I saw Billy Crystal in his one-man show “700 Sundays” and was deeply touched by his personal story. He relates how his father’s untimely death at age 54, when Crystal was 15, set him apart from his peers and forever changed him. He tells of looking in the mirror shortly after his father’s death and seeing a man instead of a 15-year old.
Crystal’s story resonated with me because I share the same legacy; I was 11-years old when I too lost my 54-year old father. When Crystal relates the burden of loss by saying it felt as if he pushed a boulder through adolescence, his description made sense to me. He also relates how isolating it felt to be so different when you’re a child because it’s rare to find other peers that share a similar loss.
So what can you do to help a grieving child? You can ask, “How are you doing?” It might be just the opening for them to share their feelings and experience. In Crystal’s case, his coach in high school asked him this question; for Crystal, it was a welcome question and the first time he truly opened up with someone and shared what was going on in his life.
If you do make an overture to a child and they seem unwilling to share, you might tell them that you’ll make yourself available to listen in the future, and let them know how to reach out to you. And there’s nothing wrong in your checking back with them from time to time.
My mom was overwhelmed with work, her four children, and her own grief after my father’s death; she just didn’t have time to sit with us and ask how we were doing. I’m not sure that I would have burdened her with the truth anyway. But if a family friend, relative, or teacher had taken the time to seek me out, I would have welcomed the opportunity to voice my feelings and fears.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.