Your role as an advocate for your young or adult child with intellectual or developmental disabilities continues through all phases of their life, particularly during their times of grief. Whether the death of a loved one was expected or sudden, the reality of the change still brings with it pain and bewilderment, and can raise additional challenges for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their caregivers.
Below are 3 ways to connect with your young or adult child with intellectual or developmental disabilities and provide support as they navigate the grieving process.
- Offer a Listening Ear: Allow them the space to openly and honestly discuss their emotions and experiences surrounding the death of their loved one. Validate their feelings. Do not dismiss them. Do not rush their process or tell them that they’ve talked about it long enough. Grief comes in cycles. In one moment, a person can seem to have accepted the new reality that their loved one is no longer living, and in the next feel as if they’ve just heard the news. Assure them that you’re around to listen and when the time comes for them to share, allow them to do so. Should you find the task beyond your capability or feel they need additional assistance, secure for them a bereavement counselor.
- Explain the Life Cycle & Grief: Help your child to understand there is a circle of life, that all living things, including people, will also one day die. Help them to understand grief, that they may feel various emotions and express them in various ways, yet all are valid, with the exception of inflicting harm on themselves or others. Use resources like this from EasyHealth.org.uk that make the explanations simple and direct.
- Honor Their Memory: Support them in honoring the memory of their loved one. Attend memorial and funerary services, including any annual events or observances on the anniversary of their loved one’s death. In addition, work with them to create something tangible that reflects their loved one’s life. ConnectABILITY.ca recommends crafting a book of memories and shares how to make one here. Additionally, making an item or working on an activity centered around the loved one’s interest is a way to honor them as well. For example, grow a garden or plant a tree for the deceased who in life had a green thumb, or climb the nearest mountain for the loved one who enjoyed adventure and the outdoors. The ideas are as unique as the individuals.
Losing a loved one is extremely difficult. Continue as your child’s advocate to help them through their grieving process.
What are some additional ways to support your child with intellectual or developmental disabilities when they’re experiencing grief?