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Parenting After My Husband's Death

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Parenting after the death of a husband

by Paul V. Johnson

Dear Paul,

Hi, my name is Pam. I lost my husband six months ago. We have three small kids--a 1-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 6-year-old. My question is abut my 6-year-old. He is really having a hard time. He talks to the psychologist at school, but that is not helping. Should I just try to take him for help outside of school? I am lost right now. Thank you.


Dear Pam,

I am very sorry about your husband's death, and as the good mother your are, you are expressing concern and wanting help for your kids even before you think of yourself. Each day reveals additional things that your husband was to you and your kids and I hope that other members of your family and friends are continuing to reach out to you and are being supportive during this difficult time.

A lot of times, grieving parents feel they "must be strong for the kids," but please know that dealing with this loss is an extremely difficult thing, and it will not be possible to be strong all of the time. Allow those friends to "take over" for you at times so that you can spend some time alone working on your own grief issues.

Your kids are all very young and each will respond to their Dad's death in a different way. You mention your 6-year-old, probably because of the three, he is the one who comes closest to really understanding that Dad has really died and won't be back. Obviously, that is a big thing for a youngster of 6 to understand.

I'm glad you have people at school who are aware of your son's situation and are trying to help him. You say that talking with the psychologist is not helping; however, improvement in this type of situation with a child this young is not something that is necessarily immediately apparent. I would encourage you to have him continue to see the psychologist. It would be okay to seek some additional counsel as well and finding an individual to whom your son relates well is of great importance.

In addition to any supplemental counseling you may find for your son, I would encourage you to continually express your love for him (and his siblings) because that is something they need to be reassured of now more than ever. Don't be surprised if your son expresses some fear of something happening to you also, this is quite common for young children who experience the death of one parent. A lot of touching, holding, and hugging communicates your love in ways that words sometimes cannot.

One more reminder--be sure to take care of yourself as well. You will be more effective in helping your kids if you have done some necessary things to help yourself. Parents sometimes think that seems selfish when they should be helping their kids, but helping yourself IS helping your kids, and I encourage you to do that as much as possible. Please let us know how things go for you and your kids.


Paul V. Johnson, MA, is a consultant and trainer for business, industry, and educational institutions on issues related to loss and grief. He was formerly an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bethel College(MN) and Director of Aftercare Services for the Bradshaw Funeral Homes in the Twin Cities area. He has made presentations at the national conferences of major professional caregiving associations and is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.




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