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Africa Programme - A woman accompanying children in their grief - Is that woman me?

14 August 2020

By Sr. Bupe Chileshe, SFMA 

Never before has the community stressed the responsibility, the gift and mission of the woman and her gifts in my community like this period of COVID19. This is the time to demonstrate a woman’s personal and feminine skills of a mother: ‘Sister “in quality of a woman and all the signs of tenderness that she has been given by the creator”

The community gives thanks for all works of a woman, mother and sister her manifestation of the feminine “genius”. In this time mothers are on their toes to protect the children from the COVID19 Pandemic. The women force in the hospitals and home cares of all kinds have been on the media and news everywhere in the world. The woman has to offer her contribution to promote health and life.  In all sectors of life a woman has a role to play, with due respect to all men, particularly in relation with domestic society. 

In her “being and doing” the woman according to her quality and her own being, makes the presence of healing visible and effective in many situations.  In my experience I wish to share the necessity to define proper spaces in life for the community, so that the woman may be able to express herself according to her insights, and the vision of making the invisible, visible, the less significant important. Given space and time, in this way a woman can nurture  and be completely free in spirit, she can practice her charity towards the needy and above all among children, the most ignorant in our society especially during funerals of their parents “fathers or mothers” or any of their  beloved one. 

In my mission as a woman I have identified a “new style of mission: how to care for the children during the loss of their parents, family members and any loss related to them. From the psychological perspective there is a sufficiently clear understanding of these “LOSS” of any close relation.   The awareness is undoubtedly there and the different impact it can have on individual persons young or old. 

A further observation seems to be necessary regarding the concern of children for me, today and in the past that we can find a society who cares more for elders grieving or mourning than for children. This, I have lived and experienced in my society. 

I feel I am called for those few years to care for the grief-stricken children in my community. To witness to them the power of healing of memories before they collect more stamps to post the anger at any one in future. Loss is painful and it makes a shift of emotions and relations in anyone’s life. There is fear of the future in any person who loses a beloved and provident. I feel we must change our approach in our society by valuing every life including children’s lives.  “Human Rights” is children’s rights too. If anything, children find it difficult to make an analysis and find a new way of surviving when they are faced with loss.

In my experience of accompanying children I have found a new form of supporting them that stirs up the interest of my inner-child using the means most appropriate (images means of social communication, dialogue, and modern pedagogy). In fact even if “the Christ is always the same: yesterday and today yes and forever”, the manner of passing on this message must vary in relation with local and social conditions and of age.  

Accompanying children requires serious preparation, new methods, more suitable to our time and with the conviction from our part to want to help and uplift grieve-stricken children. There is a need to change from a mentality and structures centered on elder pain and grief and its traditional to a mentality and structure nearer to the family context: that includes children and any dependent of the deceased. 

We need a new way of accompanying children apart from our traditional ways which differ from region to region in our diversity as Africans; rediscover the sighs of the presence of untreated or uncapped grieve in elders which would have been dealt with if someone had paid attention to them during childhood grief. We need to know how to look after our children during and after the loss of their beloved ones. The children have to regain their development progress to be capable of expressing themselves to someone who would listen to them with the scope of helping them to understand and copy with the loss. 

We need to stay with the children who have lost their beloved ones. It is time that we establish good contact with children who have lost their hope. We need to make the option for the children, and even the youth walking with them, fitting in the places where they live, and giving signs of hope, justice and restorations in our society. It must be a prophetic dimension to the children. The one accompanying children needs to lower her/ him to the level of children, in their way of reasoning and feeling. We must be able to see through their spectacles. We must be like their friends, teachers, and mothers to them. Partaking in this mission, one needs to be a woman who is involved in building solidarity and sharing in the grief of children (the power of the non-power) in a gratuity way. 

We know that a child can experience grief for other reasons apart from death of a beloved person. When parents’ divorce that can cause a child’s grief, losing part of the body can cause grief too. If a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness that can cause her/ him not to play and be outdoors or having felt the examination leading to drop from school or college.  In our society today, even the absence of parents who go for work for long periods of time can create a feeling of loss in their children. The absence might be hours, for days, weeks, and months even for years because of the job.  We must know that children can feel temporal loss during those periods.  The few mentioned situations can lead to feelings of loss. 

Like the great woman ELISABETH KlÜbler-Ross explained it in her book entitled; Death and Dying.   We can talk about five to seven stages of grief. The loss of a beloved one can affect children just as it affects adults. Children may express the loss in a different way and sometimes in their own world. They are human with all faculties though limited in experience of life. 


I viewed and listened to news from many different channels and countries. I saw how children remained sad because of the absence of their parents who were working on the frontline for days, weeks and months in this COVID-19 Pandemic.  When the parents came home the children embraced them tightly for good minutes without letting go of them. It was a sign of how they felt a loss of their parents for that period of time. One of the girls I spoke to said: “I wish my mother was a teacher so that she would be with me. I am afraid during the nights and I cannot eat well since she went for two weeks at work for COVID -19”. 

One boy didn’t want to see his father when he came home after a fourteen days of quarantine. He locked himself in his bed annoyed that his father left him for those few days. Children can react differently according to the relationship they have with a person. However, they feel and think according to their stages and environment. 

The five stages of grief: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing and Acceptance are well-known stages of grief. 

Children are human being so they will pass through the grief stages just like any elderly person in their own experiences and world view. In my child grief spectrums I have learned that children suffer just like elders and they need someone to listen to their stories. They need to tell their stories too. I have listened to their stories and mourned with them. It is very challenging to use Empathy with children.  I have ended up sobbing with them and after that we would gather ourselves together and I could offer a shoulder to the little one. 

My experience has been frustrating at times but also worthwhile especially when a child after some years she/he meets me and says; “Thank you Sister I was able to move on because of your support. I have been doing this for more than 19 years now wherever I have been in this world. 

In my home experience (Zambia) children are not cared for during funerals and no one pays attention to their grief –stricken hearts. I have taken it upon myself to attend to them however; I am just a drop of water in the ocean of pain, sorrow and sadness which happen every day among children. 

I guess I make a difference to those children I meet and they will make a change in future.  I use my experience of early childhood model of reaching out to the children even in grief moments. We do a lot of drawing, writing, singing, making movements and listening to grief melodies. I accompany them on actual days of burial to say their fare well to their beloved ones.   I make post funeral visits to their homes when the crowds disperse. In our rational way, mourning begins that time when all are gone and a child has to come to terms with the reality.   


Let us not send the message to our children “You don’t matter,” “We don’t care,” Don’t both of what is happening here you are still young.” Indifference shines through almost even adult face. What’s needed is for children to know they really do matter. Children must know that someone cares. They must know that someone is heartbroken with them because their grief stages are as important as the adults. It’s interesting to know what is on their mind, and that we want to know how they are. In fact, we must show them that there is someone who can light up their burdens. We have to testify that there is someone in the world who would rather be with them than anything else.    

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The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

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