Content Warning: This post covers the topic of grief and loss and may be distressing for some readers.
When Jack* was six years old, he watched his little brother take his last breath on the asphalt after being hit by a speeding driver.
From that moment on, Jack lost not only his sole sibling, his playmate and his roommate but he also lost the parents he knew as they disappeared into deep and unimaginable grief.
Eighteen months on and Jack was struggling to cope with his profound loss. On the surface, he looked unaffected by his brother’s death – playing happily with his toys and regularly asking for playdates with his school friends. It’s observations like these that help perpetuate the persistent myth that children bounce back from grief more easily than adults. The truth however, is that children process and display complex emotions differently than adults … but the grief is always there.
Jack’s teacher noticed that he became less engaged in class. At night, he struggled to fall and stay asleep. He became anxious that his parents might also die and that he’d be left without a family. And he insisted on wearing his brother’s clothes, even though they were two sizes too small.
Jack attended a school that partnered with KidsXpress. The school counsellor referred him to our program, and before long he started to open up to our therapist about his feelings. Through play, music, dance, and art, he learned to describe the ‘big black darkness’ around his heart and started to process his grief. He felt immense relief at being able to freely talk about his little brother to someone other than his mum who always cried whenever he brought up his brother’s name. By the end of the program, he was sleeping again and smiling in class more.
Today, Jack knows that if the ‘big darkness’ becomes too much again, he can come back to the KidsXpress cottage at his school and get support whenever he needs it.
*At KidsXpress we respect the privacy of the children and families we support. So while their stories are true, stock images of children have been used and client names have been changed.