Let Children Grieve

In Memory Of

They arrive as three. A child, around 8 or 9, and her parents. The father and daughter stay outside the shop. The mother comes in. He reads out the text on the shop window, “This shop is part of a project that’s trying to find different ways of thinking and talking about grief…”, “What’s grief dad?”, “What do you think it is"?”, “Is it when people are sad?”, “Yes, it’s what people feel when someone dies”, “Ah yeah, OK, grief. Grief, grief, grief, grief…” Meanwhile, in the shop, the mother buys a card, and tells us it’s for a friend whose son died three years ago.

We need to let children grieve.

In Preston and in Middlesbrough, we’ve met and spoken with many children in the shop. The young girl in Preston (maybe she was 6 or 7) whose mum bought her an “In Memory Of” T shirt. The brother and sister (11 and 9) in Middlesbrough who told us of their friend, and neighbour, and dog, who had all died this year. The children whose parents had died. The children whose friends had died. The children whose siblings had died.

We need to let children grieve.

In Preston and in Middlesbrough, we’ve spoken with adults who have shared their own experiences of childhood and grief. The woman who as a girl (11) was sent back to school the day after her mother’s funeral, to find that the teachers didn’t know she’d died. The grandmother who won’t talk of her son’s death in case it upsets his children, her grandchildren. The silence, the worry, the overwhelming love and protection and care that try to keep death at bay, keep grief at bay, keep acknowledgement at bay, keep tears at bay.

One of the T shirts in our collection says “Let Me Be Sad”. This phrase - like most of the ones we’ve used - came from a conversation we were having with a small group of people while we were developing this project. A young woman told us a story about when she was babysitting for her niece, who fell and hurt herself and cried. Rushing to comfort her, the woman told the child not to cry, and the child shouted, “Let me be sad!”

We need to let children grieve.

Let me be sad. Let me be angry. Let me be quiet. Let me shout. Let me play. Let me learn. Let me cry. Let me grieve.

Children are so much better than adults when it comes to feeling, and allowing feelings to be, without a desire to censor or stifle or hide. Children are so much better than adults when it comes to making sense of inexplicable things (they are born into a wildly inexplicable world, after all, and “growing up” is what we call the process of making sense of it). So why are so many of us adults so keen to “protect” or shield children from grief? Why have we developed all these euphemisms that avoid talking about death (“she’s gone away”, “he’s gone to a happy place”, “she’s gone to be with grandpa”)? Why do so many of us think that children should be kept away from funerals, kept away from death?

We need to find better words to talk with our children about grief.

We need to learn about grief and teach grief and acknowledge grief and be with grief, and let children be with grief.

We need to learn from children how to live with emotions in all their complexity, without embarrassment or shame.

We need to let children grieve.

David HarradineComment