Handling Loss, Grief, and Trauma

A boy’s Trauma – the death of his mother

Each person has a different way of processing trauma. A child I work with has experienced the death of his mother. This death was unexpected and traumatic. Some deaths come after an illness or accident. This one happened in such an unexpected way it is hard to processes for an adult, let alone a child.

While waiting for his mother to have her supervised visit, he called her twice and texted her multiple times. The visit earlier in the week went poorly, which ended early. That visit was only an hour, but in that hour, a lot happened, including yelling, storming out of the visit, gifts, bad-mouthing his father (the custodial parent), and following after the supervisor of the visit in her car. 

The next visit was out in the open, a fun day for a more extended stay. It was their Easter celebration. This visit did not happen, even after the day before receiving a text to say, “I will see you there”. 

In this child’s mind, the visit was ugly, and his mom was mad, so she was still angry and did not want to see him. He had nightmares and racing thoughts of all the things he had done wrong. He was thinking of how he could ‘fix’ this problem, so the next visit was pleasant and fun. This next visit never happened. 

Later they found out his mother had been killed on Friday, so she could not have visited on Saturday

She had been dead for five days. When told his mother had passed away, he could not process it. He later said he thought people were pranking him. His mother was angry, spoke ugly things about his father, and he asked for a break. He reported he felt guilty because he asked for a break and that is what made her decide to stay away from their Easter visit. He could not think of any other reason why his mother would be gone, not answer his phone calls, or show up for this holiday visit.

He was told she passed away, not dead, not killed, just gone. His mind processed that in a way a child would- it is my fault she is gone. He continued to think she would come back; she was taking a break because she was angry. He called to tell his nana “my mom passed away” “she is you know- sliced across the neck- dead” HE began to cry and sob uncontrollably. He could not process it. It was unreal. She was just there and they were supposed to meet. He began to have nightmares.

He finally understood she was dead. She was in heaven. She was never coming back to him. As he processed it and realized he would have to go to a funeral service. He knew at that time no one was parking him. He tried not to cry and had so much sadness he could talk, eat, or sleep. 

We discussed grief and the stages of grief. Denial was like saying his mother was on an extended vacation, the family was pranking him, and she just got busy and forgot to call. We discussed this as he cried while reporting he was sad, and it hurt to be so sad. He was sad like 20 out of 10. His world ended, it imploded, it was never going to be the same. He did not want to think about it. He knew she was dead because the service, the preacher, and everyone was saying she was really dead. He cried, stopped crying to breathe, and cried some more.

His understanding of the events began to take place. He knew someone killed her so at the service he was looking at all her friends and men she knew while checking off all the people who could have killed his mother. He narrowed it down to two people but could not believe it was either of them because he knew them, met with them and had them at his nana’s house.

He is young, so he was not told all the details but that left so many unanswered questions. He overheard someone at the funeral service say a gunshot killed her. He had images of what that meant in his head (video game images). When he did not see a body at the funeral service, he figured it was because her head was shot off. That story was incorrect. The correct incident, which was domestic violence, was relayed

He became angry and has stayed in that place for several months. We are working through the anger. While doing this, we have written his mother a letter. He has cried, screamed, and hit and broke He quit playing with friends. He still has restless nights, early mornings, sleeps late into the morning, and has bad dreams. 

Grief affects each of us differently. It is hard on our emotions. We struggle to convey how we feel. Some people want to run away. Keep running until the pain stops. Others may cry until they can not cry anymore. Still, others get lost in substances, extreme sports, other people, or fits of rage. 

Helping a loved one work through their loss puts a strain on the relationship. It is hard to see your loved one suffering and not be able to help move forward. Helping others to find a way to celebrate life is one option. The option of celebrating life will not happen right away, but when they work through grief stages and come to a place of acceptance, celebrating life is an option

The child I have mentioned has not visited the grave sight; it is a place where they laid her ashes and placed a headstone so he can go when he feels strong enough. This headstone will have a picture of her, so he will never forget her face. At this time, he has asked to hear her voice. This request is something the family can do- they can save the last message she sent, keep her voice mails, and download videos. Helping children grieve is challenging; however, remembering they are children is the best help you can give them. They are young, so using direct words: she is dead, she is not coming back, no she did not leave because of you. 

Part of the process for children is allowing them to grieve and be sad and giving children time to process and miss supper when it is too painful to eat—giving children space when they need a minute to be alone. Understanding they will have triggers that will bring up painful memories, and the grieving starts again. 

Trauma, grief, the loss comes in many forms. This boy had a horrific loss; however, being bullied, rejected, left out of school events all play a part in your child’s loss and trauma.  

  • The stages of grief are understood to be: 
  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

The stages are fluid and can be relived depending on the person and events. The last stage is acceptance. Helping our child get to that stage is the goal. It can take a few months or years. Grief is as individual as the person experiencing it. It is unique to that person’s ability to wrap their head around it. There is no correct or wrong way to grieve. Finding the answer to help your child navigate his/her suffering can be a monumental task, but it is necessary. 

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