Can family photography help children to process grief?

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While grief is a universal human experience, the journey through it can be isolating, because everyone copes and processes grief differently. While adults often find it challenging to navigate grief, it becomes even more confusing for children – and for their parents trying their best to guide them on this emotional journey.

There are many methods that can help to alleviate the pain, but revisiting photos of loved ones can be an unexpectedly powerful tool in the healing process. Photo albums and online photo journals offer a positive way to open up conversations about family members who are no longer around, and they provide an opportunity to find out how it’s affecting the child. According to one psychologist, Arthur Dobrin DSW, who has written extensively on this topic, “each time we look at the photographs of friends or relatives who have died, our memories grow larger”.

Many individuals hesitate to look at old photos of loved ones, fearing the pain of memories or worried that it might hinder them from living in the moment. While grief is a personal journey and no one should be rushed in this process, the reality is that memories, when embraced, can provide strength and enrich our current lives. Above all, during times of distress, a memory can provide solace and links to loved ones from the past – a way of keeping the past in the present. 

Strengthening connections to the past

Whenever a loved one passes away, it can be difficult to process this loss, and everyone needs to go through the five stages of grief in their own time. However, grief is not a linear process. Even though someone might have dealt with the initial wave of grief, they might continue to deal with it in their daily lives. How can one process this grief, and more importantly keep their connection to a loved one in their present lives? 

Numerous studies have found that photographs of relatives and friends who have passed away serve as cultural conduits that enrich the process of mourning. They encourage discussions about those who have died, which in turn helps preserve the connections we have with them, even after their death. 

Similarly, research from BackThen found that 94% of parents agreed that looking at photos together as a family helps them to feel more connected to each other. This also holds true for family members that are no longer around. Professor Geoffrey Beattie, internationally acclaimed psychologist, explains why this is the case: “Photo albums do seem to trigger a lot of conversations within the family, and it’s those conversations that bind families because they sit down to talk about it together. Photography takes them to the next level of intimacy and increases the bond.”

Photography can also a be a powerful tool to process the grief of those we have never met. Many families seek out infant bereavement photography to help them navigate the grief of losing a child through miscarriage, or shortly after birth. A study found that bereavement photography helps parents navigate the cycle of grief by helping them share their experience, giving them something to hold onto, helping them move forward with their lives and reinforcing that they are still parents – even though their baby is gone. 

Building a sense of belonging for children 

It’s a positive thing to foster children’s connection to the deceased, as it anchors them to their family heritage and gives them a sense of belonging. Family photography is a particularly useful tool in providing children with this sense of belonging. Parents frequently share photos of relatives with their children, including those they rarely or perhaps have never met. This act of visual storytelling helps children understand their own role within the family’s broader history. The family photo album acts as a bridge linking past and present, offering insights that help explain our current lives.

Indeed, research from BackThen found that 89% of parents agreed that looking at family photos increases their child’s sense of belonging. Parents pointed out that family photos create a feeling of being loved and cherished and reassures children that they have a meaning and a place in the world. 

Bridging the gap between the past and the present

Grief is a complex process that is unique to each individual, and there’s no timeline for healing. It serves as a poignant reminder of the meaningful moments we’ve shared with those who are no longer with us — moments that should be treasured.

Photographs are a powerful means to keep the essence of lost loved ones alive, bridging the gap between the past and the present. They offer solace and fortitude during tough times by preserving cherished memories.

For children, photography becomes an invaluable tool in navigating grief. It helps those too young to understand loss or remember the deceased to still feel connected to them. This connection fosters a sense of familial identity, providing a solid emotional foundation for future challenges.

By written by Ed Botterill, Founder and Director, BackThen

The post Can family photography help children to process grief? appeared first on Wellbeing Magazine.

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