When Grief Collides with Parenting – By Dina Ramon
A seven-year-old doesn’t dwell on grief. As my own child has demonstrated, they know death happens and that whoever or whatever died isn’t coming back, but their period of visible sadness doesn’t tend to last very long and it forces a parent who may be caught in the middle to move on quicker than we would like. I have faced this head-on in the past six months with the gradual deterioration, death and funerals of my daughter’s two grandfathers – my father-in-law and my stepfather. The most recent of these, the death of my stepfather, happened less than 4 weeks ago.
Leading up to and in the aftermath of their deaths, I found that my parental, emotional persona changed frequently. One minute I would weep openly, then be stoic and serious, and then light up with joy when my daughter asked me to play dolls with her. The challenge is coping with that emotional seesaw as a parent, and also being as honest and emotionally open as you can with your child while maintaining normalcy for them.
My daughter, as I imagine most kids do, gets very worried and nervous when she sees me or my husband cry. It is unsettling for her because she doesn’t see it very often. This year, she’s seen it a lot. I don’t let myself sob heavily as that would scare her. But I tried to prepare her before the wakes, and the funerals, and the visits to her Grandmas who are now living alone. As I gently explained to her several times this year, “Lots of people are going to cry today. They miss Grandpa and will miss him for a long time. It’s ok for them to cry. If you cry it’s ok.”
Losing two people who she loved in such a short timespan was tragic for my daughter but I saw a level of strength, poise and empathy in her that made me so proud; and at the same time so sad that she was caught up in the grief around her. We didn’t try to shelter her from what was happening except in the last days of my stepfather’s battle with pancreatic cancer. She witnessed two relatives get sick, start to slow down, go in and out of the hospital and then become absent from her life. Along the way and after they died she expressed sadness and confusion, asking, “Why did Grandpa die?”
Now she can look at pictures of her grandfathers and smile, with the understanding that they aren’t coming back. But she’s only seven and focuses on the here and now, having moved on from a sadness that I believe was real for her. She still has her grandmas and that makes her happy.
Getting past the two deaths is hard enough. Now my husband and I have stepped into guardian-like roles for the two Grandmas who lost their husbands and need us more than ever. Between caring for our daughter, constantly checking on the Grandmas and being sensitive to their grief, and dealing with the stresses of everyday life, I find myself distracted from the pain of loss that is in my heart.
That heavy, empty feeling of loss is there but is hard to convey to my daughter so I try to grieve silently when I have moments to myself to reflect on happy memories of our loved ones who are gone. I find myself thankful for a brief moment in a busy day when I think or hear something that reminds me of them.
Dina Ramon is a journalist, freelance writer, healthcare public relations professional and independent public relations consultant. Dina is the mother of an 8-year-old girl. She lives with her husband and daughter in Northern Virginia. Between time with her daughter, Dina enjoys running, practicing yoga, reading and music.