Mother grapples with grief in ‘Where Reasons End’

By Michael Magras

It’s not surprising that someone whose whole life revolves around words would turn to literature in a time of tragedy to make sense of her suffering. The paradox is that the person most likely to seek solace from words is also the most likely to realize their insufficiency.

One such person is the unnamed narrator of “Where Reasons End,” Yiyun Li’s new novel. The 44-year-old narrator is a writer of stories and a grieving mother. For reasons that are never explained, her 16-year-old son, whom she calls Nikolai, “a name he had given himself,” killed himself only a few months earlier — a painful parallel to real life, as Li’s own 16-year-old son committed suicide in 2017

The novel is a series of imagined conversations between mother and son. From the start, we learn that the mother is agonizingly self-aware, both of herself and of the possible futility of these conversations.

That and the parallel to Li’s life are what make the experience of reading this work so powerful: the knowledge that the narrator needs the comfort of words yet senses their limitations. “I was a generic parent grieving a generic child lost to an inexplicable tragedy,” she says in the opening chapter. She seeks specificity, the need to “meet in a world unspecified in time and space … a world made up by words, and words only.”

One of the most arresting aspects of this novel is the way in which Li subverts expectations. One might expect Nikolai to be a sweet boy offering relentless comfort to his grieving mother. He’s a charmer, all right, a precocious son who painted whimsical landscapes, played the oboe and liked classical music and showtunes. And he was a bad speller who labeled a folder of songs “Edith Pilaf.”

But he has a sardonic edge that keeps him from seeming too precious. When his writer mother tells him that so many people miss him, Nikolai says she’s succumbing to the lure of clichés and admonishes her with, “You promised that you would understand.” When he accuses her of wanting him to feel sad for himself, he adds, chillingly, “I’m not as sad as you think. Not anymore.”

The dialogues in “Where Reasons End” cover a wide range of topics. Mother and son discuss love and memory and whether those capacities really do keep people alive forever. They discuss the capriciousness of time. Nikolai chides her for her dislike of adjectives, which she defends by saying that nouns, not adjectives, preserve memories. Besides, “I oppose anything judgmental,” she says, “and adjectives are opinionated words.”

Much of this book is devoted to words, which is not surprising given that its narrator lives by them: “Words said to me. Words not meant for me but picked up by me in any case. Words in their written form. Words that make sense and words that make nonsense.” When one is in search of helpful words, poets are a good place to start, as their facility often crystallizes hard-to-express truths. Indeed, the narrator references many poets, including Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop — the novel’s title comes from Bishop’s poem “Argument” — and Wallace Stevens.

Even poets, however, provide limited comfort, and the mother depicted here knows it. This realization compounds her grief as much as it ameliorates. “Words provided to me — loss, grief, sorrow, bereavement, trauma — never seemed to be able to speak precisely of what was plaguing me,” she says. “One can and must live with loss and grief and sorrow and bereavement.”

Later, she adds, “We feel at a loss for words when they can’t do fully what we want them to.” To which Nikolai offers as wise a defense of words as one is likely to find. “They never can,” he says, but, “Why not make do with the percentage they can achieve?”

The book gets repetitive after a while — much is made of the Latin derivations of words, and some of Nikolai’s dialogue is too stilted even for a sophisticated teen — yet its message is nonetheless a sobering one. Nothing can ever fill the hollows formed by tragedy, yet the desire to fill them is every bit as keen as the loss. If even a fraction of the emptiness is replaced, then the quest is worth the effort.

Late in the novel, the narrator quotes Stevens’s poem “This Solitude of Cataracts”: “He wanted the river to go on flowing the same way, To keep on flowing.” Anyone who has ever lost a loved one — that would be all of us — will relate. If only they were still here to keep the river of our lives flowing as it once had.

Complete Article HERE!

Mumford and Sons’ Tackle Death and Dying in ‘Beloved’ Video

“Everyone knows loss in one way or another. This song is about that,” Marcus Mumford says of Delta track

A young boy watches over his dying mother and fantasizes about better times with her in the video for Mumford and Sons’ new Delta single “Beloved.” The son and mother, who’s still wearing a hospital gown, run around, go shoplifting and ride horses on a beach. “Before you leave, you must know you are beloved,” Marcus Mumford sings against a serene backdrop of synths and guitars, “and before you leave, remember I was with you.” It all builds to an emotional finale.

“Everyone knows loss in one way or another,” Marcus Mumford said in a statement. “This song is about that. I’d never sat with anyone as they died before, and it had an effect on me. As it does everyone I know who has experienced it. But there’s wildness and beauty in it as well, and a deep honoring, that became the beginnings of this song that we worked up called ‘Beloved.’ I feel determined for people to take whatever they want from it, and not to be emotionally prescriptive.”

The Questions Children Have About Death – And How To Answer Them

‘How did they die, mummy?’

By Mike Rampton

Death is, at once, the simplest and most complicated thing in the world. It’s a tough subject even for adults to fully wrap their heads around, so how are children expected to comprehend it?

A survey of 1,000 UK parents by Legal and General found the most common questions three to nine-year-olds ask when confronted with the loss of a loved one are ‘how did they die?’ (55%) and ‘where did they go?’ (38%). 

There’s something starkly direct in those questions, a directness we lose (or learn to contain) as we grow up. Tellingly, among the 10 to 16-year-olds surveyed, just 8% asked where the dead person had gone. But how do you begin to answer younger children’s questions around death?

“Recently my daughter asked me why I didn’t tell her mummy was going to die,” says Elliot Choueka, whose wife Rosie died of secondary breast cancer when his children were four and seven. “I didn’t really have a good answer for that other than that I didn’t want to upset her.”

Choueka says that the last time he told his kids to say goodbye to his wife, he perhaps should have made it clearer they were saying goodbye for the last time. “But it felt too hard on everyone, on the children and on Rosie,” he tells me. “If I were in the same situation again, would I do anything differently? I don’t know.”

We all know death should be talked about in an age-appropriate manner, but how do we answer the questions our kids have – and should we sugarcoat the truth?

Be Honest And Direct

“There’s a question I remember my daughter asking,” says Choueka, who set up the secondary breast cancer charity Secondary1st after his wife’s death. “One of her friends had said to her that people with cancer could die. She asked me if that was true and I said yes.

“She asked me if mummy was going to die and I said I didn’t know, which was the truth at the time. My point of view has always been that an honest, direct answer is better than trying to obfuscate the truth.” 

Experts tend to agree. Avoidance of euphemism and platitudes is widely advised – saying “grandma died” rather than going for something that feels more palatable in the moment, but is potentially confusing. Saying you’ve “lost” someone, or they’re “gone”, or they’ve “slipped away”, all make sense to adult ears but are perplexing to younger ones. You don’t want to inadvertently scare your child into thinking when they go to sleep they might not wake up.

Explain The Eventuality Of Death

Being direct doesn’t mean being unkind or uncaring. The Bereavement Advice Centre says when answering questions such as ‘Why can’t doctors stop people dying?’ and ‘Will I die?’, you shouldn’t hide the truth, but also it’s important to show humanity. One such answer could be: “No one knows what happens when you die. All we know for sure is that it will happen one day – to all of us. Don’t worry or think about it for very long, as there are a lot more interesting and wonderful experiences to look forward to.”

Parenting website Babycentre suggests a similar tone, as well as giving reasons (“Grandpa was very, very old and his body couldn’t work anymore”). There’s a tightrope, they explain, where you want to explain that death happens to everyone, but don’t want your child to think they might just drop dead at any second – and that usually something (age, disease, an accident) is to blame.

Agree That Life Can Be Unfair

The irreversible nature of death can take some digesting. Psychiatrist Bruce Perry, founder of the Child Trauma Academy, remembers a five-year-old asking him “When is my mummy coming home from heaven? I’ve been waiting and waiting.”

There’s no way around it – life is unfair. The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group suggests a blameless but no-nonsense discussion about the topic: “Sometimes life is just not fair. It was nothing you or anyone else did or did not do.”

Use TV And Film

One way of demystifying death is to expose your children to it in entertainment. A 2017 study from the Omega Journal of Death and Dying concluded that Disney and Pixar films which dealt with grief such as Up, Big Hero 6, Inside Out and The Lion King not only act as a useful springboard to discuss death, but also an impetus to do it before it becomes directly relevant.

The authors believe discussing death in the context of child-friendly films leads to a more positive experience when bereavement occurs.

Discuss What People Can Learn From Death

It’s important to consider what children might need in this situation. Budding researcher Paul O’Brien was just 12 when, in 2005, he surveyed 160 children in his school and did in-depth interviews with eight, discussing what their experiences with death had been.

The things that confused them – how a seemingly healthy person could suddenly die – are all things bereaved adults ask themselves all the time. Several of the children involved came to ultimately positive conclusions, reporting that their experiences of death had taught them to live life to the full and appreciate the people around them who wouldn’t always be there. 

Citing his own experience, O’Brien concluded: “It changed me in a way that I wanted to be kinder to the people I love.”

There will always be questions. Some will have satisfying answers, some will have upsetting ones, and some might be unanswerable, but doing our best to have these conversations is, in the face of the only truly inevitable force in life, all we have.

Complete Article HERE!

The power of language

Explaining dying and death to kids

When we told the kids that we lost grandpa last night, our 5-year-old immediately jumped up and started trying to find him.

Adults tend to use euphemisms, or “code words,” to talk about illness, dying and death. They often do this to soften the news they’re sharing. This can be confusing for children in ways that you might not expect. Because their experience of sickness is usually minor like a cold or ear ache, they may not understand the illness is serious. Or they may not understand the person has died and won’t move or breath again.

This table provides suggestions of clear words and phrases to use.

Explaining life-limiting illness

I explained to the kids that even though I really wanted to play with them and walk them to school the way I used to. I can’t because of the cancer.

More than a cold
When adults explain that someone is sick or ill, children might think this is much the same as an everyday cold or flu. For this reason, it’s important to name the illness or condition. 

Name the illness
Use the words cancer or heart attack. This:

  • Helps even the youngest children understand this is different from a cold or flu.
  • Gives children a name for the changes they are seeing in the person.

My dad is much more tired than usual because of the cancer.

  • Decreases the opportunity for misunderstandings.

Uncle Rob has an illness called cancer. It started in his lung so it’s called lung cancer. Cancer isn’t like getting a cold or the flu. It doesn’t spread from one person to another. Cancer doesn’t work that way. You can still touch mom, hug mom, share food with mom, and you won’t get cancer from her.

Explain the impact
Use clear language to explain how the illness is affecting the person. For example:

Aunt Barb has an illness called ALS. It’s causing her body to not work properly.

If the illness is affecting the person’s thoughts and behaviours, let your child know this:

You may have noticed that your grandma has been acting differently. I’ve noticed that she gets angry more easily. This is because the cancer is in her brain, and this changes her mood and behaviour.

Outline how to behave
Let them know if they need to behave differently than usual when they are with the person who is ill:

I know one of your favourite things is to get in my lap and read stories. Because of the cancer in my bones, I can’t hold you on my lap like I used to, which I feel sad about. Let’s try lying beside one another instead.

Explaining dying

Telling Emma that I’m dying was so hard, but it was important to me that she was prepared for the changes she’s going to see in me as I get closer to death.

When the body dies, it never works again
Your aunt has a lot of cancer in her body, which is causing her body to not work properly. The cancer is stronger than all of the medicines that can be used to try to get rid of cancer. Eventually your aunt’s body will stop working, and her body will die. When the body dies, it never works again.

Address common misunderstandings

  • Sometimes children worry that talking about dying makes it more likely that the person will die. Reassure them that this isn’t so.
  • Let them know that the person who is ill isn’t dying because they didn’t “fight hard enough” or “try hard enough” to stay alive.
  • If it’s true, explain that they very much want to stay alive, but unfortunately the illness is too strong.
  • If the illness is one that not everybody dies from, explain this to your child. For example, Grandma may be dying from cancer but Aunt Shahina also has cancer but is not dying from it.

Explaining death

We totally confused our kids by trying to explain the afterlife without first explaining what happens to the body when someone dies.

We worried about how much to tell the kids. We didn’t want to scare them with too much information.

Where did he go?

It’s important to use the words dying and death. Passed away or passed on can be confusing and too abstract for young children to understand. If we say that we lost grandpa or mom is gone, children often wonder:

Gone where?

Why aren’t we looking for him?

Did I do something to make her leave?

When is she coming back?

Explaining to young children

Start by explaining what happens to the physical body.

When a body dies, it stops working and can never work again.

The body doesn’t think or feel anymore so it doesn’t get cold or hungry and it can’t feel pain.

The body can never come back to life.

It’s best to explain that “the body” includes the person’s head. Young children often think that “body” means from the neck down – and so they may mistakenly imagine the body of the person who has died with no head.

To show them the difference between being alive and dead, ask them to jump up and down, breathe in and out, and feel their own heart beating.

When a person dies, they can’t jump around, they stop breathing and their heart can’t beat or work anymore.

Discussing cause of death

If your child asked what caused the death, give an honest and simple explanation.

Your sister was hit by a car. Her body was so injured that she died.

Your uncle had a heart attack. This caused his heart to stop working and he died.

Unless they ask, you don’t need to describe what happened in detail. If they do ask, let their questions guide which information to give, and answer them honestly.

How these conversations help

As difficult as these conversations were, they’ve actually brought us closer together. I feel the kids trust that I’ll include them when hard things are happening in our family.

  • When you’re willing to discuss difficult topics, your children learn that:
  • Hard conversations can happen safely.
  • They’re a valued member of the family.
  • They can talk with you about life’s most challenging experiences.

Complete Article HERE!

What the Death of a Child Does to Parents,

Psychologically and Biologically

Though parents mourning the death of a child experience classic psychological, biological, and social grief responses, there are unique challenges.

By

The death of a child may be considered the worst trauma that any human can experience. Though it’s not a terribly common experience in the United States—about 10,000 children between the ages of 1 and 14 died in 2016—the horrific potential for childhood mortality looms large. While reassuring, the numbers also make plain why this one specific type of loss is so feared, so painful, and so stigmatized. 

“The death of a child is considered the single worst stressor a person can go through,” says Deborah Carr, chair of the sociology department at Boston University. “Parents and fathers specifically feel responsible for the child’s wellbeing. And they’re not just losing a person they loved. They’re also losing the years of promise they had looked forward to.”

Although parents mourning the death of a child are, in many ways, experiencing classic grief responses— usual battery of psychological, biological, and social repercussions—there are many unique challenges. The trauma is often more intense, the memories and hopes harder to let go of. As such, the mourning process is longer and the potential for recurring or near constant trauma is far greater. “The death of a child brings with it a range of different and ongoing challenges for the individual and the family. Everyday questions such as ‘How many kids do you have?’ can trigger intense distress.” explains Fiona MacCullum, a professor at the University of Queensland. “Some people do find ways of living with the loss. Others struggle to find meaning in life.”

Psychological Impacts: How The Trauma Of Child Loss Harms The Psyche

Interestingly, very few studies have delved into the nightmare of the death of a child. Most of the research on the psychological response to death focuses on the loss of a spouse or a parent. Presumably this is in part because of the difficulty of finding subjects for study and also in the potential difficulty of recruiting participants in anything longitudinal.

“While there have been significant advances in our scientific understanding of grief, we have a long way to go,”  MacCullum says. 

That’s not to say we are without literature. One 2015 study of 2,512 bereaved adults (many of whom were mourning the loss of a child) found little or no evidence of depression in 68 percent of those surveyed shortly after the tragedy. About 11 percent initially suffered from depression but improved; roughly 7 percent had symptoms of depression before the loss, which continued unabated. For 13 percent of the bereaved, chronic grief and clinical depression kicked in only after their lives were turned upside down. (If those numbers seem low, it’s worth remembering that it is entirely possible to be deeply sad without being depressed.)

Unfortunately, the research suggests that psychological damage done by a child’s death often does not heal over time. One 2008 study found that even 18 years after the death of a child, bereaved parents reported “more depressive symptoms, poorer well-being, and more health problems and were more likely to have experienced a depressive episode and marital disruption.” While some parents did improve, “recovery from grief…was unrelated to the amount of time since the death.”

“The first year after losing a younger child, a parent is at an increased risk for suicide and everything from major depression to complicated grief,” Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, told Fatherly. Complicated grief differs from expected, normal grief, in that “there are more intense symptoms, alternating with seemingly no symptoms—a numbness—which potentially impairs their ability to function.”

“A parent who grieves without any type of serious complications, such as suicidal thoughts or self-harm behaviors, would be the best-case scenario,” says Dr. Kirsten Fuller, a physician and clinical writer for the Center of Discovery treatment centers. “Worst-case scenarios would be experiencing suicidal tendencies, psychosis or developing a mental health disorder or an eating disorder.”

Biological Impacts: How The Death Of A Child Changes A Parent’s Body

The impacts of this tragedy are not solely psychological. In 2018, Frank Infurna and colleagues looked the general health and physical functioning of 461 parents who had lost children over the course of 13 years. “We did see some decline, followed by a general bounceback, or recovery, over time,” Infurna, who studies resilience to major stressors at Arizona State University, told Fatherly. Physical functioning was focused on one’s ability to complete various everyday tasks, and “we didn’t see much change in this,” Infurna recalls. But when he reviewed bereaved parents’ self-reports—whether they felt they got sick often, or whether they expected their health to improve or decline— he found poorer perceptions of health.

As with all major grief responses, the mental health trauma of losing a child can kick off physical symptoms, including stomach pains, muscle cramps, headaches, and even irritable bowel syndrome. A handful of studies have found more tenuous links between unresolved grief and immune disorders, cancer, and long-term genetic changes at the cellular level.

One surprising impact, often seen among parents mourning the loss of a child, is known as broken heart syndrome—a condition that presents oddly like a textbook heart attack. Symptoms include “crushing chest, pain, ST-segment elevation on electrocardiography, and elevated cardiac enzyme markers on lab results,” Fuller says, citing her previously written work on the subject. “As a reaction to emotional or physical stress, the body’s natural response is to release catecholamines, also known as stress hormones, that temporarily stun the heart muscle.”

Chronic stress can even impact how the brain functions, as long-term exposure to the stress hormone cortisol has been linked to the death of brain cells. And in a cruel twist of neurobiology, the regions of the brain responsible for grief processing, such as the posterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex, and cerebellum, are also involved in regulating appetite and sleep. This may explain why grieving parents develop eating and sleeping disorders in the aftermath of the loss.

“There are many many studies that have looked at the ongoing health effects of high levels of chronic stress,” Saltz says. “And when you look at lists of stressful life events, this is at the top.”

Social Impacts: How Child Loss Strengthens (Or Ruins) Families

Major life stressors naturally take a toll on marriages. But divorce in the aftermath of a child’s death is not inevitable. “It’s really important to underscore that the death of a child is not going to ruin a marriage,” Carr says. “It generally makes a troubled marriage worse, and a strong marriage better.” When dealing with illness or addiction, spouses who disagreed over the best course of treatment are at particularly high risk. “If one spouse blames the other, or feels the other did something to hasten the death, that’s almost something that cannot be recovered from.”

There are also factors, beyond the couple’s control, which may sour or save the marriage. “Grief, trauma, and depression impact one’s ability to participate in all meaningful relationships,” Saltz says. “But I have seen couples where the opposite is the case. They become closer, they support each other. This is the only person who can really understand how you feel.”

Mothers and father who lose a child often must also contend with surviving siblings. Figuring out how to parent after losing a child is a unique challenge and here, too, experts agree that the outcomes for both the surviving children and parents largely depend on the state of the relationship before the trauma. The death can both bring a family together or tear it apart.

When dealing with terminally ill children, one particular risk is that other siblings may feel neglected, or find too many responsibilities foisted upon them while the parents shift their focus solely to the suffering child. A sick kid “is going to consistently get more attention, because they have to,” Carr says. “Sometimes the other children’s needs aren’t met, or they are treated like little adults, given more chores to do, or expected to provide emotional support to the parents.”

“That can be really troubling for them. Or it can be empowering, but difficult.”

Predictors: How Age Of The Child And Other Factors Impact The Trauma

A handful of studies have tried to pinpoint key factors that influence how well parents adjust in the aftermath of losing a child. One 2005 study found that the child’s age, the cause of death, and the number of remaining children was strongly linked to the levels of grief displayed by parents, while depression was linked to gender, religious affiliation, and whether the bereaved sought professional help. Subsequent studies have uncovered other predictors of lower grief responses: a strong sense of purpose in life and having had the opportunity to say goodbye.

“It depends on the psychological makeup of the parent, whether they have a history of mental illness, what coping skills and what social supports they have,” Saltz says. Outside factors can play a role, too. Suicide is often more difficult but a terminal disease can present recurring traumas over a long period of time. Saltz also suspects that gender may be part of the puzzle. “This will undoubtedly shift, but historically mothers have been the primary caretakers and more likely to have their identities wrapped up in being mothers,” he explains, adding that this may result in stronger responses among women who lose their children

One of the most salient predictors of trauma is the age of the child. Miscarriages and stillbirths are devastating, and made worse by the fact that the loss is often diminished by public perception that a fetus is not a fully-formed child. But “is it as devastating as the death of a child who has been alive for many years? Not to diminish this experience, but I think not,” Carr says.

Once a child is born, however, the script flips. Older adults who outlive their children generally have an easier time coping than parents who lose very young children. “The age of the child is really important, because it speaks to promise,” Carr says. When a young child dies, that promise dies with them: “the graduation, the grandbabies, the marriages—that’s lost, too.”

Nonetheless, even older adults may suffer intensely after the death of an adult son or daughter. “You can meet someone who is 75 who loses a 50-year-old child, and it’s still devastating,” Carr says. “There’s this belief in the natural order. A parent should die first. So even though age matters, older parents still are quite bereft. They’re just losing less of that long-term promise.”

Coping: How to Provide and Seek Comfort

After a child dies, those who are left behind may experience depression, biological and neurological changes, and a destabilization of the family and marriage. “If you’re in this situation, and it is impairing your ability to function, you need to seek treatment,” Saltz stresses. “Parents who fall into major depression will be unable to parent other children, or be in a marriage. Psychotherapy can be helpful and medication can too, at least in the short run.”

The best thing that friends and loved ones of bereaved parents can do is be present, available, and supportive. If the bereaved speaks of suicide, take them to an emergency room; if the situation is less dire, but the grief does not seem to abate over time, help them make an appointment to speak with a professional or attend a self-help group with other bereaved parents. Because even the most sensitive souls are seldom equipped to help parents cope with a loss of this magnitude—and no matter how hard you try, you’re unlikely to really understand.

That’s where a self-help group’s value really shines through. “The one thing that people who have lost a child hate hearing from others is ‘I know what you’re going through,’” Carr says. “They cannot possibly know.”

Complete Article HERE!

Schools fall short when it comes to helping students in grief

– here’s how they can improve

Many children experience the death of a loved one. How teachers respond matters.

By

An adolescent experiences the death of his mother after a lengthy illness.

When I ask what services he would like to receive from the school, he initially says he didn’t expect special treatment, would be embarrassed by counseling from the school mental health staff and wouldn’t feel comfortable if many of his teachers asked to talk to him about his grief.

At the same time, the student felt as though the school should somehow take his situation into account.

“I don’t know what the school should do,” the student told me. “But I just lost the person I love most in my life and they act as if nothing happened.”

In my many years as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician who specializes in school crisis and child bereavement, I believe this dilemma – that is, the need to do enough but not to overwhelm the grieving student or the adults who are trying to help – represents a major challenge for America’s schools.

The need for recognition by trusted adults of their loss, a genuine expression of sympathy and an offer of assistance is often what students seek after a major loss – but too often don’t receive.

A common experience

Loss is very common in childhood – 9 out of 10 children experience the death of a close family member or friend and 1 in 20 children experience the death of a parent.

In contrast, teacher preparation to support grieving students is uncommon. In a recent survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the New York Life Foundation, 93 percent of teachers reported that they never received any training on how to support grieving students. They identified this lack of training as the primary barrier that prevented them from reaching out to grieving students in their class and offering the support they knew they needed. Worried that they would do or say the wrong thing and only make matters worse, some educators chose instead to say and do nothing.

In recognition of this problem, I offer a series of insights and recommendations that teachers can adopt to make the school experience less stressful for students who have recently lost a loved one. Although the advice is aimed at educators, surviving parents or caretakers or anyone who cares about how to help bereaved students can use this advice to advocate on their behalf.

The consequences of inaction

Saying nothing says a lot to grieving children. It communicates that adults are either unaware, uninterested or unwilling to help. It leaves children confused about what has happened and how to react. It leaves children unsupported and forces them to grieve alone. Adults should reach out to grieving children and let them know that they are aware and concerned and are available to provide support and assistance.

What not to say

Anything that starts with “at least” should probably be reconsidered – “at least she’s not in pain anymore” or “at least you still have your father” are generally not helpful comments. It suggests that the adult is uncomfortable with the child’s expression of grief and is trying to “cheer up” the grieving child in order to limit the adult’s own discomfort. Don’t encourage children to hide their feelings or reactions, and don’t feel that you have to hide your own emotions. Be genuine and authentic. Tell grieving children that you are sorry about their loss and ask them what they are feeling and how they are doing.

There isn’t anything you can say that is going to make everything right again for a grieving child. So, listen more than you talk. Other guidelines of what not to say – and what to say instead – to grieving children can be found in “The Grieving Student: A Teacher’s Guide.”

Engage peers

Peers want to – and can – be an important source of support to grieving children, but often are unsure what to say or do. Provide them advice on what to say and practical suggestions on how to be helpful. This will help grieving children obtain critical peer support and decrease their sense of isolation. It will also reduce the likelihood that peers will instead ask repetitive and intrusive questions or tease grieving children.

Offer academic accommodations

Grieving children often experience a temporary decrease in learning ability. They may be tired from not being able to sleep, have difficulty concentrating and learning new material, or may be experiencing significant disruptions in their home environment that make it difficult to study or complete homework.

Grieving children should view school as a place of comfort and support, especially at a time of loss. If they are worried about failing, school becomes instead a source of additional distress. Teachers should offer educational support before children demonstrate academic failure. Check in more frequently to make sure that they are learning new material and are able to keep up with the workload.

Talk to other teachers, instructors and coaches and try to help grieving students balance all of their responsibilities. If the student needs to prepare for an important concert, then maybe academic teachers can lessen some of their assignments. Grieving students may need to have their workload decreased or modified temporarily. If a major report seems overwhelming, substitute with shorter and more manageable assignments. If it’s hard for them to stay on task to complete an individual project, consider a group project that might promote peer support.

Be more sensitive

Teachers can also introduce activities with more sensitivity. For example, if you are going to do a project for Mother’s Day, introduce the activity by telling students that you realize some children may not have a mother who is alive or living with them. They can still complete the activity remembering their mother, or can choose to focus on another important female family member. This will also help students whose mothers may be deployed in the military or incarcerated, or away for other reasons.

Help children manage grief triggers

Many things may remind grieving children about the person who died and cause them to temporarily feel a resurgence of their grief. It may be a comment made by a teacher or a peer, such as “I went shopping with my mother this weekend,” or a portion of a classroom lesson, such as a health education lesson that references a similar cause of death.

Holidays such as Thanksgiving or the winter holidays tend to involve spending time with loved ones and may accentuate the sense of loss. Let students know that these triggers may occur and set up a safety plan. Students may be given permission to step out of the classroom briefly if they are feeling upset and worried that they will not be able to contain their emotions. Work out a signal to communicate when this occurs that doesn’t draw attention to the student. Make a plan for where the student will go and who they can talk with. If students know that they will be able to leave, they often feel less overwhelmed and will be more likely to remain in class and stay engaged in the lesson.

For more information

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students offers free learning modules on a wide range of issues related to grieving students, including videos and written summaries. Schools can also learn more about how to help grieving students through the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative.

Complete Article HERE!

My sons’ grief at a friend’s death has forced me to see I can’t shelter them forever

One thing never ceases to strike fear into the heart of parents: the idea of our kids dying before us

The idea that someone could be in your life one day and gone the next was incomprehensible to Jo Davies’ sons.

By Jo Davies

I was at the grocery store the other night when my younger sons and I ran into my next-door neighbour toting his six-week-old son.

After cooing over Junior’s beautiful blue eyes and his adorable expressions for a bit, one of my boys asked to touch the little one’s cheek. My neighbor hesitated for a moment and then declined, saying the baby hadn’t yet had his second round of vaccinations.

I was shocked for a moment, then smiled, reminding myself we were dealing with that most nervous of Nellies: the first-time parent.

Whether you have kids or not, you’ve likely heard the stereotype of the hyper-responsible first-time mom or dad jumping to boil the baby’s pacifier the second it touches the floor or rushing to the ER for every uptick in temperature.

Undoubtedly, this initial hyper-vigilance serves a purpose: it’s Mother Nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species. All parents go through it, and most get over it.

There’s one thing, however, that never ceases to strike fear into the heart of parents: the idea of our kids dying before us.

A few weeks ago, my sons’ classmate died at the age of 15.

He was a nice boy — quiet and respectful and kind. His death was unexpected, shocking and a heartbreaking introduction into the ways of grief not only for my two sons, but their school community as well.

At this point in their young lives, my sons haven’t experienced the death of anyone close to them except for their grandparents. That was obviously upsetting for them, but their father and I were able to help them to rationalize it, because their grandparents were much older than them; they’d lived a good life and left a legacy for which their many friends and family would remember them fondly.

When their friend died, however, it was virtually impossible to come to terms with it.

Despite the best efforts of their teachers and school counsellors, my boys were at a loss. The idea that someone could be in your life one day and gone the next was incomprehensible to them.

I asked myself: knowing what I know about death (my father died suddenly when I was 24), how can I make the death of their friend make sense to them? I came to the conclusion that I can’t.

There is no way to make sense of such a tragic circumstance, to find a silver lining. All I can do is try to help them cope with what’s happened.

To that end, I’ve done my best to read up on teenage grief, so I can be useful to my sons.

I’ve learned that, as with adults, teenage grief is as unique as each individual who experiences it. It can’t be dictated or forced to fit someone else’s conception of what’s appropriate.

I’ve also realized that for teenagers, grieving is just one more complication in an already turbulent period of life. The death of a close friend can cause them to question their own, newly formed identities as young adults; to ask questions they might never have considered before about life and mortality.

What’s been hardest for me in this process is watching my sons come to the realization that life, at its core, is uncertain. There are no guarantees of happy, long lives for the ones you love, even if you wish there were.

Up until now, their teenage brains (with their still-developing sense of consequences) have helped to make them feel invincible, or if not invincible, at least unconcerned with thoughts of dying — which seemed to me to be as it should be. Kids should be able to live their lives without constantly thinking about death and dying.

 

Now they know words like “hearse” and “pallbearer” and “condolences.” They have witnessed the depths of a parent’s grief as they listened to their friend’s mother describe all the ways she will miss him.

They’ve also been surprised by kindness from unexpected quarters; friends they didn’t know cared who gave them a hug or a tissue.

They have learned a lot of things over the past few weeks, as have I.

Mainly, I’ve learned that there was still a part of me that thought I could keep them safe from the harsh realities of life. I can’t, and that hurts.

However, just as I taught all three of my sons to use a spoon, to tie their shoelaces and to say “please” and “thank you,” I can teach them other things that are even more useful.

I can teach them to value each day they have on this earth, to be grateful that they knew their friend, and to be happy they were good friends to him during his short time here.

I’m pretty sure those are lessons worth learning.

Complete Article HERE!