The Grief Rock: Navigating Love & Loss with Kids
This blog post was written by JKP author Natasha Daniels.
What happens when you wake up to a life that’s not your own? When everyone seems to be living a life you can no longer access.
My family went to bed complete and woke up shattered. Our happily ever after suddenly had an epilogue. Grief hijacked our world and mocked our belief in stability. A tiny blood clot stole my husband’s vibrant life and froze our future. Grief warmed the spot where my husband used to be and found its place at our dinner table.
To be honest, as a child therapist, grief was my least favorite therapeutic issue. I thrived in the world of child anxiety and OCD where I could offer skills, solutions and hope. Grief seemed heavy and unsolvable. So, when grief slammed into my home and into my children’s lives, I was at a loss for what to do.
Death was overwhelming, but grief was the true beast. None of us knew how to cope.
My three kids, 9, 11 and 17, all handled grief in their own unique way. My two oldest were quiet and retrospective. My youngest was vocal and cried until the whole house shook with her pain.
Grief impacted everything. No one could sleep. No one could eat. It was hard to laugh or find the light in anything. Days smooshed together and time became warped. Strangers came to the door with gifts, while people who used to be friendly avoided eye contact. Our world was upside down.
We joined a grief group, and an ever-growing pile of children’s death and grief books grew on our counter.
“No, I don’t like that one mom,” my daughter would say as she put another rejected book into the pile. I’d flip through the pages and grow frustrated myself. Why can’t I find a book that can help her navigate the powerful blows of grief? I was drained and was running on fumes. Every day I’d listen to her struggles.
“Today my friends said I can no longer be their friend. They said I’m not fun anymore.”
“Today I had to go to the counselor for half the day. I just couldn’t stop thinking of dad.”
“Can I stay home today? I only slept for two hours.”
Some days she’d laugh hysterically, almost on the brink of mania, while other days she’d sob in my arms for hours.
I would wake up at the crack of dawn after only a few hours of sleep and walk in the desert. I was half zombie, half human. My feet carried my dead weight as I tried to find my own rhythm with grief. My body physically hurt from the loss. How are children supposed to get through this when I barely could?
One day after an early morning walk, I came home to find my daughter staring into her cereal bowl.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“It’s just so hard mom. How are we supposed to do this?”
I was always full of answers. Always one to empower my kids and fuel them with positivity. But that wasn’t what I felt she needed to hear. She needed honesty. She needed me to be raw and real. She needed to know that our new normal included learning to live with grief.
I looked at her for a while and then said, “When someone you love dies, the grief rock shows up.” She looked up from her cereal as I continued. “At first the rock is so heavy that it crushes you.” She nodded her head in agreement. “It can be hard to eat,” I said, pointing to her untouched breakfast. “It can be hard to sleep. It can be hard to do anything but be crushed.”
I paused and then continued. “Other people can help you hold the rock for a bit, but they can never fully take it away. Even if they really want to.” I gave her a tight squeeze.
We sat silent for a minute and then I added, “I have a grief rock too.”
“You do?” she asked, looking up from her bowl.
“I do. And sometimes it’s as big as a boulder and I can barely breathe. And sometimes it’s the smallest pebble and I barely feel it. It can pop out of nowhere and catch me off guard.”
She said, “Mine too.”
That was the beginning of many talks about our grief rocks. We talked about how people didn’t know how to handle our rocks. How sometimes they would avoid us or fumble on their words. We talked about how our grief rocks were so big because our love was so big.
It became shorthand for how we talked about our grief and our love. She’d say, “I can’t today mom, my rock is just too big.” The analogy helped her make sense of her mood swings. It helped her feel less alone. It helped us see how big our love had been, and will always be.
In the early days of my grief, I wrote everything down. I had sticky notes to remind me to pick up the kids, to make dinner, to breathe. I journaled every day to remind myself I was alive. When the grief fog started to lift, I stumbled upon the words I jotted down after our first grief rock discussion. They were such simple words on how to navigate the bumpy road of grief. Just enough words for the overloaded brain to process through the heaviness of grief. The words felt universal to me. They felt like validation and hope.
I looked at the pile of children’s death and grief books on our bookshelf. Yes, I thought to myself. There is a home for these words as well.
The Grief Rock by Natasha Daniels is available on 5/18/23.
Natasha Daniels is a Child Therapist and has worked with young children and their families for over 15 years. She is the author of How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, Social Skills Activities for Kids, It’s Brave to Be Kind, and Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide.