Tips for Climbing Out of the Grief Gutter

by Jen Reichert

My niece moved in recently. She’s a long way from home and from everyone she knows, including her mom and step-dad, her younger brother, her grandfather, and her dog.

For now, we hope living with my husband and me is the right thing to do. We may not know how it works out for some time, but we’ll do our best to meet her needs while we can. 

And even though the whole family is working together to get her back home sooner than later, there’s been a major loss. And lots of grieving is happening, for all of us.


Any time a child is removed from her home – no matter what’s happened there – it’s a significant loss. And when there’s loss, there’s grief.  

Any time your world flips into the Upside Down (any “Stranger Things” fans out there?), it’s a significant loss. 

For me, it happened when a teenager who carries a heavy load of hurt moved into my cozy, not smelly, teenagerless home. I’m grieving all the way around.    


For those of you dealing with that very thing or something similar, here’s what we’re doing to help not only our grieving 14-year-old niece, but our grieving hearts too. 


4 Things You Can Do to Help Yourself Deal with Grief

1. Cut her (and ourselves) some slack.

Patience for one another is undervalued these days. We seem to be a society that no longer has grace for anything or anyone, but grief (and the behaviors that come out of it) is a difficult burden to bear. Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do is swallow our self-righteousness and cut each other some slack.


2. Set flexible boundaries and review them often.

Boundaries help us feel safer. You can do this, but you can’t do this. You can touch this, but you can’t touch this. However, boundaries can, and should at times, be adjusted.  

Review boundaries over and over again. And again. You won’t regret it.   


3. Mirror her feelings and sit in ‘em awhile. Make a plan to deal with them appropriately and help where we can.

Many of us, me included, have a bend toward dismissing uncomfortable feelings. A toddler falls and we say, “You’re fine! Don’t cry!” And most of the time, it’s a well-intentioned attempt to comfort without raising a “crybaby.” But unfortunately, that age-old method ain’t great for dealing with the tough emotions in life.

Validate her feelings. Then, reassure her, and reassure her often.


4. Act silly, borderline ridiculous. Especially during a correction.

Actin’ a fool is a main theme at my house. Engaging with each other, especially children, in a playful way helps the brain focus, learn, and most importantly, heal.  

My niece hasn’t spent much time acting silly with the folks in charge and her eyes light up every time she gets to do something fun - even the simple things.  

Without a doubt, children remember the goofiest times they have with a caring adult. Blare their favorite songs and have a spontaneous dance party. Ask them to set the table in an operatic falsetto. I have at least one million ideas they’ll talk about for years.  


But don't forget to be silly during correction too. Some of the best ways to redirect are with play.  I promise it’s okay. So, maybe react with a “What the whaaaaaaat?” when a kid is a sass. Or, pretend a dagger just pierced your heart and sent you flailing onto the sofa when a kid is rude.  

The brain latches onto those moments and change happens much more quickly…and pleasantly.


Loss and grief go hand-in-hand, and rarely is anyone properly equipped to deal with these heavy emotions. It’s something you have to learn. But with the right intention, and a few tips from yours truly, grieving hearts can be healed.


*Epilogue - Since this blog post was written, Jen’s niece moved back home to everyone she knows, including her mom and step-dad, her younger brother, her grandfather, and her dog.