You’re at home, healthy and safe. You haven’t lost your job. You don’t yet know anyone who has died of COVID-19. So why do you feel such a profound sense of loss? Most likely, what you are feeling is grief.
Grief can be defined as the normal and natural emotional reaction caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. We tend to associate grief with the loss of a loved one, but the emotion may arise with any significant change in our life, such as being pulled out of work or school and forced to stay quarantined in one’s home for months.
While Christians are not immune from such feelings, our union with Christ should lead us to deal with grief in unique ways. Here are a few things we should remember when we grieve.
Grieving Like Believers
We grieve with God — When Jesus saw Mary weeping over the death of her brother Lazarus he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and began to weep himself (John 11:33-35). Even though Jesus knew he would soon be bringing Lazarus back from the dead, he was still overcome with the emotion of losing his friend. When we experience loss, we should take comfort in knowing God loves us.
We grieve with other believers — Because we are united with Christ, and he is united with other members of his church, we are united to these other believers through him. This is not a mere symbolic unity, but a deep, spiritual reality. We can grieve knowing others share in our grief, even if the loss was not their own. We can truly “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15) because of the unbreakable connection we believers have to one another through Jesus.
We grieve with hope — “The Bible does not dismiss or minimize grief, and we shouldn’t underestimate its impact,” says Elizabeth Groves, author Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer. “But we grieve differently than those without hope.” As Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thess. 4:13-14).
How to Help Children Deal with Loss and Grief
Know what to expect — Every child responds to grief differently, but in her book Helping Children Cope with Separation and Loss, Claudia L. Jewett identifies three “phases of grief” children often go through after a loss: early grief, acute grief, and integration of loss and grief.
Early grief includes such reactions in children as shock and numbing, alarm, denial, and hyperactivity. Acute grief often manifests in such behaviors as yearning, pining, and searching (i.e., looking to the past); expressing strong emotions, such as anger or sadness; disorganization or disorientation; and despair or depression. The last stage, integration of loss and grief, involves talking about the loss, getting involved again in previously enjoyed activities, and showing concern and care toward others.
How to tell a child about death — The coronavirus crisis might be the first time a child loses a relative or loved one—and the first time you have to explain what death means. How young is too young to talk to them about this loss?
“Children old enough to love are old enough to grieve,” Christian social worker Jeanine Bozeman says. “Adults need to be aware that grief is a normal emotional response to death.” Bozeman offers suggestions for how we can tell a child about the death of a loved one:
- Talk to the child as soon as possible after the death.
- Give the child a simple, honest explanation using clear, concise words.
- Find familiar surroundings to have the talk with the child.
- Be sure the child understands the meanings of the words used.
- Give adequate but not detailed information about the death.
- Address the child’s fears and anxieties.
- Reassure the child he or she is not to blame for the death and that someone will care for him.
- Listen carefully to the child, validating feelings, assisting with overwhelming feelings, and involving and including him.
- Continue the child’s routine.
- Model appropriate grief behaviors.
- Provide opportunities to remember the loved one who has died.
Give them boundaries — You might be tempted to excuse certain behaviors because the child is suffering loss. But they need boundaries and guidance in how to express their emotions in a healthy way. If a child is allowed to be violent or emotionally manipulative while grieving, they’ll believe that can carry on such actions later. Let them know what types of behavior are natural and acceptable (e.g., crying, being upset and sad) and which will not be tolerated (e.g., hitting siblings, frequently lashing out at parents).
Recognize your grief is not their grief — If you lose someone you love, such as your own parent, you might be shocked and frustrated by what appears to be a lack of observed grief by your child. They may show a stronger emotional reaction to the loss of family pet than to their own grandparent. While it may seem callous or unloving on the part of your child, it may be a natural reaction. Remember that the emotion of grief is deeply connected to a change in a familiar pattern of behavior.
Your deep sense of grief is likely connected to the loss of someone who has been in your life for decades, and for which you once had frequent, even daily interactions. But your child may not have as deep a connection, especially if the death is of a relative they only saw infrequently. This is why the death of a pet—which is in their life every day—may invoke a stronger emotional reaction. Be gracious and patient and give them space to grieve in their own way.