>Grief Box

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 So, yesterday was another day of undefinable mood for our Marti.
And yes, many days with any teen girl are days of undefinable moody mood….but this one had a different tone.  Some of the clues, right away, that we were gonna have “one of those days” were that she got dressed in a gray sweater dress, despite temps starting in the 70’s and said to rise into high 80’s.  I told her that it was warm and gonna be hot, but there was no changing.  So, sweater dress it was.  Saturday also was a foreshadowing of the day; with double naps.  Naps are one of the ways that she copes and pulls in when she is blue (Not a terrible coping mechanism; quiet but oddly disconcerting).  Another, now classic, sign was that her hair was slicked back tight against her head; a sure sign of some dis-regulation and blue or black mood descending or already in. 

Seeing these signs, right at the start of the day were clues.  Tom and I went kind of automatically into mood-day mode and knew to let much slide, not make too many demands, make sure food was set out and available as soon as we got home from Mass and tried to keep to as standard a Sunday routine as possible.  Now, the day could’a gone way way south, and might have in months past.  This one was just very very quiet; with an obviously blue Marta.   She was aloof and yet shadowing us around too; which is this whole contradictory head-spinning quiet hard behavior; so I figured it was better to address it all head on instead of pretending that it was just a regular Sunday.

One of the tools that a dear friend has suggested to me is a “Grief Box.” She came across this in one of her Hague training videos and mentioned it to me, weeks ago.  I finally went and watched the whole grief training video last week.  It is a good video, worth watching, especially if you are new to the older child adoption world or the world of grief in our children.    So, seeing as it was a Sunday afternoon, with time a plenty, I thought of the grief box.   

Now, I know, a lot of these sort of suggestions need to be done with a proper licensed therapist.  Well, we don’t have one for Marta at this point; it’s complicated tremendously by her lack of language and cognition.  So, with that, it was just us and we were winging it as usual (hopefully not to anyone’s detriment – but really ya never really know in all this, flying blind and all)

Anyhow, I sat and talked with Marta about her feeling sad.  I asked her if many days she feels sad and she agreed.  I asked her if she was “afraid she would forget the sad things?”  She agreed again.   I talked with her that sometimes when we have many things that are sad and hard it can feel like we have to hold on tight to them all, every day.  I acted it out, she nodded.  I said, “Would you like to make a box, a safe box to keep, that we could write down all the sad/hard things and put them in your box?  So you can keep them safe; not forget.  And if you wake up feeling sad, you can open the box and think about them, or show me? “  She said yes.

So we picked out a shoe box.  I pulled out a small pile of construction paper and helped her cover the box in the colors she picked out.  She wrote “Marta’s Sad Box” on the top.  Then we sat and  made a list of the sad things she  holds onto, her losses (the one’s she willing to try with this).  We talked about each one of them.  She talked, I listened.  Her list was what you’d expect from a child who lost her culture and family: parents, home, country.  One of her items surprised and yet, didn’t at all: English.  Yes, english is one of her “sad’s.” Because it’s hard.  And she can’t speak it yet, not really.  And it’s very hard to learn under the best of circumstances.  And she has that deck stacked against her.  But if it’s a grief thing, it can go in the box.  It’s her box, her pick.  I wrote each thing simply on a slip of paper, and she drew a picture of it on the back of the slip.  Then she put it in the box.  Then we closed the box up, lid on.  Then I told  her she can keep it in her room and we can talk about it or about anything at all, ever.  Hard, sad, angry, bad things, good things, old, new. 

She went to her room for a short bit, again.  I went in, after a little bit, and told her again, that she can talk to us, me, dad, about anything, any time.  That I was different than her first mom.  But that I loved her and have big ears to hear and will be here.  She hugged tight and smiled.  And last night, well, it was still a smiley good day sticker, not a “hard day” claimed.  Though I pointed out to her that in truth it was hard, and that was ok.  She shook her head and hugged us tight.

So, I’m wondering, have any of you, with kids from hard places or hard starts, have you used a “Grief Box” and has it helped you? If so, please leave a comment, tell me how it worked for you.  If not, have you used something else? Some of these “hards” are so very hard.  Especially without the language to process it all, how to you help your child to acknowledge it, process it, and move beyond it into a healthier place? I’d love to hear your ideas.

12 thoughts on “>Grief Box

  1. >This is one of the best things I've ever heard. Seriously. You guys are such good parents. I'm going to remember this. Also, about English: there is a childrens book out there about a little girl from China who is resisting learning English because she is grieving the loss of her Chinese. There is this one moment in the book where her teacher is reading her a story about American pioneers to the west, and when she encounters the term "covered wagons," she has a breakdown because she can't translate this into Chinese. There is no equivalent, and with this realization that the acquisition of English means the acceptance of her new world in America, she loses it. Such a great book and really explains how the learning of a new language can be a process full of grief. I need to find the title for you.

  2. >Jen, it was YOUR suggestion! I've been mulling it over since you mentioned it, but yesterday was the day. And I think it IS helpful because it's a validating thing of this grief that is so real. And it gives her a place to set it down maybe, when she can release it a little…instead of trying to carry it all AND build a new life too. That's a lot to carry for a tiny person….hopefully this gives her a safe place to keep it and frees her hands up to also grab onto new good. I hope…we'll see.

  3. >Lori, thanks for this. I just went and ordered the book, too. Altho, I think her sad/grief with english is all jumbled up. She IS sad to lose the culture and language of Ethiopia/amharic…. and gaining english of course IS that and signifies it. But it's also tied to the sheer difficulty of learning the language and frustration of not learning it at any quick pace and not being able to converse, in ANY language now (her amharic wasn't good before and now it's much worse, her disability makes it exponentially more difficult and slow. Doable, but at a very very very slow pace and maybe not ever totally fluent, I don't know). But I think it's so easy to forget how pervasive these grief items/issues are…very easy to lose track of them on our (parental) end during the chaff of the every day busy. Thanks!

  4. >Sounds like a great idea. I'm going to have to remember this …My sweet daughter has been home from Ghana for 3 years. English is not a problem (as she learned English while at the orphanage in Ghana). But … she will NOT talk about her grief … in any way, shape, or form. And, she will NOT hug her mom or dad (or anyone) in any way, shape, or form. So, Marta has made some good steps towards dealing with her grief. Thanks for sharing.Laurel

  5. >I love this idea, it's brilliant. We use a 'worry rock.' I have found that developmentally appropriate for my almost six year old. He says his worry and then puts his hand on the rock and leaves the worry there. If we are not around the rock, he sometimes takes the worry and lays it on my chest and we share it. I have explained that worries (and the same goes with grief, I think) is not meant to be felt alone. I tell him he can give his worries to us and we will carry it for him. He's funny, he tells me that when he puts a very big worry in the rock that Daddy has to take it outside and empty it and only Daddy is strong enough to carry the rock when it has such a big worry inside. Very similar to the grief box, I just wanted to add the idea of Marta knowing that she can share the box and her grief and lighten her load. Hugs, good mama.

  6. >Laurel. Maybe something like this could be a tool for your daughter to find a way to process that grief. Maybe if it's just hers & she didn't even have to share it she could feel safe in placing it in a new spot for safekeeping…. I don't know. But I suspect the hands on process if crafting the box, decorating it, creating the markers to go inside… Even that might be a therapeutic process??? Murky waters all this grief stuff. So individual. So tough.

  7. >Christine… See what a good mom YOU are! You do this by nature/ instinct. You don't even need the books and lectures. Brava mama! I used to give my eldest daughter a small silver ( tin, I'm sure) angel to keep in her pocket for when she was worried or nervous at school. Your worry stone made me think of that, haven't in a long tme. But your natural gifts Christine are gonna set you sailing when your family grows…soon soon. Hugs back atcha. Thanks!

  8. >While reading your post I realized my blog has been my grief box…I think writing is a powerful tool and so therapeutic. Thanks for sharing this idea.

  9. >Both of my younger kids have/had language issues. (And lots of neglect/abuse/trauma issues as well.) We made their Life Books be the "Ugly Truth" versions. We added pages that told the stories of the things they were able to share through Holding Time or when they remembered something awful after bad dreams and such. Reading through these books was our home therapy for quite a while…especially with our daughter from China. Occasionally they will still pull these out to add to their evening book readings.

  10. >Hello Coffemom:-)I am wondering if you have read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It is a good read for you, and, possibly your husband. There is much in there that could possibly with time help sweet Marta as well as the entire family…..for some reason I just thought of sharing this with you.I have read the book, I have started to realize that most of us have "hard places" in our lives, sure, some look harder or seem harder when in reality hard is hard. I am NOT saying that what Marta is/has experienced is/has not been hard, but, wondering if maybe the book might help to look at the "hard" a bit differently? Just thought I would share this suggestion.

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