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Helping Children To Grieve After A Death

May 22, 2008
At some stage every child will have the upset of a loss of a friend, loved one or pet. For my kids, it happened just last week.

We were dog sitting for friends and somehow the dog got inside (I'm not quite sure how it happened, no-one has owned up to it yet). But the thing was the bird was out of the cage on it's perch.

The details are a little fuzzy about what happened next. I'm guessing the budgie flew off it's perch to the ground and the dog got it. Whatever happened, I was in the bedroom when I heard the kids screaming hysterically.

Now this wasn't any normal scream - I was sure that someone was dying. So I sprinted out to the kitchen only to find the bird lying motionless on the floor. The dog had run out the back door, and just as well or I think the kids would have killed him.

I picked up the dead budgie and put him on the kitchen table. and we stared at it. We just looked at him and didn't say a thing. We were all crying and just staring at him for at least an hour, maybe longer...

I didn't know what to do so I just sat there with the kids. We sat in silence, except for a few little comments.

After a long time, my son Kieren, who owned the budgie, said that it was time ot bury him. He went to the garage and grabbed my spade, went outside to the middle of my back yard and started digging a hole.

I didn't try to stop him; he was pretty upset so I thought I would just put up with the hole. We all gathered around as Kieren lay the bird to rest in the grave site. Then he filled the hole in and we sat down around it once again.

The kids started talking about the fun times they had with the bird and I listened to them. This went on for ages. We sat and we talked. Then, finally the kids went inside.

A few minutes later Kieren said to me, "I'm going to make a plague for Bluey". So he drew a lovely picture and poem for the budgie, laminated it and put it outside, sellotaped it onto a stick and put it over top of the grave site. Two of the other kids decided to do the same thing.

My youngest child, Becky (9 years), went and picked some flowers from a neighbour's yard (sorry neighbour, it was an emergency). She came home and gently placed them over the grave site. It was very touching to see my kids act in this way.

I didn't try to talk about Bluey unless they bought up the conversation. But when they did bring him up I listened and sympathised with them. I even shed a few tears myself.But each of my four children grieved in their different way. The boy who was closest to the budgie was the saddest at the loss.

I think what I learned from this experience more than anything was just that as parents we need to be there for our kids in whatever way they require. My 14 year old son needed to talk about his beloved budgie more than the others. He had to start planning immediately to buy his next bird.

My advice to parents when there is a death in the family is to take their queues from the individual child as all chidlren grieve in different ways. What might be good for one child may not be good for the next child.

Some times kids will need a time lapse before they are willing to open up and talk about death in a meaningful way. Don't rush this - kids will talk when they are ready. Just let the kids know that you are there to support them.
About the Author
Kim Patrick is a single mum with four children who lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is author of the book, "Get Your Child To Behave In 30 Days Or Less". For more information on how to get your child to behave, you can go to http://www.mychildcanbehave.com/main.html
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