When we talk about coming to terms with loss, the term “grief work” is often used. Associated with grief work is talk therapy, writing in journals, visiting gravesites, and generally somehow getting through the stages of denial, bargaining, anger, and depression before finally coming to an on-again, off-again, sense of acceptance.
Therapy with children who have experienced loss can be especially challenging as vocabulary and journal writing and discussion of stages may not be age appropriate. “I don’t want to talk about it,” is a mantra for shutting out further pain. In my experience, art, music, and play can many times be more helpful in the process of grieving. This can also be true for adults.
Sometimes a child’s first experience of grieving is for the loss of a beloved pet. Sometimes the loss is the end of their parents’ marriage and family life as they have known it. Sometimes it is the loss is of a loved grandparent or family member or friend. “Gone” is the reality, seemingly without remedy, in a child’s mind.
I was touched recently in working with a child dealing with the loss of family members. We used the keys on a musical keyboard in my office to express feelings. The child had no musical training but simply played the feelings as they occurred in response to a variety of key words. One word given prompted happy, fast playing of keys high on the register, followed by slow and soft notes on lower keys, and then a stop.
The child’s interpretation of this “song” was that something had once been so happy but now was “over.” Understanding and accepting the concept of “over” as a part of life experience, instead of something taken away, allows us to hold memories while going forward. It is hard to be so young and have to deal with loss without the experience of years, but it is a seed of wisdom, planted early, about how to live. Loss is not the end, but a prelude.