When tragedy impacts in the life of a child, it can be difficult for adults to know how to help. Ada June, age 11, had a sister die and a brother undergo multiple open-heart surgeries. She shares about death, the power of remembering, and the importance of being able to self-advocate in the midst of pain. There is wisdom here for anyone who is walking with a child through sadness as well as for those that support parents during times of disruption.
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It is my hope that these reflections from Ada June help in three potential ways.
They help you better companion the children in your life that have experienced or are right now experiencing disruption. If you don’t remember, childhood can be hard. There are scraped knees and neighborhood bullies. Someone is always deciding when you go to bed and what you have to eat for dinner. Now, factor in a divorce or a cancer diagnosis. It can all feel pretty overwhelming, for both kids and adults.
These episodes help you show more empathy to friends and coworkers that are parenting children through seasons of disruption. These adults are not only managing their own sadness and exhaustion, they have little people that are looking to them for direction and guidance…and that is a really particular burden to carry.
Maybe these reflections help you to encounter your own childhood disruptions through a different light, to reflect on the ways that you were met or missed and how that empathy (or lack of empathy) might still be affecting you now.
Here are three reflections on childhood disruption from my interview with my daughter, Ada June Mertes.
It is meaningful to remember with someone that is grieving. Ada talked about the pain of having to explain, again and again, about Mercy’s death or Moses’ surgeries. As you remember with a child, resist the urge to make comparisons or rush them too quickly to a resolution.
It is OK to cry, it is OK to be fragile, it is OK to need a hug, even years after the death or the diagnosis. There is no set timeline for grief.
Kids (and grown-ups), learn, in the words of Ada, to self-advocate. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Let someone know. Would you benefit from a break from your homework or class? Let someone know. Do you need a hug or a kind word, don’t be afraid to ask. There are people who can and will help you. And to all of the school guidance counselors and teachers and bus drivers that have cared well for my children over these tear-stained years, let me take a moment to say thank you. Thank you for making the space for my children to hold their grief instead of hide from it.