Thursday, June 14, 2018

Soul Sustenance: It's OK That You're Not OK - Meeting Grief & Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand

800,000 people are widowed every year in the US.  When a spouse dies, the widow/widower loses an average of 75% of their support base instantly and the remaining 25% usually fades within 3-4 months.  Many of these widows and widowers are parents, so they must manage not only their own insurmountable grief, but also the grief of their children. There are no easy solutions, but there is help out there.

I had a chance to interview Megan Devine - psychotherapist, grief expert, and author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK to learn more.

How can parents simultaneously support their kids and be vulnerable following the loss of a spouse or partner? The big thing to remember is that kids are watching you to see what’s “acceptable” in grief and what isn’t. It’s tempting to hide your grief from your kids, but that only tells them that they also need to hide their grief. A better response is to share your own emotions in age-appropriate ways, letting kids see you be sad or angry, letting them see you use your own coping skills. Open discussions around how you take care of yourself when you’re feeling sad or angry, and invite your kids to share what they do (or might do) too. 

What is different about being an "only parent" vs. a "single parent?” This is tricky territory, because it’s easy to set up separated parents versus widowed parents. However - even if your relationship with your ex is strained, you typically still have them as back-up: shared parenting responsibilities, another name on the school contact forms, and even access to in-laws or extended families in a pinch. What’s different for widowed parents is that they are the only one caring for their kids. There is no emergency back up. No weekends you might have “off” because the kids are with your ex. Every parenting emergency comes down to you, and you alone. That’s a lot to bear as a widowed parent. It’s not better or worse than divorced or separated parents, but it is different. 

Where can widowed parents go for support? The Dougy Center (headquartered in oregon, with international resources) is a great place for resources related to grieving families. For widowed parents themselves, the site Soaring Spirits can give support, education, and camaraderie. For parents in stressful financial situations after the death of a partner or spouse, check out the Liz Logelin Foundation for assistance. 

What's normal as kids grieve the loss of a parent? It’s so hard to watch kids grieve. In general, every response to loss is normal: kids might be angry, sad, or confused. They might be more anxious. They might even show no outward signs of grieving at all. No one response is correct, and no one response is wrong. The best thing you can do as a parent is to let your child know they might have a lot of different feelings, and you’re there to help them figure out ways to tend to those feelings in safe, consistent ways. Be the person they can always come to, no matter what life brings.

Megan Devine is on a mission to help people love each other better.
A Pacific Northwest writer, speaker, and grief advocate, she is the founder of Refuge In Grief, a hub of grief education and outreach, where she leads people through some of the most devastating times of their lives. Together with her team, she facilitates a growing catalog of courses, events, and trainings to help grieving people, and those who wish to support them, learn the skills they need to carry pain that cannot be fixed.
Megan is the author of the new book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief & Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand. She has been featured widely in the media, including the New York Times, NPR, Bustle Magazine, Modern Loss, and in dozens of podcasts and radio appearances.

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