By Tamera Manzanares
Holiday traditions are complicated. They can provide a sense of stability in our ever-changing world, especially for children, but they can also compound grief for children who have lost a friend or loved one.
Katy Thiel leads Northwest Colorado Health’s Youth Resiliency program, which supports children, adolescents and teens who have experienced loss. “The holidays can be particularly difficult if the death that has occurred will cause a change in how they normally celebrate,” she said. “It adds another sense of loss and a feeling that nothing will ever be the same again.”
It is important to maintain routines for children who have experienced a death while giving them opportunities to express their feelings. Holiday traditions can offer a chance for children and parents to acknowledge their pain as they remember a loved one and the special place they held in the family. “By allowing children to see our own sadness and grief and sharing it together as a family we are able to teach them how to begin to heal,” Thiel said.
Creative activities are a good way for children to channel their emotions. They can make simple projects with glue or Modge Podge and common craft supplies in the home. Paint a shoebox and adorn it with tissue paper, buttons and other embellishments to create a memory box. Fill it with photos and trinkets that remind the child of the person they have lost. Glue colored pieces of tissue paper and glitter onto a jar, add an LED light and you have a memory lantern.
Whether or not to hang the deceased person’s stocking can be a difficult decision. If you decide to hang it, put out paper and a pen. Family members can write down a special memory or letter and put it in the stocking. They may choose to share their letters on Christmas morning or during a holiday meal. You can find more ideas and resources for memorializing loved ones at whatsyourgrief.com.
Other types of losses or big changes in a child’s life can spur grief. A divorce or serious illness in the family, a move that takes them away from friends, family members who have left the home or financial hardship within the family can all create a sense of loss for children. Northwest Colorado Health’s Youth Resiliency program provides outreach services, support groups and education to youth coping with these types of adversities. Find more information here or call Katy Thiel at 970-871-7628.