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Dealing with Grief

Dealing with Grief

Recently, our family lost a beloved pet. We’ve lost smaller pets like hamsters and guinea pigs, but the kids were not as attached to them as they were to our big orange and white tomcat. It was a sudden thing: we thought he had gotten hurt in a fight and it turned out to be a tumor in his jaw. There was nothing the vets could do and he was in so much pain that we had to make the difficult decision to put our boy to sleep.

Because it was such a surprise, we scrambled a bit—how would we deal with this with the kids? Unfortunately, our youngest daughter was at the vet with us so she heard the news firsthand. The other two arrived later with their dad, but they guessed pretty quickly that it was serious.

We decided to spend some time with our cat so we could all say good-bye. We laughed and cried and prayed and then said good-bye. It was hard. But that part of death is important. We often want to move away from death or not want to deal with it, but that doesn’t help us process it, no matter how old we are. We let the girls help decide about bringing him home to bury him in the backyard.

Because of this, we’ve been thinking a lot about how families cope with loss. Our middle daughter lost a friend in a car accident when she was just ten years old. It was really hard for our introspective daughter, and for years afterwards, she’d mention feeling sad about it. She still brings it up even years later. And when she does, we talk about it and let her lead the conversation.

Death and grief can mark us, but it doesn’t have to destroy us.

One of the keys is simply allowing grief to exist. We know that sounds funny, but letting yourself or others grieve—cry, be sad, rant, whatever—is valuable. Don’t run from that emotion; emotion is not the enemy. Some people feel more comfortable expressing their emotions and you won’t have to guess what they are feeling at all. Some people hate crying in front of others. But however it comes out, let it out.

But while allowing the grief, also allow memories to be shared by talking about the good things you remember. It’s never too early to do this. Some personality types may need to do this a lot more than others. And the younger a child is, the more they may share their emotions through stories or questions.

Some people use the idea of “moving past”something or “getting over it”, but those terms may not be the best way to describe it. Some grief may remain with us. I lost my dad more than eleven years ago, but I still miss him. However, grief does change and normal life should continue. If someone seems to get truly “stuck”, they may need some counseling to help sort through their emotions. This can happen if someone feels guilty; even if they bear no responsibility. Don’t be afraid to get help earlier rather than later. An impartial third party can do wonders for talking out a painful situation.

Every family and every child is different so what works for one may not work for everyone. But parents can help guide the process by being honest about their own emotions and sharing their own thoughts and memories. By opening that door, your kids will feel more comfortable sharing their hearts and help them to see that grief shared isn’t an extra burden, it can make it a lighter load to bear.

How have you coped with grief? Share what worked for you. We’d love to hear from you!

By: Jeff and Sarah Sumpolec have been married for 19 years and Jeff has been a therapist in private practice for more than 10 years. They have three daughters together and Sarah writes for and speaks to teens. Visit them at

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