Published in Kindred, Issue 25 March 08, as part of Death Through the Eyes of a Child
Unexpressed emotions stay hidden in our nervous system. Over the last 20 years, innovative energy and integrative therapies have appeared that help enormously to release intense emotion fast and effectively. There is no reason why people need to stay crushed by grief and deep sadness for the rest of their lives.
With emotional freedom techniques (EFT), very specific emotions can be targeted and released. EFT is fabulous with children. We call it ‘magic tapping’ and once taught to families, they can then have the ability to manage their own emotionally challenging times without needing a professional. There is an excellent book called Rose and The Night Monsters written by two Western Australian psychologists that shows how to do EFT with children. The theory is that tapping on the endpoints of meridians releases emotions. Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Be Set Free Fast (BSFF), Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), and creative visualisations all hold a very valid therapeutic place in helping children with emotional overwhelm.
Another enormous support I have used extensively is Australian Bush Flower Essences. These are simply essences that contain the vibrational energy of certain Australian flowers and plants. They work in a similar way to Bach flower remedies that originated in England. The emergency essence is helpful for everyone in the family, as it supports the body on all levels when there is trauma or intense emotional chaos. Each different flower has a different way of helping the body adapt to crises.
With children I choose the essences for the initial consultation, then I allow the child to choose their own from a set of coloured pictures of all the plants and flowers. This allows the child’s own higher self or inner guidance to choose what is best at that point. This is a respectful way of honouring the innate wisdom that exists within every one of us. I have been astounded at times with the shifts that have occurred with these simple gentle essences.
I am very unhappy seeing grief-stricken people (adults or children) medicated during the grieving process. The brain and the mind are working very hard to process, to support, and to accept that part of their world has been destroyed. Medication will delay these essential mental processes and also weaken their connection to their authentic self. This is a time when the mask has been ripped off. The clarity it offers to learn enormously about life, love, and consciousness is a rare glimpse at the true mystery of creation.
There is plenty of time to sleep and recover after the funeral. It is healthy to walk around at night, with thoughts and ideas cascading over you. It is normal to lose yourself in photo albums and old letters and to have endless cups of tea, to cry lots, and to have moments of absolute terror of how you are going to cope. This is the ‘allowing’ of everything—instead of squashing down, suppressing, denying or numbing. Many indigenous women allow their feelings deep expression through loud wailing and howling for days. This is incredibly healthy and will allow them to move through the early stages of intense grief more quickly especially when done in the company of others. Too much grieving in the Western world is done silently and behind closed doors.
Turning again to children, play is another way to help diffuse grief and sadness. This play is best if child-directed. Quiet play allows a child’s brain to rest and renew itself from the intensity of grieving. Vigorous play allows emotional energy to be discharged from the nervous system much like the energy techniques that I have already mentioned. Play is what children do best—never underestimate its healing power and potential.
I believe in the power of prayer, especially children’s prayers. Prayer can comfort and give children a sense that they are not powerless and voiceless. Simple heartfelt prayers bring people together in times of crisis. Praying can let children feel that they are doing something to help. It can give them a sense of staying connected to a lost loved one. However, prayer works best with children who already have it as a part of their life. Prayers of gratitude are very helpful in healing from a loss, because they focus the mind on hope and optimism rather than sadness and pain. This will influence the chemicals in the brain, and improve moods and emotional states.
Finally, children who are processing a major loss need lots of sleep and rest, and good nutrition. I recommend supplementation with Omega 3 fish oil, and a good quality multi-vitamin because many children struggle to eat when in the early stages of grief. Once again the immature brain is under enormous stress and the usual things that support the brain are critical for them to recover. Grieving is exhausting, like much like physical activity, and tiredness is common for quite some time.
Helping children to be resilient
In my resilience work with parents, I encourage them to get small pets when they have young children. Goldfish, guinea pigs and rabbits are especially helpful as they have a much better chance of dying while the child is still young!
This early experience of death prepares a child for later experiences and helps create a template of expectation that will unfold quite naturally. This gives children an opportunity to understand that the pain and distress they feel about their deceased pet does decrease in time. It also allows them to know that a ceremony helps to farewell a loved one, and that it’s healthy to share stories and speak about the dead.