Helping Children with Loss – Looking at Myth 2 – Replace The Loss, Part One

A Story about Myth 2 –

“Replace the loss”

When John was born, his family had a dog.  Her name was Peggy, and she was a bulldog.  She wasn’t a puppy; she was about six years old. Peggy decided to adopt John when he came home from the hospital. Peggy insisted on sleeping in John’s room and rarely let young John out of her sight.  As John grew up, she politely tolerated all of the annoying things that crawling children often do to dogs and cats.  As John got older, they became best friends.  they went everywhere together.  They were a team. Peggy even taught John how to play fetch.  John would throw a stick.  Peggy, being older and a bulldog – not a retriever – would stand there, and John would run after the stick.

By the time John was six years old, Peggy slept in a basket in the kitchen.  One morning John came into the kitchen and whistled to Peggy.  Peggy did not budge.  John whistled again.  Still no response. John ran to Peggy’s basket, sensing that something was terribly wrong.  In a moment, he realized Peggy was not moving.  He touched her.  she was cold.  John let out a bloodcurdling yell for the highest authority on Earth, “Mom.”

Mom’s Response

John’s mother came running into the kitchen.  John crouched over Peggy’s basket with tears in his eyes.  John’s mom loved him very much, but she did not have any idea how to react to the emotional emergency caused by the death of John’s dog.  She said to john “The leaves turn to brown and fall to the ground, and the summer turns into fall.”  John looked up at his mom bewildered. he could not connect what had happened to Peggy with this science lesson.  Seeing his confusion, she said, ‘Wait until your father gets home.  He’ll know how to help you.

Dad’s Response

Later that day John’s father came home and learned what had happened.  In this critical moment, at the death of John’s best friend and companion, John’s father said, “Don’t feel bad. [pause] on Saturday we’ll get you a new dog.”  Earlier we talked at length about the phrase “don’t feel bad.”  Here we go again, right on cue, a well-meaning, loving parent telling his son not to feel what he was feeling.  And, promising that if he did a good job at not feeling what he felt, on Saturday they’d get him a new dog.  We call this “replace the loss.”

Nobody mentioned the feelings John was having over the death of his best friend.  But, John’s father, a primary role model on John’s life, had told him, “don’t feel bad.”  john tried with all his might not to feel bad.  But he did feel bad, so he tried to cover it up to show that he really was trying to do as his father suggested.

And true to their word, John’s parents took him on Saturday to get a new dog.  the problem, as John looks back on it, was that he was very much devastated by Peggy’s death.  he was not helped by his parents to deal effectively with the emotion attached to that loss.  Without knowing why, John found himself unable to form an attachment with the new dog.  He gave that dog to his younger brother.

But John was now saddled with two major misconceptions about dealing with loss: don’t feel bad, and replace the loss.  Tragically, this is very common experience for children.  the death of a pet and the subsequent ideas of how to deal with that loss create a model that becomes the unfortunate habit for dealing with future problems.

Long Term Impact

Imagine the long-term impact of these concepts – don’t feel bad and replace the loss, when a parent introduces them to a child at a crucial, highly emotional moment in the child’s life.  The idea that we can mitigate the inevitable pain of loss by attempting to replace the lost object – in this case the dog – sets up tremendous conflict within the child.  First, it dismisses the importance of the relationship  between the child and the original animal.  Second, it introduces the idea of disposability about valued relationships in general.  third, it creates an illusion that the child and the new dog will experience the same relationship that the child and hi first dog had.

From the book.  . When Children Grieve written by John W James  and Russell Friedman with Dr. Leslie Landon Matthews

There is help . .

If you are interested in participating in the Renew Your Possibility – As Children Grieve 6 week Study group, sign up here.

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Just take that first step.  Do something that you have not done before.  It’s ok, that your not ok, yet please don’t stay stuck in grief.  There is light on the other side.

Remember, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” Plato

Yours in Gratitude and to Renewing Your Possibility. . .

Debbie  Your Grief Recovery Specialist®