I am currently reading ‘When Children Grieve’ to assist me in helping my young daughter come to terms with the loss of our dog, whom she still misses after nearly two years.
I am about a third of the way through and just finished the chapter entitled ‘Looking at Myth 6: Time Heals All Wounds’ when P comes into the room and asks ‘Where are my bunny slippers?’
An image of a pair of too-small, fluffy pink slipper-boots, last seen six months ago on their way to the charity shop flits across my mind, and I hesitate.
P becomes visibly distressed ‘I don’t like the other slippers’ she wails, ‘I want my bunny slippers’ (to be fair they were much cuter).
I can feel the situation escalating, and wonder briefly to myself ‘Is this just about the slippers?’
Any previous attempts to pacify had been quite poorly received, replacement slippers, reassurances that another little girl would look after them so well, logic and common sense (they don’t fit you any more!)
Having recently come to realize whilst reading this book that none of the above techniques are effective in addressing loss, and feeling rather more confident with some recently acquired tools at my service I decide to respond to this situation as an opertunity to explore a genuine childhood loss. I sit down on the floor ‘You really loved your bunny slippers didn’t you’ I acknowledge, ‘And I wish they still fit you now so you could wear them some more’.
P calms down a little and also acknowledges how she wishes she still could still wear them. We cuddle and I listen and don’t try to distract or pacify, I just acknowledge her emotion in the moment, and she responds by being able to tell me how she feels.
Then something unexpected and magical happens, something which hasn’t happened in six months – she gets up, fetches her new slippers and puts them on for the very first time.
‘I like my new slippers!’ she beams.
We both admire the new slippers on her feet and then she runs off to play.
Whilst this may seem a very simple issue that ‘should’ have been easy to resolve my feeling is that all unresolved losses are linked, and so seemingly small losses can trigger huge responses, particularly in young children who, thankfully, may not have learned yet to control their deeply felt emotions.
I am amazed at the effectiveness of this different approach to P’s grief, and, whilst this is only one small, initial sucess, I am far more hopeful that I will be more effectively able to assist her in dealing with all manner of losses by applying the concepts in the book. The way I had been taught to deal with grief, the methods I learned through experience and observation – by intellectualizing the loss, distractions, replacements and waiting for enough time to pass for me to feel better, which have never done any more than bury the grief, I am finally learning to un-learn, for my daughters benefit, and maybe, in time, for mine.
Oh – and I am so relived that the new slippers still fit!