QUESTION: Our son, who I’ll call James, is 11 years old and had been helping an elderly neighbor since he was 6. He carried in her groceries, raked her lawn, and just enjoyed helping her in little ways. Her son, an only child, lives out of state, so we were her local family.
Recently, our neighbor passed away. Our son is inconsolable. The memorial service is scheduled for a month from now. We have two questions: What can be said to console our son? Should we take him to the memorial service?
~ Caring Parents
Dear Caring Parents,
You are experiencing one of the hardest things any parent faces in trying to help your son understand and cope with the grief this loss has brought him. Children hear the word “death” almost every day on television, in the news and movies. When they hear about death in the media, though, they are personally detached from it. But when faced with the death of someone they love or care for, the painful feelings of loss are often something children are not prepared to deal with. Their uncertainty about death often leaves children feeling very alone and frightened.
As the loving, trusting adults in your son’s life you can provide the extra support he needs at this time. As you talk with him, use words he can understand and speak about death in a gentle and accurate way to help him understand what has happened. Be honest about your own painful feelings of sadness and loss. Showing him that you’re okay will help alleviate his anxiety and help him understand that being sad is part of life. Children need to know that everything they feel is normal and healthy. Scripture tells us that even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.
When someone passes away we are left with only memories, so it will be helpful to talk with him about all the good things he remembers about her. Remind him that though she is gone, those memories will live forever in his heart and mind. Help him understand how his life was enriched by this neighbor, but also remind him of how he touched her life as well. Affirm in him the character qualities of unselfishness, compassion, sharing, serving and love that he showed her and how blessed she was to have him as a friend.
Regarding whether or not he should attend the memorial service, it’s important that children experience closure in honoring the death of someone significant in their life. It can be helpful for you to take him, but prepare him ahead of time by explaining what will happen there. The service will be an opportunity to celebrate the great person that your neighbor was and, as followers of Christ, reminds each of us of the hope of seeing our loved ones again in eternity.
Pastor Randy Foster
Christian Life Church
Dear Caring Parents,
How wonderful that James was blessed with an “adopted grandparent” neighbor! She and James gained a lot from each other and he learned how to serve and care for her. His deep grief at her death is certainly understandable and normal.
When someone our child dearly loves dies, we can mistakenly try to shield him from the sorrow that ensues. Unfortunately by doing this, the natural process of grief and sadness can get short-circuited. He may then submerge his grief and “bury” it along with the person who has died, only to have to deal with it years later.
In Ecclesiastes 3, a wise man wrote, “To everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to hold onto, and a time to let go.”
If you haven’t yet done so, set aside a family time to talk. In this season of grieving, it is an opportunity to help James understand that his sorrow is normal, but not “forever.” Remind him that all creation lives and dies and that dying is a natural part of life. Thankfully, because God designed humans as eternal, spiritual beings, our lives don’t end when our bodies die. Our spirit lives on with God.
As a family, celebrate your neighbor’s life by sharing feelings, memories, and funny stories about her. Encourage James to share his feelings and memories. Talking about her is part of his healing process.
You should absolutely take James to her memorial service. It’s important in giving him a sense of closure and peace in his heart. Encourage him to share with your neighbor’s son how much she meant to him. You might also ask your neighbor’s son about the possibility of obtaining a small memento of hers for James to keep.
Be alert and compassionate to future times of sadness for James. Although James’ “sorrow may last for a season, joy will surely come again” (Psalm 30:5).
QUESTION: I just became an officer in an organization for women that requires a lot of my time. I’ve been a member for over 15 years. The problem is my husband, who recently retired. He is resenting the time I spend away from home, planning events and attending meetings. I tell him to get a life. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. I was a stay-at-home mom and juggled kids’ activities, PTA meetings, and housework until our three children went to college. I joined the club because I wanted a diversion for me from family responsibilities.
I believe my husband is being unreasonable. It’s not as though I’m spending all day, every day away from home. What do you think?
~ Liberated Housewife
It appears your husband had expectations for his retirement that don’t mesh with the reality of your life. Since you lived separate work lives, his working outside the home and you inside, it would be a huge adjustment to be together all the time in retirement. Ideally these adjustments should have been talked out prior to his leaving the workforce and that’s one thing to try now. Help him understand that when he was off working all day you two had things to share in the evenings. Now it’s the same, only you are out having different experiences. Maybe he felt he was taking care of the family with his paycheck and not valuing your child-rearing and homemaking contributions equally. Now he’s thinking it’s his turn to be taken care of. Perhaps if he considers that you both have retired from your jobs he can see it’s time to reassess each partner’s contribution to the relationship.
Your husband’s sense of self worth might have stemmed from being paid on the job. In that case, perhaps a volunteer opportunity can give him a similar purpose. There are so many non-profit organizations that need help; he would be welcomed with open arms. Maybe you can do a little research and find some organizations that really need his talents.
If volunteering isn’t his thing, there are many free or low cost events at churches and schools. Glendale Community College offers inexpensive non-credit classes for a variety of interests and the Brand Library hosts many free programs.
Dear Liberated House Wife,
Congratulations upon becoming an officer! The organization you are working with has entrusted you with leadership, oversight and decisions. Your hard work and commitment definitely played a part in this appointment, the same hard work and commitment you put into raising your children and serving your community. This same hard work and commitment appears to be reflected in your marriage. You certainly are very forthright to tell your husband to “get a life.” I would guess that you tell him pretty much what you feel and think these days. I wonder if he has done the same with you over the years, saying what he really feels and thinks. I am curious if he had envisioned his retirement days simply spending more time with you. How very sweet and precious if that were to be true.
Actually the truth may be that he will need to readjust his expectations. Your being so busy with your work sounds fulfilling for you. He may need some of that hard work and commitment, in which you excel, focused on the two of you coming up with treasured times together. These treasured times, consistently engaged, should leave him something substantial to be satisfied with in your relationship, so much so that he may not mind as much any amount of your time devoted elsewhere.
Finding the solution you are looking for will be in the hard work and commitment that you tenaciously pursue for the two of you. If for some unfortunate reason this offering does not take, then he may just need to go and “get a life.”
Thank you for sharing.