Grief is our response to loss. When we lose someone we love - a partner, a parent, a taitamaiti (child), relative, friend or a much-loved pet – we grieve.
We can also grieve when we lose something of ourselves - our health or mobility - and sometimes we grieve over lost opportunities, lost employment, and lost things.
Grieving is an intensely personal experience. People may say, "I know what you're going through' because they may have had a similar loss to you, but their experience will be different to yours.
Grief doesn't observe a timetable. It takes as long as it takes, and it comes and goes. Grief can be overwhelming and unexpected and, over time, becomes part of us and the life we lead.
When we grieve we can feel very alone, even if we’re surrounded by whānau and friends.
After the loss of a loved one, it's as if the world we knew has changed forever. In many ways, it has.
Experiencing a flood of emotions and sensations, all at once, with no rhyme or reason, is part of it too. Sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, guilt, emptiness, tearful, out of control, irritable. These feelings are part of the grieving process.
There are physical symptoms too as your body responds to stress and grief, for example: insomnia, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, headaches, and weight loss.
Some days you may not want to get out of bed. Sometimes you might sit up all night in a chair, or lose your temper in a flash. Some of these emotional responses may shock you.
Allow yourself time and permission to grieve.
A child's understanding of death and loss depends on their age.
Giving your taitamaiti 'age appropriate' information, communicated in a way that they can relate to, will help them gain some understanding of death, dying, and grief. If there is serious illness within the whānau, keeping your tamariki informed is a continual process.
Conversations with your tamariki about death, dying, illness and loss are ongoing because they will keep asking questions and sometimes ask the same question more than once. A child's understanding of a situation may change over time because their ability to make sense of something will change with their development age and stage. Unlike adults they can't always remember what happened and may need repeated explanations and conversations to make sense of it.
Ongoing clinical research suggests that providing tamariki with age appropriate support during times of grief and loss can improve their understanding of death and dying and avoid emotional problems later in life.
0-2 years respond more to the distress of the caregiver rather than to the person who has died or is seriously ill.
2-5 years cannot find the language to talk about death and loss. Responses manifest as actions.
5-8 years have a better grasp of death but do not fully understand the concept, still believing that the person who has died will come back, or that the person who is seriously ill will get better.
10+ years, the 'teenage years' where tamariki and mātātahi (young people) are egocentric. Although they will understand death and serious illness, they may resent having to do more to help out or dislike the feeling of being 'uncool' if a parent has cancer or has died.
This year marks a very special anniversary for me and for Kenzie's Gift.
It has been ten years since I lost my daughter Kenzie. Whānau, friends and the community were there for me throughout our journey, and I truly understood the value of support for families enduring the worst grief imaginable. That is why I established Kenzie's Gift: to help families during times of profound grief and loss.
I hope that this booklet will provide helpful information and insights for parents experiencing a bereavement within the whānau, and guidance for speaking with your tamariki about the loss of a loved one.
The Memories are Forever Diary which accompanies this booklet is designed for tamariki aged 5-12 years. The diary features fun things to do and encourages tamariki to remember in an individual way. It also prompts them to express how they are feeling with visual cues and activities.
I believe it is better to tell a taitamaiti a sad truth than a mistruth, wrap the support around them, and help them develop coping mechanisms so they may learn to live with their loss. That is the essence of Kenzie's Gift.
We are exceedingly grateful to the Fairfax/Ports of Auckland Round the Bays 2015 for the wonderful donation which has helped to make the Memories are Forever pack a reality for us.
CEO, Kenzie's Gift