When the world poured out its grief over the loss of Princess Diana in a tragic accident, her 12 –year-old son, Prince Harry, shut down emotionally. Like many children who lose a parent or loved one, it was more than he could handle on his own.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said it was not until his late 20s that he processed the grief - after two years of "total chaos" and coming close to a "complete breakdown".
It was when his family intervened and begged him to get counseling that he came face to face with the consequences of delayed grief and healing.
Prince Harry told the Telegraph, “"I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well."
He added: "I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and all sorts of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle."
Prince Harry’s experience is not all that different from other children who suffer the loss of an important family member. His life played out in public because of whom he is, but the same feelings of anxiety, detachment and mental anguish are felt by millions of others children that do not get the grief support and counseling they need to move through such a difficult time.
Prince Harry’s attitude was common for a child trying to deal with death. "My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?"
"(I thought) it's only going to make you sad, it's not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side, I was like 'right, don't ever let your emotions be part of anything,'" he said.
How do you help a child put the death of a mother, father, sibling or beloved grandparent or friend in perspective? The first place you can start is to reach out for professional help; someone trained in children’s grief counseling.
It can be challenging to parents and caregivers to know what to do for, what to say to and how to help children who are obviously hurting.
There are resources online that will link you to specific sites that deal with grief and children. One site is The National Alliance for Grieving Children at https://childrengrieve.org/about-childhood-grief
There are certain responses that are common for children to go through that parents can and should be aware of:
Grief is a normal reaction to loss: When children experience the death of a person who has played a significant role in their life, it is normal for children to struggle, whether the relationship with that person was caring and loving, or contentious and difficult. Grief is not a problem we are trying to fix for a child; it is an experience they are living. Mood changes or feelings of grief, even several years out from the event, are a common part of adapting to life without someone and to the changes that come with that person's death. Children need adults to be patient with them as they adjust to these changes.
Children need to know the truth: Quite often we avoid words like "dead" or "die," or we shade over the truth about how a person died in a desire to protect children. Unfortunately, in doing so, we often create other problems. Although it may be challenging to share the truth about how someone died, honest answers build trust, help provide understanding and allow children to feel comfortable approaching us with questions because they know they can trust us to tell them the truth.
Grieving children often feel alone and misunderstood: Many well-meaning adults try to avoid mentioning the departed loved one for fear of bringing up painful memories or adding to a child’s sadness. In doing so, children might feel as though talking about or even expressing their grief is not acceptable. When children feel understood by family and friends and when they have the opportunity to express their grief in their own unique way, they feel less alone and, in turn, fare better than they would otherwise.
There are also camps and groups that children can attend that give them the opportunity to be with other children that have experienced the same kind of loss. Greater than any education, information or advice we can give to children who are grieving is to allow children who are grieving to connect with other children going through a similar experience. When children have the opportunity to interact with one another, they feel less alone.
Helping a child through the grieving process is difficult, but you do not have to do it alone. You can find support for yourself with other families and family grief counselors that can give you the tools and insights you need to move forward. There is no timetable on grief; it’s a process – one day at a time.
Prince Harry finally reached out for help, almost 20 years after the death of his mother. He needed it much sooner, but like a lot of folks, he felt like he could bury his feelings and the pain would go away. It didn’t until he was finally able to express it and learn about it and come to terms with the loss of his beloved mum.
Story sources: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39618169