Denial: Dealing With Death

Part of a multi-segmented series on Denial

When child(ren) lose a parent(s) to death it can be a complicated situation to deal with. When child(ren) asks what happened, how do you explain it to them and help them understand? This is the situation for some families unfortunately.

We are a single parent household and have been since she was born. She met her father once, when she was about 18 months to 1-year-old ish. Then he was gone. It was shocking for both of us and completely unexpected. How do you tell your daughter that her daddy is never coming back again? How do you fill that gaping hole left by the other parent? She was so young it really did not have an impact on her until she was about 3. I surrounded her with loving people that supported her; myself, I am a stay at home mom so I had a lot of time to devote to her.

According to  attachment  theory, young children need to form a strong attachment to at least one primary  caregiver  who can provide the unconditional love and support that allows them to form develop necessary relationship skills as they grow older. 

Psychology Today

It did not help that in 2016, when she was two, we entered into a dependency and spent the next 19 months in a different household. The foster family (FF) was a two-parent family and multiple children. After she came home, I allowed them to stay in our lives. This has just confused her more and caused us more problems in the long run. That is another blog for another day.

Lil One misses her Dad. Every man that has become my friend she seeks to find as a dad. It has made life interesting for myself and friends. Dating has been non-existent with the exception of a two-year relationship I was in until January 2019.

She is desperately attempting to grab onto her foster dad (FD) as Daddy. I am not sure if the FF is encouraging it or not because currently, we speak through a mediator. Lil One is currently residing there and we [FF and I] do not get along because I refuse to back down on a few things. That is another blog for another day, however.

Studies show that having two parents in a household is better than one, however there are families of single parents that show children prevail just as much as those in multi parented households. It is the environment and nurturing given to the child(ren) by the parent(s) that is needed for child(ren) to grow and prosper.

In addition, as Hoeg and her co-authors point out, whether or not children develop later problems often depends on the surviving parent and how well they can help their children overcome grief and learn to move on with their lives. With time and emotional support from the surviving parent, children are often able to adapt to the loss of a parent and develop new attachments to other people in their lives. Psychologist John Bowlby referred to this process as “attachment reorganization”; children who are unable to form new attachments typically develop later problems as result.

Psychology Today

One of the best ways I have found helping her deal with loss is when our cat, Nae Nae, and my Service Animal Heidi passed on. They passed on within a year of each other and while she was living with the FF in 2016-2017. I did not have to tell her until she started visiting me at home. I told her that they were in the rainbow and anytime she wanted to see them all she had to do was look at a rainbow and they would be there. She draws a lot of rainbows.

When she was returned to my custody in 2017, I started her in counseling to deal with the removal from me and the transition back home. Lil One spent about 4-5 months in counseling for PTSD in early 2018. During this time, I watched Lil One bloom back into a self-confident child. It was wonderful to see that in her again.

We worked on her self-talk and I almost had the phrases “I am a bad/good girl” and “was I bad/good?” removed from her vocabulary. Her dad came up in counseling and she talked about it in there a lot. One day she asked if her daddy was with Heidi and Nae Nae in the rainbow. I told her they were all up there playing together watching over her. She was sad over her Dad occasionally but with a lot of love, hugs, kisses, talking and the people I surrounded her with; she was making it through the grieving process.

I allowed her to return to church with FF around Spring 2018; I did not see the harm in it at the time. Occasionally she would make comments I thought were odd but I am not Christian so I expected that and just let it be. However, in mid-late 2019 she started talking more about how wonderful it was to be with Jesus in Heaven. She would ask if Heidi and Nae Nae were in heaven with Jesus and I told her yes; that is what the rainbow is because all dogs and cats go to heaven. One day she started crying and told me that FF had told her “animals don’t go the heaven and there is no rainbow.” I am sure she misunderstood however she was devastated. Nae Nae was her cat and Heidi were the center of her world for so long; I had them before she was born.

In Spring 2019 she started asking about her dad again. She was confused and did not understand why everyone else had a daddy and she did not. We talked about him and talked about the rainbow but this time it was different. She was very stressed about it and would become angry and cry non-stop.

During the month of August 2019, I had heard Lil One say a few times she wants to be with Jesus. I thought it was harmless until she told me what a wonderful thing it is to be with Jesus and she wants to do it now. This alarmed me and still does as I am writing this. Lil One’s perception on things is too literal at times. Some things she just does not truly understand. I know this will change over time.

August 27, 2019 Lil One came into the house crying; her and her friend had been at the river again. She was crying because they had tried to get in the river and was told to get out. She knew she was going to be in trouble. She was told the first time by myself and her friend’s mom to not go by the river.

Her and I live be a river, which we cross almost daily, and talk about the current, water, trees, leaves, rocks, grass by it, etc. We have been having these talks during her entire 2018-2019 school year. I have explained to her she is not to go in the river without my permission, or myself there, because the current can pull her under. She could be hurt or be with Jesus. The night she came home from the river she knew she had disobeyed me; however, she was going to be with Jesus so it was ok.

It was not ok. My first thought was she wants to be with her dad that much?! Then I remembered she was 6 and being taught Jesus was wonderful. Of course, she wants to be with Jesus; who would not? She just does not connect it with her actually dying.

I messaged the foster mom (FM) explaining the situation and that, for now, Lil One would not be coming to their church. I needed to re-explain some things to her and felt that their church was not a good environment for her at the moment. If only FM could have respected my wishes. That is for another blog though.

I know this is going to be an ongoing process with her, especially when there is mixed messages coming from others. This is difficult for me to deal with, watching her flounder in a sea of confusion about it when I want her to just be ok. Even though I know that grief is something she will be living with for the rest of her life. All I can do is help her cope.

Image credits: Featured, by Rau Animal Hospital


Categories: Children, Denial

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