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I recently watched The Adam Project, Ryan Reynolds’ new movie on Netflix. While it’s a fun and action packed film (not necessarily family friendly by some standards so look into it before watching with the kids!), the underlying message is all about loss and missed opportunities.

In one scene (NO SPOILERS I PROMISE), a man has a conversation with a mother about how she handled the death of a family member with her son. He encouraged her to open up and share how the loss affected her rather than bottling it up and hiding it. He said, “You think you’re being strong for him, and the problem with you acting like you have it all together is, he believes it. Maybe he needs to know that you don’t. It’s ok if you don’t.”

This struck a chord with me because it’s all about the parent needing to have the courage to begin a conversation and making it ok for the child to do the same. Too often we bottle up our sadness and hurt (and all the other emotions) in an effort to “protect” others, especially kids. In Heaven’s Bell you’ll see the parallel as you read about Cody trying to protect his parents and keep them from being upset by not talking about his illness. At one point he says to Ashley, “they think I don’t know but I do. And, I’m okay with it.”

While we always want to protect those we love, sometimes it does more harm than good to keep things inside and not discuss them. Here are some things to keep in mind when talking with your child(ren) about the loss of a loved one:

  • Don’t avoid talking about your loved one. Sharing your feelings makes it easier for the kids to open up and share theirs.
  • Do Encourage them to share memories of their loved one.
  • Don’t use confusing language. Some words like dead or died can seem harsh but using simple words like these can help the child to better understand what has happened.
  • Do let them know what to expect. Explain how your family will remember the loved one through funeral services, memorials, celebrations of life, etc.
  • Don’t expect a particular reaction. Children grieve differently and they need to know from you that it’s ok for them to handle grief in their own way.
  • Do listen. Allow your child(ren) to share what they are feeling and give them the space to speak and know you hear them.

Difficult conversations are tough but they are necessary, especially in scary situations when you’re also struggling with the loss of a loved one. With just a few simple communication tips like those above, you can make it an easier situation for everyone involved and begin to heal as a family.