Helping Children Cope With Grief and Loss

by Anita Cannon

In November of 2009, my son asked me to walk with him to his car.  He was two steps ahead of me the entire time; I couldn’t catch up. I wondered what was so urgent, that couldn’t wait until the end of his son’s soccer game. Once we were seated in the car, he turned to look at me as I heard his wife slip into the backseat.  He told me that my brother Jack had called him. Jack was looking for me. Our sister Bonnie had died that morning. All I could do was cry, wishing my son could take back these life-changing words.

A few months after my sister’s death, I walked to the kitchen. It was about 10:00 at night.  I took a paper and pencil and started writing. Two hours later, I had what has become a children’s book of love and loss. I have wanted to write books for children since I was in high school. I never dreamed my first book would come after being a registered nurse for 40 years. The book was written from my oldest grandson’s point of view, about loving and losing his great aunt. How did he handle this grief?  How did all of the children experience and manage the loss?

First, we talked about Bonnie. We reminisced about our times together and how much we enjoyed being with her. My grandson would share his feelings with me. He had not expected to see Bonnie’s girls cry so hard at the funeral. Perhaps watching them cry when he was quiet and somber was like looking in a mirror. Their crying was reflected in the tears he shed inside. We continue to talk about Bonnie and how special she made each of us feel. I often wonder if she knew her life would be short.  I will ask her one day, when I see her again.

Second, family time is very important to us. We all grieve differently, but we accept each other’s grief process and love each other through it. I am the oldest of four and am fortunate to live in the same city as my two children and five grandchildren.  My brother and sisters have not always lived in the same city, but have made it a priority to visit. For as long as I can remember, my siblings and their families have come home for Christmas and other special events.

Third, we work to keep the memories alive.  One way has been through pictures.  Pictures of trips, birthday celebrations, graduations, dance recitals and ball games.

A deep faith is another blessing that has helped us manage grief.  The children in our family are taught from a young age to pray and to believe. They go to faith-based schools and attend church with their families. Our faith and belief in a life after death has given all of us—the children and adults—the greatest comfort of all.  

I dreamed one night about seeing Bonnie.  We were divided by a clothes line.  I knew somehow that I couldn’t touch her or reach out to her but I could talk to her.  I asked her how she was doing.  She answered that she was fine but very busy and she pointed to the projects stacked up beside her.  She was hanging up newly-crafted items on the line to dry.  She was, as always, making memories and working to make others feel special.

Grief is deep and painful for children and adults. It comes and goes.  Just as we think we are dealing with the loss of a loved one, the pain comes back, worse than ever.  Loving each other, being together, sharing memories and growing in our faith helps us make it to the other side, a side of peace and acceptance.

About the author:
Anita Cannon is the author of My Aunt Bonnie, a children’s book dedicated to helping parents and youth cope with grief and the loss of a loved one. The book was inspired by the unexpected death of Cannon’s sister, Bonnie. Part of the proceeds from the sale of My Aunt Bonnie will go toward research efforts at the SADS Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to research and informing the public about the disease.