I met with the new therapist last night. (Man, it was a cold night with -25 degree wind chills… If this wasn’t for Ethan’s benefit, I would have stayed home in my sweat pants under a down blanket!)
New therapist (D) is awesome.
Her office was filled with kid stuff, toys and books and games. It was very different from Ethan’s previous therapist’s office, which was cold and not kid-friendly with its diplomas on the wall and mismatched dorm-like furniture. I was also relieved to see two other kids coming out of another office – the boy was about Ethan’s age and the girl was maybe a year younger. Proof that this place GETS kids and knows how to work with them. (Never really saw kids at the old therapy place – no one under teen years.)
We sat down and she asked me to go over the timeline of events starting with Mike’s death last year.
“Actually, I think it started before that,” I said.
I recounted for her what’s happened in two years – Lauren’s birth (Ethan was no longer the only child), finding out Mike was drinking and lying and hiding it (lots of tension and arguing in the house), my dad’s death (Ethan let out a piercing, heart breaking howl when the Marine presented my mom with the American flag), neglect when Ethan was left alone with Mike (Mike drank until he passed out and forgot to feed or care for Ethan), my mom moving in with us, more tension at home as Mike was dropped from the outpatient rehab center, the loss of my job and the drinking ultimatum I gave to Mike, going to court, Mike being taken to the hospital and moving in with his parents a few states away, relocating the family to another state, Ethan starting a new school, Mike dying.
I explained to the therapist that Ethan’s behavior is very different at home and school. There’s no anger at home. There isn’t impulsive behavior or inappropriate outbursts when he’s with me or my mom. I talked to her about my belief that Ethan is processing his grief and losses, and he’s worried when he’s not around me or his grandma. I told her others want to diagnose him as ADD/ADHD, but that I wanted to hold off until I thought Ethan could process and deal with the grief issues. She nodded, she understood my theories.
D listened to everything, taking notes, asking occasional questions. She asked about his previous therapy experience and what was discussed. I told her that the former therapist never broached the subject of death or grief. Instead he concentrated on helping Ethan get along with his peers – necessary yes, but not helping the underlying problem. D was mortified.
“This kid’s been through a lot,” she said. “Grief and loss are major parts of his life. We’ll work on it.”
Ethan has his first appointment with her in one week. Fingers crossed.
On a related note, it’s been a tough week for Ethan. He’s been in trouble at school for outbursts and anger and arguing with teachers.
Last night, I was on my way to pick him up from the after school program when the director called. Ethan was having a panic attack, she told me. He was yelled at for pushing a kid while playing tag and he lost it. They couldn’t calm him down.
Luckily, I was minutes away from the school. When I got there, Ethan was in a quiet, dark room across the hall from the rest of the kids. He had his head down and was sobbing. One of the program leaders was talking to him, rubbing his hair.
I asked him what was going on, what happened. He lifted his head and said that it’s almost the time when his daddy died last year.
We sat in the dark room and cried together for a few minutes. I gathered his things in the other room, and we left.
Right or wrong, I’m not going to lecture or yell at him for misbehaving this week. He has enough on his seven-year old mind this week.
Late last night, I got an email from one of my mom friends. This mom knows the anniversary is coming up. Her daughter is in Ethan’s class:
During prayers tonight, I asked the girls if there was anything special they wanted to pray for and KL said, “I would like to pray for Ethan.” I said that was a great idea but asked if she had any reason and she said, “He just looks like he needs a friend, mom.” So I told her maybe she should try to be a better friend if it looks like he needs a friend.
I fear that Ethan’s anger and outbursts will alienate kids (and their parents), leaving him without friends or a support system. I only hope the other moms and kids in the class show this kind of compassion as we continue to move through these tough times.
It’s a good reminder not to judge others: you just don’t know what they’re going through.
Parenting is hard.
Death didn’t “click” for me until I was 12 years old. I remember the moment I realized that my grandpa would die one day. I was eating at a Cracker Barrel with my mom when I had a panic attack (my first, and really, one of the only panic attacks of my life). I started crying hysterically and my mom had no idea what was going on, and just wanted me to stop because it was embarrassing her. I couldn’t even tell her why I was crying because I couldn’t catch my breath. I still refuse to go to Cracker Barrels.
And I was 12. Not 7. Not ever having lost anyone close to me, let alone 2 people. Ethan is incredibly smart. The things you repeat that he says just blows my mind on how intelligent and mature he is. I think it’s pretty obvious how right you are about his behavior and processing of grief. I just hope this therapist can help him, and that kids in school will be nicer to him, now that some of them know what he’s been through.
It’s tough for me because I didn’t lose anyone until I was in my mid-20s (then it was my beloved paternal grandma, a HUGE loss to me and my family). I don’t have comparable feelings to share with E so I’m winging it.
I’ve done a lot of reading and research and talking to others about it, but bottom line: kid grief sucks. It’s hard. Kids aren’t supposed to lose their parents at such a young age, so the schools don’t know what to do. I’ve learned there aren’t many counselors skilled with kids this age. Ugh. And I know Lauren will have her own issues in the coming years, especially since she never knew Mike.
I really feel good about this counselor. Even my mom said my voice sounded lighter and more relieved after the meeting.
And other kids… well, I just hope the parents help their kids “understand” (as best as possible) that E is going through a hard time. Maybe to give him a break a bit. Some parents are better than others at instilling compassion. I know I’ve changed my parenting style quite a bit in the last year based on how I want (hope) Ethan to be treated.