Grief is something we all experience as we navigate loss. Each of us processes grief in our own ways. Some people express their feelings and easily talk through their pain and emotions. Others might not have this ability. People with cognitive or developmental disabilities might struggle with processing their grief.
A friend of mine recently endured the loss of her parents. They passed within a couple of months of each other. While she was trying to get through each day, her daughter, who has a cognitive disability, was also trying to process this great loss.
The daughter expressed her grief through anger and took this anger out on her mom. Usually, moms are the “fixers.” But this was something her mom just couldn’t fix. Once my friend recognized that her daughter’s anger was a form of grief, she was able to help her daughter work through her emotions. My friend knew she also wanted something to make her feel closer to her grandparents.
When my friend packed her parents’ house, her daughter helped and found certain things that she wanted to keep. She wanted to keep her grandmother’s gown and perfume. These were ways that helped her process her grief. Unfortunately, they can be easily overlooked, especially if we’re also grieving.
This is an example of why presuming competence is so important. Having a cognitive disability doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t understand death and loss. Parents and caregivers must pay attention to the actions of the person with the disability. Sometimes, they just don't have the words.
Actions speak louder than words. Pay attention to the actions of your loved ones and their cues. Help them process their grief in their own way. They often understand so much more than we give them credit for.
"Grief is what I feel when someone passes away, Grief is what I feel when I am concerned, Grief is what I feel when I have done wrong, Grief is what I feel when some accident happens, Grief is something that all people have gone through." ~ Brandi Reissig
You can find resources and read about the experiences of other families here.