Children and the Empty Chair at Christmas

Nov 28, 2018 | Blog Articles

Part 2 of The Empty Chair at Christmas. What you can do to help children if they are experiencing grief. By Petrea King

Young children experience grief in powerful ways. It’s often thought that young children have little concept of death but this certainly hasn’t been my
experience.

It’s crucial to provide a child with strategies and rituals that help them to assimilate the reality of loss as well as instilling the possibility of a
continuing loving relationship with someone no longer physically present in their life.

What helps

Wrapping young children in a rainbow and connecting from heart to heart before they go to sleep, can be an immensely helpful ritual for children.

The child can then send a rainbow from their heart to their loved one who has passed on or, perhaps to a tree or garden if one has been created in memory
of the person or to their photograph if a child has one by their bed.

By sending rainbows, children feel they’re making a valuable and positive contribution instead of feeling powerless to help.

The Rainbow Ritual

This ritual developed out of our work in helping children deal with challenging, sad or distressing news. We’ve found it to be a wonderful blessing for
children and a comfort for their parents.

You can take as long or as little time with this ritual as seems appropriate for the age of the child. This ritual is wonderful for children from the age
of about 3.

The Ritual …

  • Tell the child that you’re going to wrap them up in a rainbow and connect your hearts via a rainbow.
  • Then run your hand from the top of the child’s head to the tips of their toes asking them to imagine you’re wrapping them up in a cloud of red, the
    colour of strawberries, fire engines and tomatoes.
  • Ask the child if they can see the colour – and of course, children always can.
  • Continue with each of the 7 colours of the rainbow all the while running your hand gently from the top of their head to the tips of their toes.
  • Then place your hand over their heart and ask them to imagine a really bright rainbow that starts in their heart and that comes across to your heart
    – while you move your hand to your heart.
  • Ask your child if they want to send a rainbow from their heart to other family members as well as to the person who has passed on.

The little prayer I used with my children when I started wrapping them up in rainbows before they went to sleep when they were aged 4 and 7 went like this:

I wrap you in a rainbow of light to care for you all through the night.

I wrap you in a rainbow of light to care for you all through the night.

Your guardian angel watches from above and showers you with her great love.

This simple ritual generally stops nightmares and separation anxiety and is very helpful as a way for children to remain connected to the people they love.

Make a Christmas decoration in memory

Young children also enjoy making a Christmas decoration that is especially in memory of their loved one who has passed on. This can be hung upon the Christmas
tree or displayed on the mantelpiece or on the Christmas table.

Feeling guilty

Many people berate themselves for having a good time or for laughing and enjoying themselves when they are grieving. This too is very normal and understandable.
Some people think they must be in denial or they feel guilty or mortified that they can find pleasure in anything after the dreadful pain of loss.

Having fun or enjoying each other’s company is not a sign that we miss a loved-one any less.

The depth of our grief is the measure of our love for the person but the nature of the mind is to move through emotions rather than getting stuck in any
one feeling for a long time.

Christmas pressures

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of happiness, shared times, excitement, reunion and love. Even at the best of times, this can be an enormous and unrealistic
pressure on individuals and families and for those who are grieving, Christmas can feel full of potential pain.

For some people, it will feel like all the world is having a wonderful time with their loved ones and the grieving person is starkly reminded of their
alone-ness and the loss of their loved one.

Feeling the pressure of having to be happy, jovial or even pleased to see people, can feel insurmountable and only accentuates the pain of loss.

Embracing grief

By honouring our unique way of embracing grief and removing the pressure of other people’s – and our own – expectations of how we should grieve, we can
create a healing pathway for ourselves.

Just as the potter knows that the pot is made strong by the furnace of heat, we must traverse the depths of griefs’ valleys if we are to discover compassion
for ourselves and for all people that likewise suffer.

Resources for children

Quest for Life has developed a range of rainbow resources out of our work in helping children deal with challenging news.

– Download a copy of the full Rainbow Ritual

– The Rainbow Ritual has also been written into a children’s book You, Me & the Rainbow

– Beautiful rainbow ribbons with a hearts. Children love to have these
as a visual reminder of the loving connection they have with the person who has passed on and often like to have them tied to their bed head.

– Sookie Rainbow Bears are soft, cuddly and knitted in the colours of the rainbow.

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