My Grief Is Like the Ocean

Thank you for being here. You are brave.

The suicide of a loved one is heartbreaking. It’s also an incredibly difficult topic to discuss with children. As child psychotherapists, we believe that when caregivers feel supported, the impossible can become possible. Our hope is that you will read this book with your child during a quiet moment in your day, cuddled up together with some soothing things nearby. And that it will give you the support you need to honor wherever your family is in your grief experience. 

Children have many feelings, thoughts, and questions after someone dies. Helping them to name feelings, explore thoughts, and be comfortable asking questions gives them essential tools to communicate their inner worlds.

Children tend to bounce in and out of their grief, and will benefit from opportunities to play, create, read, and move around, while they express themselves to you. Because children rely on cues from their caregivers, an important piece of a child’s grief experience is how you as their caregiver attend to your own grief. By sharing your feelings, thoughts, and questions you provide your child with the permission to share theirs too.

In our experience, caregivers often feel conflicted about whether to talk directly with children about suicide. Caregivers may want to shield their child from the painful truth. While these are understandable thoughts and feelings, it is a heavy and impossible burden for caregivers to carry. And, hiding the truth can undermine a child’s trust in a caregiver, which can eventually create a secondary loss. It’s important that children learn about suicide from an adult they feel bonded with, not from an accidental source. 

In addition, having ongoing discussions about mental health provides an opportunity to address risk factors and red flags for self-harm and suicidality, It also introduces a discussion about where to access help. This book was created to help you feel supported while engaging in honest, age-appropriate, informative, and heartfelt discussions with your child.

The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University states, “When a person adapts to a loss, grief is not over.” As caregivers, we can help children to find a place in their lives for their grief. Below are some activities that can build a feelings vocabulary and integrate grief into children’s lives.

  • While reading this book you may find it helpful to pause periodically, and ask the child how they feel, think and relate to that particular topic the narrator is addressing: “I wonder how you feel about ___” may help to open up a conversation.
  • You could use the recurring refrain/mantra from this book to check in on feelings with your child in a metaphorical (and therefore indirect) way: “My grief is like the ocean, today I feel___”
  • Consider making your own personalized family Feelings Poster full of faces representing different feelings. Stick it prominently somewhere in your house (ex: refrigerator, family room, etc) so you can share feelings daily. 
  • Spend time in nature and find which metaphors connect to your child uniquely. Perhaps it’s the cycle of seasons, or the magic in watching a seedling grown into a plant on your windowsill.  Whatever it is, trust that it’s important.
  • Consider a routine/ritual at bedtime when you cuddle up in a “Cozy Corner” in their room, full of symbols, photos, and tokens of remembrance. 

We understand that the narrative of this book is one of many possible narratives when it comes to mental illness, risk factors, and death by suicide. We invite you to adapt our story in a way that meets the unique needs of the child in your care.

There are so many resources and mental health professionals that are dedicated to helping families in the aftermath of suicide. This book is intended for supportive purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment. Remember, there is ALWAYS help and you are never alone.


Jessica and Jillian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.