When the advanced church leader training in Benin was shortened due to unforeseen circumstances, the Mental Health Team was able to spend time at a children’s home where one of the caregivers had died suddenly. When Dr. Lyn asked how the children were coping, she was told that since the children are all orphans, they are used to death.
We drove 4-1/2 hours north to the childrens’ home, which provides care for 60 orphaned children. The Mercy Ships Team (TI collaborates with Mercy Ships for mental health in West Africa) had worked with these children before, so they were familiar and comfortable. After some fun exercises that teach ways to reduce stress, we came to the lesson on grief.
By this point, the older children had returned from school and joined the group. Koumabe taught in French about the journey of grief and the three villages (Denial and Anger, No Hope, and New Beginnings), with Pauline translating into Fon. Dr. Lyn added more to the teaching and made it very personal to the situation at hand and to this particular group of children.
Days before, the children had been asked to write something about the caregiver who had died, but none had been able to do this. Now, Dr. Lyn asked the children to think about the caregiver and his impact on their lives. Each one would have a special memory. Then she had them write or draw a picture about that memory. The children spread out in the large community room. It was very quiet, even with this many children, as they each concentrated on their own thoughts and memories. Some talked quietly, helping each other. Then we came back together and two of the older boys shared what they had written.
Time with the children wasn’t solely focused on grief and the loss of their caregiver. We had a time of prayer and a time of worship, with singing and dancing. There was also a time to thank and appreciate the people around us. Everyone participated. We were looking for the children that would be left out as everyone went to appreciate someone special – usually there are a few children who get ignored – but this didn’t happen. No one was left out. At one point the entire group of children started to leave the area where we were teaching – they were headed to the kitchen, where they thanked the women who were cooking lunch. Then the women came out and thanked us. Everyone was both giving and receiving thanks, and everyone was smiling and laughing.
Of course, it will take more time for the children to grieve the loss of this special caregiver. But these few hours have given them ways to express what they are feeling, permission to grieve, and skills to cope with stress. In addition, supportive relationships already in their lives have been reinforced and strengthened. May God continue the healing.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
– Psalm 34:18
Do you know a child suffering from grief or trauma?
Baby Finds Grace was written to bring healing to children who suffer from grief and/or trauma. Though the book is written for children, it may bring healing to parents or caregivers as well. While the story focuses on three birds and a lamb who each experience the loss of loved ones, the symptoms and approaches are applicable to any form of trauma. Profits from this book help fund Tributaries International Mental Health Programs like the one featured in this post.