Through the Eyes of a Child
Posted by Jennifer Fieten, Child Life Specialist
Children can, and do, grieve and children process their grief through play. Two concepts that my training has taught me and two concepts that I have witnessed firsthand countless times as a child life specialist. Yet, somehow, these two concepts became more real to me than they ever were as I sat with a five-year-old sibling of a three-year-old hospice patient in her backyard, providing support as she learned that a frog she caught and had been caring for had died.
She talked about playing with him the day before, how he seemed to really enjoy the dirt, and how sad she was that he had died. She cried as she talked about how much she would miss him; kissed him as she talked about saying goodbye. We picked flowers, prepared his resting place, and said what we would miss about him. Throughout the interaction, she discussed the parallels between her brother’s anticipated death and the death of her frog. She cried for both as she attempted to reconcile what was to come.
Following “Froggy’s” visitation and burial, we returned inside, where her play consisted of a brother and sister; the sister sick and the brother unaware that his sister was about to die. “The medicines didn’t help, but her brother doesn’t know. He doesn’t know she is going to die.” We discussed, in child friendly terms, what it means to die, what it can look like when someone dies, and how people often feel when someone they love dies.
When her brother died, she made sure her brother was covered by his soft blanket as he was prepared to transition into the funeral home’s hearse. She insisted on continuing to care for him.
On my last visit with this beautiful girl, she laughed to herself as we played. When asked why she was laughing, she stated, “God is happy that he (her brother) is there. God said that he (her brother) makes Him happy. He is hugging [my brother] right now.” I have no doubt that He was. On that day, I experienced the wisdom of a child, and what I had learned in all of my years of training became real ― children can, and do, grieve. And, children do process their grief through play. I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the care of this sibling, her brother, and this family.