This article about grieving and special needs is offered by Jenny Wise with suggestions of how to help your special needs child grieve the loss of a loved one.
When death strikes your family, and you’re the parent of a child with special educational needs and/or disabilities, you must somehow break the news to your child so that they can comprehend why a loved one is no longer around. At the same time, you want them to understand the sadness you are feeling so they don’t mistakenly feel to blame for the wave of heartache suddenly engulfing the family.
Grief always marks a tumultuous, emotional time for you and your partner, because you’ll feel helpless on how your child deals with the pain. However, you can regain a sense of control by going over your future plans for your child so that they are always taken care of, even in their adulthood years.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help your special needs child handle the grief, as well as advice on when you should go over your planned future accommodations plan for your child.
Prepare Your Child
If the loved one who is near death still has some time left, consider letting your child know this. You may not know when the loved one will finally pass, but breaking the news to your child that a permanent change is fast approaching allows your special needs child to say their final goodbyes. In any case, they are likely highly intuitive and will sense that something is “off” in the family until they finally learn the source of the apparent pain. Because grief is so personal and unique, you may find that your special needs child will be in a real position to help you or you and your partner process the grief better.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Special needs children can be very literal and concrete in their way of thinking. So take some time to prepare what you will say to your child and how you will say it. Avoid using euphemisms such as “final rest” or “going to sleep,” as these phrases can make your child afraid of the dark at night, relating the night and sleep to death in their mind. At the same time, emphasizing the sickness of the loved one who passed may make the child afraid of whatever illness will assail them in the future.
Be clear in your message, even though it may be difficult for you to say and to watch your child hear. Start with a kind, but clear, statement and then follow it up with just enough kid-friendly information to help your child understand what is happening. Emphasize instead that only severe sickness is bad enough to make a person die, and that it is not up to us to decide the fate of any severely sick individual.
Celebrate Their Life
Spend some time making celebratory remarks about the person who just died, and perhaps lighting a candle or two next to a picture of the individual in your home to mark a period of official mourning. Share what you feel comfortable sharing about the deceased individual, but don’t force your child to open up or share their thoughts and memories. Give them enough space to open up about the loss in their own time.
Go Over Future Plans
Losing a loved one can spur the discussion of your child’s future. After you and your partner have gone over the details of a plan that goes well into their adult years, make a point to explain to them that they will always be well taken care of. Build a home out of Legos, or draw a home with a picture of them inside it to symbolize that they will always be safe, even after their parents are no longer around.
A Final Thought
Death is a natural part of life, and it’s inevitable that your child will one day have to experience grief along with the rest of the family. But use clear communication to highlight the positives of the experience to them constantly, such as the cohesiveness of your family unit, and the gratitude that comes with still being surrounded by people who love and care for them.