When Kids and Teens Grieve: Remembering a Parent
I’ve been called upon to assist grieving children and teens for more than two decades. It is never easy, and always humbling. I have learned more from them about the power of the human spirit, resiliency and determination than they have ever learned from me.
Whether a parent dies of a long drawn out illness, a sudden accident, suicide or murder (and I’ve been tasked with helping kids/teens with all of the aforementioned), grief drains us physically, emotionally and psychologically. It is an exhausting process, and one with no time limit. It’s easy to imagine how challenging grief is for kids and teens, given their lack of life experiences, limited coping skills and their very real need for a parent who has passed away. In the midst of grief and finding a “new” normal, it’s important to offer kids and teens an opportunity to find ways to memorialize their loved parent.
Ideas for Remembering a Deceased Parent
Due to developmental differences, we've broken this down into ideas for younger kids and teens.
Create a memory garden. Allow the child to select the types of flowers to memorialize the parent. Did the parent have a favorite flower or flowers that the child wants to include in the garden? Is there a particular flower that reminds the child of the parent? Let the child take the lead. Ask lots of questions. Encourage the child to sketch out a plan for the garden (you will likely have to help determine how large the area will be and where it will be located). Live in a small space or apartment with no yard? No worries. Stick to a potted plant or terrarium!
Create a handmade book about the parent. Allow the child to be as creative as possible. Create with your own paper and when finished, either staple it together, use a paper punch and yarn or ribbon, or consider sending the book away to be bound! The child may wish to work on a little each day, or make the entire book at once. Let it be his or her choice!
Create a collage or scrapbook dedicated to the parent. Gather scrapbook materials, such as the book, markers, embellishments and plenty of pictures of the parent and the child with the parent. Allow the child to create away. This will likely be a project that takes a while. No rush!
Create a memory box. Decorate an old shoebox and add trinkets and odds and ends that remind the child of the parent. Maybe an old watch, pictures, or other keepsakes that the child can hold, think about and look at when he or she is missing the deceased parent.
Donate a bench in the parent’s memory. Make it a golf bench in the parent’s name at the local golf course, if the parent was an avid golfer. Or donate a park bench to the local playground, if that was more reflective of where the parent may have spent time.
Establish a scholarship in the parent’s name. Make it reflective of something the parent did for a living, or a dream they had of doing. If the parent always dreamed of learning how to pilot a plane, award the scholarship to somebody planning on going into the field of aviation. If the parent was a fabulous cook, consider awarding the scholarship to somebody studying culinary arts. Let the teen think about and come up with a fitting scholarship. Wondering how to raise money for the scholarship? Why not organize an annual fun walk/run in the parent’s name, with all proceeds going towards the scholarship?
Donate books in the parent’s name. Donate books on a subject the parent loved to the local library. On a book plate, have the parent’s name engraved.
Create a memory garden. See above. It’s the same idea as with the younger child, only you can allow the teen more freedom. Encourage the teen to do some research about the flowers…perennials vs. annuals, which flowers grow best in your locale, etc. Does the teen wish to add any fun or funky, personalized memento of the parent, such as a stepping stone that represents the parent? Let the sky be the limit.