Quick Thoughts: How to talk to kids who are grieving

On October 21st, Jason Kenneth Markley died suddenly. He left behind his wife Pamela, and three children. On October 24th, Pamela posted the following on her Facebook: 

"So... a few requests in the coming days/weeks/months as you are around my kids. Please share this if you're local to me and people you know might be around my children.
It is extremely important to me that our faith and our God are safe places for them. That being said there are some common phrases people say with very well intentioned hearts but aren't actually helpful. I'd prefer you not to use them with my children:
-God loved your daddy so much he wanted him home.
-God needed him in heaven
-God was finished with him here so took him to a better place.
All of these types of phrases paint a picture of a selfish God who takes care of his needs before our own and that is not at all the God we believe in and worship.
We worship a God who loves us more than we can imagine, who gave his son for us so that we might live in eternity with him. This is not his fault. My kids need a safe place to lay down their questions and fears and I cannot think of safer places than the foot of the cross or my own heart. We cannot ruin that for them.
IF you need to say something:
God loves you
God is going to take care of you
We love you
We are going to take care of you
Your dad loves you
You mom loves you
Your mom is going to take care of you.
I'm sorry but we will get through this scary time.
I love you.
We love you.
Want to play?
My kids do NOT need to stay strong or listen or behave a certain way to make this easier on mom who is sad. If you happen to be assisting with childcare do not reference such things. Their grief will manifest in a variety of ways but they shall not be required to stay strong for me or do things to make it easier for me. They are children. I'm the parent. I have adults who are strong for me. Let them grieve. Let them be children. Love them in the place they are at.
Thanks for respecting my thoughts in this matter. Thanks for loving us in this tragedy.
Please share as appropriate."

I don't know her but her words have rang true for so many that her post has gone viral. Personally I think her clarity to write something so elegantly during a time of such new and strong grief is amazing. But much more than that I wish I saw this and reposted it a hundred times over when Asher was diagnosed with cancer. Why? Because she is 100% correct.   

People have big hearts and don't always know what to say, but sometimes it comes out wrong. It happens, but it still hurts when you are on the other side of it, especially if you are a kid at the time.

I don't want to get into my stories or go into a big long thing. I want to honor her words as they are but here are some general thoughts I'd add when it comes to talking to the whole family, not just the kids: 

  • It's more than okay to say, "I don't know what to say but I love you." Sometimes it means more than trying to come up with some generic greeting card saying. Especially when talking to children, it really is okay not to have all the answers. 
  • Go out of your way to not about you.  Remember ring theory? If not, read this (it's really worth it, trust me).  Someone's crisis is not a time to vent your frustrations/grief/sadness about the situation. It's about being their for them and loving them. Don't lean directly on the person who hurts most to deal with your own grief. 
  • Don't blame or cause more work for the person at large. "If you just... " or "You really need too..." or "You should have..." are phrases to avoid. Don't give the children to be more angry, hurt, or upset than they already are. They will process it in their own way, your view of what they should be mad about won't help. 
  • And lastly, respect a parent's grief process. Ask how they want you to handle it. Bad news and especially details about the bad news are not yours to share with someones kids. If a parent isn't ready to share, then try your hardest to respect that at all costs.