Because I am a mother, a nurse, and a human being-- I want to comfort those who are uncomfortable. This is my personal nature, which it true with many people. We want to fix the broken. We want to dry tears. We want to make people happy.
I have an adult friend who has taught me so much about grief by sharing her own childhood experience. When she was six years old, she came home from school and there were a lot of people in her house with gifts of toys and candy. She found it to be very odd. Then her father brought her into the other room and told her that her mother had died. Pause for a moment and ponder over this question-- did the toys and candy make her feel better?
In my own life, I have experienced watching several different children who are learning that a loved one has died. Remember that children think and process ideas in their minds differently, depending on their developmental age. Recently, I observed adults trying to comfort a newly grieving child with a piece of cake. This was not necessarily a bad thing because we want to comfort others. We do not want them to cry or to be sad. (Side note-- How many of us use food for comfort when we are sad?)
Anyway-- I introduced myself to the little girl and said -- "tell me what is happening today." The little girl sobbed as she spoke. I simply ssid, "cry. It is ok. It will make you feel better. I will stay right here with you and keep you safe. This is a safe place to relax and cry.” The little girl continued to sob. I quietly asked "would you like a hug?" She nodded and jumped into my lap, holding me tight. I told her that I was also a "nana" and i would hold her for as long as she wanted me to hold her. We were very quiet for a long time. She needed this time to sob. Eventually the crying stopped and I asked "are you scared?" She nodded yes. I said "it is ok to be scared. I promise that I am going to keep you safe. Can you tell me what makes you scared?"
As this dialogue continued the little girl allowed me to understand that she was confused and did not understand the situation. She told me what she had observed. Side note-- Remember that little ones do not really understand death and often have elements of "magical thinking."
This immediate situation was eventually resolved. Crying DOES help. Tears are our friend. It is very important to use simple words but to also be honest.
Personally-- I remember being surprised and shocked when I was I tossed into this frightening foreign world of grievers. The foundation of my world had been shattered. I wanted to be swallowed up by the earth because I was so very very afraid. I am thankful for all that I have learned through my own personal journey. I detest delivering bad news, but I am thankful that I am continuing to learn how to make this experience less horrific.
Today I am most thankful for the insight that I have learned from the six year old who is now an adult-- The little girl who received toys and candy along with horrible life altering news. The little girl who did not feel safe and comforted. The little girl who was a grief pioneer and whose sacrifice has taught me so much.