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Grieving a loved one as a young child is difficult, and it has been a mission of mine to help my kids (and their loved ones!) process as well as possible. Young children just don’t understand death (honestly, I struggle still). My children were 5, 4, and 2 when their dad died. I was horribly unprepared, even more so when it came to knowing what to do to help children grieve well. I learned so much while attending therapy with my then five year old, understanding what was normal, how to respond, and how best to help them. Understanding child grief is complex and they don’t necessarily think how adults think. It has been my mission to help others help their children grieve as I continue to figure it out myself.
How We Can Help
One of the main things I have learned has been to speak often of their father. Especially with our youngest, her memory of her father is near nothing so she struggles even more. She knows he is important and misses him, but does not remember any specifics.
When Marcus first died, I mentioned that I had made picture books of their dad. What I thought would be a sweet memory turned into a precious keepsake for the kids. I made one for each, with pictures of them with dad or just dad being handsome or goofy. The kids treasure the books and are so eager to show them to their friends. But these books would often get lost around the house, which made me nervous because they weren’t cheap (and took foreverrrr to make!).
The Remembering Room
So in honor of Marcus’ Heaveniversary on January 15, we created a little remembering room for the kids in our new house. A place where they can go when they miss him and want to remember him. The place where we store his things and pictures (we will have pictures of him in the rest of the house too, but this is the safe place to go to and have his things that won’t get lost!). That way they have a place to go and remember their dad, paw through his memorabilia, and scour through pictures and feel all the feelings. A place to snuggle and go through their daddy books and reminisce.
Our new home had small partially finished room in the unfinished basement that otherwise served no purpose, but it seemed like the perfect spot to have a small memory shrine for us.
A Place to Remember Together
Dustin lost his nephew a month after Marcus when Elliott was 3. She struggles with loss as well and in a similar timeline to the other kids. It is so nice (and awful) the kids can relate to each other with such a hard thing. Her cousin Tucker was only 16 months when he died and Elliott has a lot of trouble remembering qualities about him. She doesn’t have many true memories of being with him because they were both so little. Our hope is that this room will be a safe place to retreat to, to be sad and miss these important people in their lives. People that left this earth too early and that we love so much. (Room will be shifted around and more pictures of Tucker will be printed- I had those large frames in our last house here before Marcus died).
Celebrating and remembering these loved ones is so important to all of the kids, but especially the young ones, who need us to help them know who they were. A place where they can discover these people that are so significant to them.
The More We Talk, The More We Help
If you’ve lost a loved one, do not avoid talking about them to attempt to protect the kids from these intense emotions. The more we talk about these people, the more connected they feel toward them, and the more they know the emotions they feel are acceptable and normal. The more we help children grieve, the healthier they will be. I don’t ever want the kids to feel that they can’t speak of Marcus because it makes me sad, because then they’ll grow up with all sorts of stifled feelings and pent up emotions. I want them to know that we can be sad together, and that even though our life looks very different now, it is ok to be happy and continue on with life while still missing and loving their dad.
Remembering helps keep them alive. Remembering helps the memories stay. They will not be able to spend most of their life with these people, so it is important to lock in whatever memories they can. And a lot of that rests on us as their parents and loved ones. We can share stories, show pictures, or offer comfort. We have the ability to help them remember and find peace. It is our job to help children grieve.
It was a labor of love for me putting it together for the kids. Dustin threw down some carpet scraps on top of the cement to make it a little softer for the kids. And of course I had to put a pretty rug on top of that…
Here is the room we started with! The plans of the house show that the sauna was originally going to be in this room which shares that little slanted wall with Scarlett’s/guest room bathroom. The sauna that is in the house doesn’t look like it is built to fit in this, which worked out well for this room!
And just like that, we have a cozy little room! The kids love it and ask to spend time in there often. We are thankful they have a sweet little space to process in our home. I hope if you have a child that experiences grief that this post was helpful! We are doing our best as parents to help these kids and to grow up strong in spite of the difficulties they’ve faced at such a young age. Your children will appreciate every effort you make, promise.
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Framed photos by Nicole Baas
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I wrote a letter to the kids last year that I gave to them on the anniversary here.
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Heather Purcell says
Nicole, your posts are inspired and truly amazing! It takes so much time to put a post together and add pictures and links and it is greatly appreciated. You inspire others with your writings. Thank you!
Nicole Fergesen says
Thank you for saying that! It is a labor of love for sure. I hope my experiences help others and I’m so honored I can share. Thank you for your support and following along!