Children and Grief: The Art of Condolence—From a Child’s Perspective
What can children teach us about condolence? A lot. As adults, we sometimes get in our own way of offering condolence. We think about condolence, but may hesitate to express it for various reasons. Maybe we are afraid of bringing up a painful topic, or just unsure of what to say. Children, on the other hand, have the uncanny ability to “say it like it is” without fear or hesitation.
Sam, 12, lost his father to lung cancer in 2012. In the film, Children and Grief, he shares the following insight, “I think the reason people don’t bring it up is because they’re scared to mention it because I might, like, break out and cry, flip out and stuff. It would help a lot if friends and people actually really talked about it and gave you support because it’s really helpful.”
In fact, all of the children interviewed in Children and Grief expressed the importance of having others acknowledge the passing of their loved one. Yet they also want you to understand that although they want you to offer condolence, they may not feel like talking about it at that moment.
Alexander, 14, explains, “Advice I would given when you are confronting someone with grief is not to come on too strong, you know. They just had someone die and it might be like a year after the person died and it still feels like the day it just happened.”
Condolence is a balancing act. Children experiencing grief want their loss to be acknowledged, but also ask for respect and understanding of their reactions. They may be fine dis- cussing it one day, but not the next. “Sometimes just talk to them and if they don’t want to talk to you back, just leave them alone,” shared Aurora, 10. She goes on to say, “Sometimes it helps me to talk to them and sometimes I just go and lay down for a little bit.”
Phoebe, 7, prefers actions over words. “Comforting them. Patting their backs, saying that ‘it’s going to be okay’ and giving them a kiss or something.” This is how she likes to receive condolence.
Julia, 9, finds condolence in simple gestures. “Something that my friends and my class did to help, was that my teacher, he just felt bad and stuff, so he had the whole class make cards and talked about it and that helped. Also some of my friends said that they were sorry and stuff.”
In Children and Grief, the children are the experts, the professors, and we, the viewers, are the students. After viewing this film, I learned two invaluable lessons that have changed my life. The first lesson is about how I view condolence. Condolence is no longer about me and something I feel I have to do even though I may dread it. Sam is right. In the past, I’ve been afraid to say “I’m sorry” because I worried that by acknowledging a person’s loss, I would rekindle a person’s grief and cause them pain. What I learned from these children is so simple—so easy. Just say it! They want to hear it. Don’t be afraid of their reaction. They want to hear you acknowledge the passing of their loved one.
The second lesson I learned from these beautiful children is that simple gestures matter. As Phoebe so wisely shares, “Give them a hug or a kiss and say it’s going to be okay.” Or make a card. Or invite a child who has experienced a loss to go swimming, or play in a park, or go out for ice cream. It’s so simple—so easy. These children have taught me it’s the little things in life that matter and can make a big difference to someone who is grieving.
“To me grief means love and respect for the ones that I love that have passed away,” shares Sequoia, 12. What I have learned from Sequoia, and all the children featured in Children and Grief, is the importance of the simple act of acknowledging their grief and how far reaching small gestures of kindness can be toward helping them on their healing journey.
The above article was first published in The Forum: The Quarterly Publication of the Association For Death Education and Counseling
By Rory Kidder