There is no pastoral handbook for this one. Yet, when my dear friend and deacon in my church was killed in a car crash 3 months ago, his wife and 2 young children were left shocked and full of questions. This includes his really smart and spunky 5-year-old daughter, who I met with on Monday. Grief is a good thing and all who have experienced this kind of loss needs to grieve. However, how do you help a 5-year-old girl experience grief that is good and helpful?
For starters, you can’t approach a winsome 5-year-old like an adult. Just because I am the pastor, doesn’t mean this little girl trusts me enough to speak with me. She trusts and speaks to me for 2 reasons only: She knows I loved her daddy, and she is my buddy. That is it. Under this premise, here is what we talked about on Monday:
It is good to talk about daddy. Every time I come by to see her, she wants to play the same game, “Don’t wake up daddy,” ironically. We made the deal that as we play this game, we will talk about her dad. Although we cannot approach a child like an adult, a child needs to do the very same thing adults need to do in these moments and it is what our very instincts tell us not to do…don’t talk about what makes us sad. Yet, that is the very thing that helps us grieve as we celebrate and remember the one we loved who is now gone.
It is ok to miss daddy. During this play date in particular, we decided to make a list of all the ways she missed her daddy. She then had the brilliant idea that we should write these things down so that we do not forget them…told you she was smart. in between games, we would add a couple of things to the list and by the end, we had a good list that she was very proud to go and show her mom. She misses daddy. She misses the things they did together. That’s ok. In fact, it is good and healthy to talk about it. It helps even a 5-year-old grieve.
This is why we need Jesus. No adult or child can rightly grieve with hope if the gospel is not brought in to the discussion. Just remember, 5-year-old. This smart little girl knows her daddy loved Jesus and even though sin brings death and separates us from our loved ones still here, even worse sin separates us from God. We talk about how Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that if we believe in Jesus, love Him most, and trust in Him with our whole life, we get not only to go where daddy is, but even more important where Jesus is, forgiven and free from sin. These gospel truths must be brought in to give true hope in loss, even to a 5-year-old.
We played a few games, showed mommy her new list, then I left. So a fair question to ask is, “Was there anything accomplished beyond me entertaining a 5-year-old for a few minutes?” I believe so, but you will have to pull it out of a 5-year-old to be sure. Good luck with that.