Grieving Children

The Elephant in the Room

by David J.Billeiter

jp-beiliter_1While working as a Deputy Sheriff, I was often dispatched to an all too common call: Family Violence in Progress. More often than not, I would arrive finding one or both of the adults, and I use that term loosely, intoxicated and out of control. When drugs or alcohol are involved, things usually proceed downhill and verbal arguments quickly turn physical. I often found a mother, injured in the altercation, surrounded by crying, confused children. The father ends up arrested for Assault Causes Bodily Injury Family Violence and is taken to jail, while the mother is treated by EMS personnel. Walking out the door, I hand a teddy bear to the children assuring them everything will be okay, but knowing deep in my heart, that it won’t really be okay.

Over the past 20 plus years, I have had the opportunity of working as a Deputy Sheriff, Constable, and now as a Justice of the Peace. During these years, I have had a great deal of contact with victims of crime including children who have been abused emotionally, physically, and sexually. Fractured children from dysfunctional homes are all too common in today’s society. I have learned that children grieve over more than the death of a loved one. Grief is defined as deep mental anguish or sorrow and this is exactly what I see in the eyes of these smallest victims of psychological abuse.

There’s an elephant in the room. It is large and squatting, so it’s hard to get around it. Yet we squeeze by with, “How are you?” and “I’m fine,” and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather, we talk about work. We talk about everything else except the elephant in the room. This is a portion of a poem written by Tiara Neal. Tiara was 16 years old when she wrote the poem expressing a truth many people choose to ignore. Tiara suffered neglect from a drug addicted mother and years of sexual abuse by an older brother. She moved in with an aunt to escape the abuse but continued to grieve over the loss of relationships.

The expression “elephant in the room” has, for years, referred to a situation where something major is going on, but nobody wants to talk about it. Texas has a pretty large elephant in the room, when you consider that there have been 68,000 confirmed cases of abuse reported and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

What can we do? How can we help?
1. Help and encourage children to share their feelings of loss. We need to talk about the elephant in the room.
2. Teach your children how to deal with their anger. Let them know it is ok to be angry and encourage them to talk about why they are angry. Let them know that it is normal to have feelings of love and anger at the same time.
3. Talk to them about forgiveness. Forgiveness can be measured by the emotion with which we remember. Let them know that forgiveness does not mean that we forget or that another’s action is acceptable, but that sometimes loved ones just make mistakes.
4. Realize that grief is a normal reaction to loss and usually the grief lessens with the passage of time, however some children may need the help of a professional counselor to help them work through their grief.

About the Author: David Billeiter has served Kerr County, Texas as a Deputy Sheriff, Constable, and a former Justice of the Peace. David holds a degree in Religious Education, a Certificate in Paralegal Studies, and is an alumnus of Howard Payne University. David was named Law Enforcement Officer of the year by Childwatch of North America in 2001 and was inducted into the American Police Officers Hall of Fame that same year. He has written numerous articles and spoken to many civic groups on the subject of Keeping Kids Safe. David and his wife, Nancy, have three sons and four grandchildren.