A few days after Julian died, I had a conversation with a children’s minister about how children grieve. She explained that children relate to their grief like an object they keep in their pocket. From time to time they take it out, look at it, think about it, and then they put it back in their pocket.
Many people have asked me, “How is Oscar doing?” The answer is, he’s fine. Great, really. He has emotional moments from time to time, but for the most part, he’s as cheerful and happy as always. It’s a real blessing to us that Oscar is this way, because he keeps us motivated to feel happy too.
I think we can learn a lot from a typical child’s response to grief. It’s interesting to recognize that a child’s response is based on instinct rather than life experience. It’s also interesting to recognize the core difference between my grief and Oscar’s grief: I am grieving the loss of the future that I had planned, Oscar is not.
He misses his brother, but Oscar stays in the present. He sometimes takes grief out of his pocket, looks at it, maybe thinks something like “I wish Julian was here to play outside with me today.” But he’s certainly not thinking, “I’m sad because Julian won’t be my best man when I get married.” He might think that on his wedding day, but even then he will be grieving the present, not the future he expected.
There could be something helpful about visualizing grief as an object I can keep in my pocket. I can take it out, ponder it, grieve the present instead of the future I planned, design a new plan for the future, create my new normal. Then put it back into my pocket… not for the purposes of forgetting about it, but for the purpose of helping me focus on the present… until I take it out again.
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Leanne (Trebilcock) Avila
April 20, 2011 at 8:30 am
“I am grieving the loss of the future that I had planned, Oscar is not.”
Another beautiful post, Emily. I see glimmers of these words in my own life. And truly what a blessing it is for kids not to have our perspective, our experience.
Here’s to focusing on the present…
February 23, 2013 at 2:34 am
Hi I’ve come across your blog from google. My youngest child (nearly 2) is quite ill with poor prognosis & I have been recently thinking more about the time when she dies and the impact on her older sister. Your comments above are beautiful & have made me think about this whole process a little more positive – which I didn’t think possible. Thanks.