of our five year olds came up to me. She held out her arms and asked if I would give her a hug. The mother of this five year old had been brutally murdered. I never turn down a hug from a mourning five year old. As I leaned down to hug her, she whispered in my ear, “I know you miss your Mommy too.”
I continue to be amazed that a five year old child can reach out from the depths of her sorrow over the loss of her mother to comfort me, a man old enough to be her grandfather. We adults sometime wonder in our efforts to reach out to mourning children if they get our intended messages about grief. Believe me, children and teens in grief get it. Spending time with and encouraging children in grief is time well spent.
For the Resources section at GriefWorks to help mourning children, teens and adults you know, click here.
To help mourning children by volunteering GriefWorks, find out more here.