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Children's role-play after loss. Is this an instance of denial?

Thu, Jun 12th 2008

When I was 7, my brother, sister and I were in a car accident that killed our mother. Our parents had been divorced and my Dad came and took us out of state to live with him and our (what we learned later) was a mentally ill stepmother. Speaking of our mother was not encouraged, and in fact was felt to be taboo. I have heard that children work through issues of grief and trauma through play. And indeed, my sister and I re-played this scene over and over with a willing friend in the months following the accident. In our play, two of us were army nurses in a war zone. The third child participant roll-played being a long-lost fellow nurse who was "missing in action". The two army nurses would go to bed for the night, always hoping for the day when the missing nurse returns. After laying down, they hear a knock at the door. One gets up to go to the door and upon opening it, finds the missing nurse. The (child) nurse who went to the door yells out in excitement to the one still in bed "SHE IS HERE!!!" The other one gets up and they both help the hurt nurse (who is walking on her knees) into the nurse quarters where she is given care by the relieved, happy, elated nurses. I remember the joy during this play at the return of the missing nurse. I always assumed we were working through the loss of our mother in this play acting. But now I am thinking that instead of being helpful, that this was simply denial of the loss and giving the reality that our mother was permanently gone a different ending. Do you think this would it be a stage of working through grief or something that just supports denial? Thank you!

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