Dear Therapist Within:
My children are 12 and 14 years old. Since their dad passed away suddenly in January they haven’t wanted to spend much time with their grandparents at their home. They are happy to see them if it is at my home or if it’s in a neutral place. This has been really hard on their grandparents because before their son passed away the kids spent every other weekend with them. His parents were his caretakers, as he was disabled due to a car accident that he was in a few years ago. He passed away in the kitchen of his parents’ home. I have gently encouraged the kids to go to their grandparents’ home but they both have said they feel very “uncomfortable” there now and that it’s just too hard to be there without their dad. Is there anything else I can do to help my kids feel comfortable in going back into the home of their grandparents?
ANSWER: What a wonderful opportunity you have in this situation to teach your children some of the basic life skills that they will need to successfully operate out there in the world as adults: how to handle uncomfortable emotions, how to heal from grief, how to support others who are also healing, and how to live their lives with courage.
You can start with explaining to your children that you know they are experience uncomfortable emotions when they are reminded of their dad, when they are in the same environment where they spent most of their time with him. You can explain that that this how you heal the pain – not by suppressing, blocking and keeping it inside, but by letting the emotions wash over them, experiencing the pain and not blocking it, having a good cry, sharing their pain with others who feel the same way they do. You can encourage them to go forward into their feelings, not retreat. You can encourage their dad’s parents to talk about their dad and about their pain from losing him. You can insist that they visit their grandparents and practice courage and strength by confronting their feelings not running away from them. You can explain that this lesson is absolutely essential to their becoming the persons they are meant to be.
You can also explain to them that by visiting with their dad’s parents on a regular basis, the pain will begin to dissipate. Instead, they will eventually grow closer to their dad because of their relationship with his parents and the feeling of being loved and adored will replace the pain.
In essence, you can’t take away the pain. But you need to be the strong parent here – you need to encourage, nudge and finally insist that they deal with their emotions with courage – by being couragous yourself. Only by their moving forward INTO their pain will they get rid of it – and learn the skills they need to have an emotionally peaceful life and the successful relationships – marital and with any future children – that will pave the way to great joy.
Filed under: Life Crises