April 1, 2014

Big feelings, small child

SB seems to have entered the anger stage of grieving. And it has been overwhelming us all. While she has been able to express her sadness effectively and we have had success supporting her through those feelings, the anger seems to be too much for her.

As advanced as SB may be in many ways, she is still just five years old.

She is struggling. And to be honest, so am I. I don't always know how to help her work through her feelings. They are intense, and often she resists my attempts to calm her.

First, there are the nightmares. SB tosses and turns and calls out things like, "NO!" and, "STOP!" many nights in her sleep. One night she woke up and wept softly in her bed. She did not call for me, but I heard her and went upstairs and climbed in with her. I asked what was wrong. She told me she'd had a bad dream.

I assured her she was safe and I was with her, and I held her until she fell back asleep. The next morning, I asked her what the dream had been about. She said there was a boy with a red laser and he killed me.

She has been role playing "death games" with her dolls. She tells me to call her in the middle of the night and to tell her one of them has died, just as I received the call about my dad. I go along with these games, knowing they are one way she is working to process the situation.

Of course, there are the endless questions about death. How do people die? When will hubby and I die? When will she? Does it hurt to die? What happens to your body? It goes on and on, and we do our best to answer in an honest, matter of fact and age-appropriate way.

We are also seeing some regression. SB wet herself the other day, the first time that has happened in years. I did not make a big deal of it. I cleaned her up and told her it was nothing to be embarrassed about.

I was glad it happened at home, and not at school. Her teachers tell me she is not having any issues there. For which I am grateful.

At home, she has been having tantrums the likes of which we have never seen from her. Becoming physically violent. Her tiny body fills with rage and she lashes out at the world, and us. It is clear the feelings are so big she does not know what to do with them.

Sometimes, I am able to calm her by getting down on her level and having her look in my eyes as we take deep breaths together. But many times my presence seems to make things worse.

Snuggles aren't enough. Talking isn't helping. The usual things the experts suggest to help kids work through their feelings aren't working.

All these issues are in fact quite normal for a child who is grieving. But this week I felt the need to reach out for professional support.

The hospice organization we worked with in the final months of dad's life offers a number of bereavement services. One of those is counseling for children who have experienced loss. I've spoken to a wonderful counselor on the phone and made appointments for both SB and me to meet with her, together and separately.

My sweet girl is dealing with a really tough issue. My heart hurts for her, and I desperately want to take the pain away. But I can't. All I can do is love her and hold her and let her know no matter what, I am here for her.

And remind myself we will get through this. Together.

UPDATE: Sometimes I really feel I jinx myself by sharing things on this blog. SB got in trouble at school today by exhibiting some of the behaviors we have been seeing at home. Fortunately, her teachers understand the situation. SB has been at that school for three years, and they know this behavior is uncharacteristic for her. They also are aware of everything my family has been through the past year.

And the grief counselor told me it IS all perfectly normal. We see her next week. Hopefully she can provide all of us with some guidance and coping mechanisms...

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