During the past week alone, my son has twice woken up in the middle of the night, completely traumatized. He has vivid, horrific nightmares of his dad dying (he lost him in 2018, when he was just 8-years-old, after a long battle with kidney cancer), of me dying, of being left alone in the world.

Who could blame him? His world shifted off its axis, shaking his foundation to the very core. His dad died. His grandma died, too. He’s too young for this hell, yet it’s his reality.

At his age, I had only experienced the death of a pet and a grandfather I never knew. My son continues to mourn two people he adored, and there’s nothing I can do to diminish his pain. I am his mom and I simply cannot protect him from this. I would do anything to protect him from this.

Nightmares are just one of the ways childhood grief impacts his young life. You wouldn’t know it if you met him, as he is outgoing, friendly, kind, hilarious, and full of energy…compartmentalizing the sleepless nights and scary thoughts during the day (me, on the other hand…). He never mentions it to friends or classmates, but grief walks alongside him every single day.

Grief is seeing the other dads coaching the team and cheering from the stands, and looking up to the heavens instead, knowing yours isn’t physically there.

Grief is feeling different. The overwhelming majority of kids do not have to bury a parent long before they hit puberty.

Grief is clinginess, anxiety, fear. The impossible happened already. What if it happens again?

Grief is skipping lunch because your mind won’t allow you to eat. Or eating too much at lunch. It attacks every aspect of a child’s life.

Grief is real.

Please talk to your kids about grief. It’s invisible to most, but they should understand that some kids are dealing with loss they likely can’t comprehend.

My son is the strongest kid I know, and I am so proud to be his mom. I know others in my position feel the same and honor their kids today, Children’s Grief Awareness Day.