"I feel funny..." Helping Kids Process Grief.

“I feel funny.” This has been the catchall phrase that my oldest daughter uses to describe the way she feels, when she can’t pinpoint exactly how it is that she feels. She only knows that emotionally, she’s doesn’t really feel well. She feels “funny.” At one point, she drew out what feeling funny meant. She drew a picture of three faces, one sad, one mad, and one scared. I asked her what each of the three faces needed. She said one needed a glass of water, one needed a hug, and the other needed a kiss (translation-love). She has fears about me dying, about her dying, and sadness over her dad’s death… She just turned 5 years old, and although it’s been nearly 3 years since her father’s death, at each stage in her life, I have watched her process and integrate what the loss means to her.


I’ve learned that the most important and effective thing I can do is be a loving presence, there to listen without imposing my worry or guilt about her feelings (and therein lies the work for me)… I can reassure her that what she is experiencing is natural given the nature of what she has experienced. I let her know that she is not all alone in her fears and sadness, that these are universal experiences, and a part of grieving. And that all kids who have lost a parent in their life, will no doubt have lots of questions and fears about death, and sadness over the loss.  I’ve also found that creating time and space just to explore and understand her feelings has been really helpful. I answer questions about death as honestly and simply as I can (at an age appropriate level). I have a wonderful grief workbook called, Grief Encounter, by Shelley Gilbert, for children to do with their parents that has been an incredible resource. And for the past several weeks, we have been working on it on her days off from preschool, when her little sister is napping. Also, I encourage her to creatively express herself (what does "feeling funny" look like?), through the medium that she prefers most, ie drawing, painting, dancing, writing, so that she has a healthy outlet for her feelings and experiences.  I also encourage her to call on her daddy in heaven for guidance and support during the times when she misses him and feels sad. I also encourage her to pray for extra spiritual support, and as a part of her bedtime routine, I've gotten in to the practice of saying my own heartfelt prayers aloud to model what cultivating that spiritual relationship could look like. And I find it really helpful to process whatever grief arises within me in response to her feelings, this keeps me in a centered and healthy inner-space so I can best help her. And when I told her that there are groups of kids who meet to play and share their experiences (bereavement support groups), that have all lost a parent, she was so excited. She wanted to go right then and there! So, I'll be checking into that for her next. And my youngest daughter who is nearly 2 ½ is just now beginning to ask questions about her daddy, so I'll just take it as it comes with each little one.


And whenever I feel stuck in how to respond to my daughter when she shares her grief, I ask myself how I would like someone to respond to me if I were experiencing fears, sadness, or anger over a death. I would appreciate emotional validation, hugs, love, reassurance, and a chance to talk about and understand my feelings so that I don’t feel lonely or stuck in them. And I trust that this is my path, this is her path, and that we will both grow through it together.

I wrote this blog almost one year ago, and am happy to share that Ava has successfully integrated the grief that she experienced so heavily last year. The methods that I describe in this blog really worked for our family!

Scattered Ashes


We scattered the rest of my husband, Mitch’s, ashes... Well, all but what remained in a small hand-carved wooden urn, those I’ll save for Ava and Amelie for when they’re older (at Ava’s request). I hadn’t been able to keep the large brass urn in my room anymore, the sight of it made me feel sad, and gave me a heavy feeling in my body. So, they were in my mom’s closest, hidden away, and out of my sight. But I knew they were there, waiting to be released.


I thought that perhaps I’d scatter them in the ocean from Mitch’s friend’s boat, and then all of a sudden Mitch’s Birthday came. My ritual of celebration for Mitch’s Birthday over the last years was to gather flowers, go down to the beach, write letters to him in the sand, let the kids play, pray, and offer the flowers to the sea in memory of Mitch. And then this year, dear Ava suggested we include scattering the rest of her dad's ashes in the ocean, as a part of the Birthday celebration.

I had to think about it for a little while before I was able to respond.  I knew that I had been wanting to, but I felt a little apprehensive. I hadn’t opened that urn since the night before Mitch’s memorial service, and my goodness, that process had been so painful that I had to call on my uncle and brother to help me. But, my intuition told me that it was a yes. The time was now.

I packed the urn in Mitch’s old backpack, and me and my girls walked down to the beach and gathered flowers along the way.

Opening the urn wasn’t as scary or painful as it had been nearly 3 ½ years ago when we first opened it. I poured the ashes into the forest green velvet satchel that the urn had come in, we prayed, and then me and the girls began grabbing fistfuls of ash, and tossing them in the ocean. It was a windy day, and so by the time we finished, we were all dusted with Mitch’s white ash. The girls were joyous as we let go of what we had been holding onto.  

His backpack that I carried home was a lot lighter, and so was the feeling in my heart.


Journal Prompting

How can you honor both a loved one who has passed and your own grief through a sacred ritual that you create?

What needs to be released in your life that creates a feeling of heaviness and sadness?

How can you include your children in the process of grieving and healing the loss of a significant loved one in your life?


Kids grieve. How to help.

I wish I could take away their struggle, their pain, and I would if I could… I mean, what parent wants to see their kids hurt? It just so happens that my kids’ struggle has shown up so early on in their little lives, with the death of their father, and well, how could that not be hard? How could that be without struggle? So, my oldest daughter who is now five, was just a little over two years old when her father died, and at that age, the loss was felt, but the understanding of death, not so much… And so her grief has shown up in different ways over the years… Anger at her best friend for having a loving dad when she doesn’t, sad that other kids have dads and she doesn’t, fear of me dying, fear of me dying and fear that it would be her fault, fear of her dying, fear of other close loved ones dying, frustration at trying to understand what her father as a spirit even means, lots and lots of questions about how a person can actually die, and an overall feeling that she refers to as “feeling funny,” that has become the catchall phrase for feeling scared, sad, or mad, when she can’t pinpoint exactly what it is she’s feeling.

And so at first when she started having lots of grief come up about 6 months ago, as she began to have more awareness and ability to understand death, I worried a lot. I wanted to help her make peace with it all, quickly… It was really hard to see her worrying, sad, and angry. I just wanted to help make it all better. But over time, I’ve come to understand that my role is not to take away her pain, take away her struggle, or to fix “it,” nor could it be. This is a part of her journey, this is her God-given path. I am here to facilitate her process, help her understand her feelings, be here as a loving and stable support through her tears, frustrations, and fears… And so I make sure I have lots of support for myself so that I can best support her.


Here are some ways that I support her and me throughout this process: I have a great grief workbook for parents to do with their kids called, Grief Encounter, I consult with colleagues in the psychology field who specialize in kids and bereavement and actually just scheduled a session for us to meet with an art therapist, I actively work on my own feelings of grief that arise, I encourage creative expression to “move the mood” and understand her feelings (through dancing, drawing, or other art), I pray and talk to her dad’s spirit and teach her to do the same, and am currently in search of a kids bereavement group, cause when I mentioned to her that there are groups of kids who get together who have all lost a parent, she wanted to go that very instant. I offer plenty of validation that what she is going through it not easy, that kids that have experienced a loss such as hers, will undoubtedly feel angry, sad, and scared. And I give lots of hugs, and lots of reassurance that it will all be ok, and I believe it when I say it.  


It’s been a process of surrendering to our life and circumstances “as is,” it’s been a process of seeking out the best support for her and I both, and it’s been a process of finding courage and trust amidst the fears and doubts.  I think it’s also about trusting in the resilience of the human spirit. But it’s hard. Sometimes I don’t think parenting gets any harder than this. But then I think each parent will have their struggles with their children at various stages and ages… My youngest daughter who is just a little over two has just begun to express the sadness and ache of not having her daddy hold her, and so I reassure her of how loved she is by both her daddy and her family, and I hold her tight.


So, whatever struggle you’re going through as a parent or as a human, please let me reassure you that it will all be ok, and that you are so loved and supported on this journey by help that is seen and unseen, and that this experience will grow you, it will stretch you, and it will strengthen you. It is your soul work. You can do it, and so can I.


A Birdie Funeral

Never in my life have so many dead animals showed up inside my house before… I’ve lived with cats my entire life, and until this year have never had them bring in so many (if any) deceased little critters, including mice, birds, and lizards… And so me and my daughters had another little funeral today for a baby bird that we found on our living room floor. I let the girls hold the bird, they wanted to, and so I let them. Perhaps in holding death, it takes away some of the fear of death, some of the scariness… Which as of lately for my 5 year old, has been the feeling around death, fear. And so we said prayers for the little bird, we asked our daddy in heaven to take good care of the little birdie, we prayed the bird mommy would be comforted. And then we buried the bird, and put flowers on top of its grave. And so perhaps in finding all of these kitty “presents”, it allows death into our lives in a very tangible, non-threatening, sort of way. It allows us to handle death, comfort the dead with our prayers and holding, and offer prayers to their little families. It allows us to participate in peaceful death rituals, so that perhaps when they think about the death of their own father, they’ll know death isn’t so much scary as it is sad, and that we can offer our prayers, our love, and our holding, and find some sort of peace in knowing that this is simply a part of what it means to live.

"When you think of love, do you think of pain?"

“When you think of love, do you think of pain?” How many of us are carrying around all the pains of what we experienced as the result of an open heart? These song lyrics struck a chord in my heart. I loved with all of my heart, and then the person who I loved died. My heart was broken. 2 ½ years has shown me that we have the tremendous ability to heal and mend our wounds, and that the desire to give and receive love is as natural as anything… And so then, in moving on from a broken heart (all in our own natural timing, of course), what do we want to carry forward into the future, into our next experience of love? Cause those lyrics, “when you think of love do you think of pain,” resonated me with very deeply because when I think of Mitch, yes, I think of the love we shared, but I also think of the sheer earth shattering pain of what it was to lose him… and do I want to carry that pain and that fear of loss into the next relationship? Cause I know now, death is a real possibility, break-ups, betrayals, they are all real possibilities, but do I want to carry around a shield to protect myself from those potential heart-breakers, or do I want to be mindful that those potentials exist and risk loving anyway? Cause the thing is, it feels so good to love, and it feels so good to receive love, it feels so natural… So, to hold it all, cause the potential in living with an open-heart is to experience the greatest love and the greatest pain. And in playing it safely, am I really willing to forgo loving again with all that I am? No, and that is a choice we make, and it’s a choice that takes courage, especially if we’re wise to how painful it can feel, and also to how damn good it can feel. And so I can choose to look back with the fondest of memories, knowing that a heart open to love is a beautiful thing indeed.

A Widow's Journey Through Parenting, Two Years Later...


There’s been some sadness under the surface… just out of my awareness… too busy, too healed to get sad… But then today, out for a walk with Ava and Amelie and we met some of our neighbors, a young couple, around my age, so happy, and somehow I mentioned Mitch, and that he died. And then I thought, why did I just bring that up with complete strangers? Cause as I walked away I nearly started crying, and I haven’t cried over Mitch in a while… I knew I needed to come back to my sadness after the girls went to sleep for the night, and so that brings me to the present moment. Here I am writing about it, processing it, cause I know by now that feelings don’t just go away because we are asleep to them… Sadness. I watched a few videos of Mitch tonight, just to hear his voice, see him again in action. And it hit me, as time moves along, Ava’s memories are getting farther and farther away from her consciousness. I asked her the other day if she remembered her daddy or if she just remembered him through pictures, and she shook her head no that she didn’t remember him, but that yes she remembered him through the pictures… Oh, this is where the sadness has been. Even as I type the words, as they spill out onto the screen, tears, and there haven’t been tears in a while. She doesn’t remember him anymore, and Amelie never even met him. And he was such an awesome guy. They’ll never really know how much I loved him apart from the way I talk about him, the stories that they hear, or the pictures that they see. And that’s what’s been hurting my heart. Ahhh, the tension in the back of my heart has softened, I understand why I just “brought it up” with that younger couple this evening… these feelings needed witness, they needed moving. They needed release. I told Ava a few times over these past two years that when the time was right, a loving man would come into our lives that would do all the things that a daddy would do. Her eyes lit up, she wanted to meet him immediately… I do want that for my little girls. I want them to have a dad. I’m focused now on building my business and my financial platform, fully healing from my broken heart, and being mom and dad to the girls, but when the time is right, me, Ava, and Amelie will fall in love with a very special man, someone that would be Mitch-approved. A lovely vision indeed. And so for now and for always, I’ll tell Ava stories about Mitch, the adventures, the love. She and Amelie will always know how loved they were by their daddy.

"Where do we go when we die?" Answering the questions kids ask.

.“I don't want to die,” “I don't want you to die,” “I'm scared to die,” “Can I take my stuffed puppy with me when I die? I think Amelie will take her favorite blankie,” “I miss daddy.” The latest questions and conversations from my nearly four year old daughter. Death has become something very real in our family. It has been nearly two years since my husband died and my daughter's understanding of what it means to die changes as she gets older. In the beginning, I explained death through the spiritual lens only. Daddy is free as a bird now, he's like an angel watching over you, available to you at all times in spirit. While also being real about how sad those of us feel who are left behind, who also feel his physical absence. No daddy to hug, go on dates with, cuddle with... And then explaining that death is beautiful, we are completely free, returning to the place we left before we were born, pure love, pure light, peace, and joy. Pure God. “I can't wait to die,” she says after I explain the beauty in the transition to death. Hold on, I tell her, there is much beauty and purpose we have here on Earth before we die. And I tell her I feel like I'm not going to die until I'm old, which is truly how I feel, but then I also tell her that none of us die until it's our time, until our spirit is ready. She seems satisfied with these answers. But death is on her mind. I leave the door open for conversation. At such a tender age, feeling her way through understanding the very real questions that all of us have about what it means to live and what it means to die. To live with this truth of both our immortal and mortal reality, well, I think it helps us live more fully, with greater meaning. These are the questions people have been asking since the beginning of time... As we move through our own fears about death, we will be more prepared to answer these kinds of questions posed by our children from an honest, heartfelt space.


Passed loved ones birthday, to eat cake or not to eat cake...

The journey through grief is such a solitary one, you can surround yourself with loved ones, mentors, and wise guides, but the one that knows what's best for you, the one that truly knows exactly how it is you're feeling, and what it is you need, is always going to be you...My husband would have turned 34 years old today on his Birthday, and leading up to this day, heaviness, sadness. Lots of process work, journaling, listening to and singing Adele, crying out to the ocean... I knew I wanted to be able to celebrate his life with my daughters today. And so I had planned to have a little birthday cake, grab dinner out, go to the beach, make it a joyful day, doing all of the things Mitch loved doing on his birthday, but at the last minute, I doubted the piece about celebrating with a cake, a friend's words repeated in my mind, he's gone.... And yes true, and when I had mentioned to my 3 ½ year old daughter Ava that we would be celebrating daddy's birthday, she replied, but he's an angel... And I said, I know, he won't be there, well, he'll be there, but not in the ways we've known before... And so I didn't pick up a little cake. And then today rolled around, and I wished I had, for me, for my daughter, for Mitch... For me, there's just comfort in honoring Mitch, especially on special days like his Birthday with some type of ritual, with some type of celebration that gets my little ones involved in the remembering of their daddy, and there was something about the cake that was warming and comforting. And we did celebrate, we went out for pizza, got ice cream, went to the beach, played in the pool, saw some friends, and in the end, we stuck a candle in the pizza and sang happy birthday... A lesson to me, to appreciate the support of loved ones, but know that the one who knows me best, that knows what it is I need, what is best for our family, is me. And to trust that, to seek wise counsel, advice, and support, but at the end of the day, go inward to find the answers that I am seeking because it is only I that walks in these shoes, or rather flip flops these days. Trust your inner-guidance.