*Trigger Warning* This blog discusses grief throughout.
On June 27th it will be four years since my dad died. Four years. Four. It feels like forever and a moment ago all at once. Such a simple statement but one I think only a person who has lost someone close to them can ever truly understand.
Grief is a strange thing. Some days, I genuinely am fine. I think of my dad; I always do, but I do so with fondness and affection. The memories bring a smile to my face. Others, the mere image of his face in my mind causes tears to appear in my eyes, seemingly out of nowhere. Recently (and this is a fairly new one) I’ve started to feel angry. Punching a pillow in my bedroom angry – which if you know me is a highly amusing image given my lack coordination and punching ability in general.
I don’t tell people this though. Not really. I don’t even go into proper detail with the people that love me. Why? Because it’s been four years. I am embarrassed sometimes at how deeply the loss can still feel. It makes me vulnerable, properly vulnerable, and it’s a side I’m not so good at expressing. This is for a multitude of reasons, some personal and not for today, but not least of all because I don’t think I’ve ever really been taught. I never really learned how to express ‘those’ emotions in a way that allowed me to deal with them as I feel them. It’s something I’ve acknowledged and with the help of others I’m working on.
It has made me think though. I’ve seen the phrase ‘It’s okay not to be okay’ being used on Twitter quite a lot at the moment. It’s something I am fully behind and support. It really is okay not to be okay. It’s taken me a long time to get to the place where I accept that. How can we ensure that message is taught to our children?
A few months after my dad died I was teaching my then class. A parent had a word with me at the start of the day to let me know their little boy had just lost his grandfather, who he was very close to but he wasn’t talking about it. They didn’t know how he was feeling. They asked me to have a chat to him. Of course I said yes.
I remember at the time wanting desperately to help this lovely boy who made me smile daily. I borrowed Michael Rosen’s Sad Book from the SENCO and at lunchtime I sat down with him and we read it together. As we read it I shared with him that my dad has recently died and it made me feel sad, just like the book. He asked me if I had cried and I told him that I had and it was okay and I was probably going to cry lots more about it and that was okay too. This little boy gave me a cuddle and told me his grandad was looking after my dad in heaven and then he sobbed in my arms. I cried too.
I’m not sharing that to make myself sound like one of those amazing teachers. I’m sharing it because it was a real moment that’s had a profound impact on both my career and my life. The boy in my class felt sad and that was okay. I felt sad and it was okay. We were sad together. I didn’t try to fix him in that moment. I let him feel his grief.
I don’t claim to be an expert in these matters, as is evident in the earlier part of this blog but I do think it is important that children are not forced to be happy all of the time. Sometimes, I think we as teachers (and I’ve been just as guilty) try to fix situations and create smiles. We want children to be happy. That’s no bad thing but emotions are a part of life and I do believe that children should feel them. Sadness is a part of that life and feeling it and processing it is necessary. Of course I’m not saying we should encourage tears and crying in our classrooms all the time. It would be hard to get any teaching done! Rather that we should let our children know that it’s okay to feel those tricky feelings sometimes.
So what do we do to ensure they understand it’s okay but conversely they are not constantly walking around in a state of unhappiness? Well perhaps the best thing we can do is to openly talk to them about it and help them identify the feelings themselves. Once they recognise the feelings and actually ‘feel’ them, it’s much easier to process them and ultimately let them go. Sometimes I wonder if I had that experience at school, would I be having a secret cry in the bathroom because I miss my dad?
Alongside the other adults in their life we are the role models for the little minds that we teach. This year I’ve been making a conscious effort to teach emotional intelligence to my class. Instead of trying to rush them back to happy I’ve been trying – where possible – to talk to them, allowing them to work through their emotions and recognise it is what makes us human.
It really is okay not to be okay.