I Cannot Heal My Children’s Grief, but I Can Help Them Name It

By Miranda Featherstone

In September, on one of the first days that felt like fall, we drove from our house in Rhode Island to my father’s house in Massachusetts to spend the weekend. It is still hard for me to write or say “my father’s house.” Until recently, it was “my parents’ house,” but my mother died in June after a short illness, and her simple gray purse no longer sits on the hall table.

From the moment we arrived, my 8-year-old seemed out of sorts: Everything we asked of her was a burden, every pleasant activity somehow disappointing. Children don’t generally tell us that they are grieving or worried. They often simply behave disagreeably to communicate discomfort or sorrow. (Adults are not always so different.)

That night I tucked her in. “It feels lonely without Grandmummy,” she finally confessed. “And I can’t stop thinking about death. About other people dying. Like Granddaddy.” What could I say? Same, baby. Same.

We are not religious, so I have nothing to offer my daughter by way of an afterlife, but even if I did, the reality is that her grandmother has left our world; she will never again read to my daughter on the sunny end of the couch. Death and loss are the great unfixable things: They must simply be endured.

I can offer my children kindness — and limits — when they are disagreeable. I can empathize and offer them language for their pain. But I cannot make death go away; I cannot heal their grief.

Over the coming weeks, families will gather to celebrate the holidays, and many of us will feel acutely the absence of a beloved face or voice. Crowded kitchens that once evoked comfort — or even a kind of comfortable strife — may become stark reminders of loss.

As we stumble through nostalgic rituals made strange by months and months of separation, caution, illness and death, grief may bubble to the surface. Despite our attempts to protect them, children are not immune to these pangs of sadness and longing — far from it. Their grief will rise alongside our own, and we must be prepared to help them make sense of it.

We ought to name — first for ourselves and then our children — the enduring shock of grief, without grasping for silver linings or platitudes. As parents, we must become more comfortable with the language of death. As researchers who study sex ed remind us of that subject, it shouldn’t be “the talk” but rather a series of small conversations woven into the fabric of family life. Death is not so different.

I see a dead blue jay on the sidewalk — pitiful and luminous — and my instinct is to avert my gaze and hurry my preschooler along. But really, the tiny corpse provides a relatively neutral opportunity to explain to him — gently, honestly — that all things die, that bodies can become so hurt or sick that they simply stop working and life ends.

The psychologist J. William Worden, critical of the popular five stages of grief theory, gives the bereaved four tasks instead: The first three are to accept the reality of the loss, experience the pain of grief and adjust to an environment without the person. The last task is to find an “enduring connection” with the dead, perhaps by answering the question: What did the person give you?

I have suggested this project to my daughter, but it feels facile next to the relentless permanence of death. What if the fourth task takes you years? A lifetime? There is nothing straightforward about love whose object has been removed.

As Anastasia Higginbotham suggests in her wonderful picture book “Death Is Stupid,” another approach is to connect to the granular details of loved ones’ lives: “Wear what they wore. Play what they played. Read what they read. Make what they made.” It is excellent advice, but all the same, it will never be enough.

We talk of my mother often. We remind ourselves of her practical wisdom. (“Never pass up a bathroom!” “Where there is no solution, there is no problem!”) We consume books and movies — both ones that are funny and distracting and ones that mirror our loss, make us feel less alone.

I answer my 3-year-old’s incessant questions with friendly, age-appropriate frankness. “She died. We’ll never see her again.”

“Her body stopped working, and we had it cremated. That means it was put somewhere very hot and turned into ashes. She couldn’t feel anything. You can’t feel anything when you’re dead.”

“Mostly, people die when they are old. She was very sick, but it’s not like when you are sick with a cold. You get better.”

And, perhaps most important, “I miss her.”

Caregivers should initiate such direct conversations throughout the process of loss and grief. When a loved one becomes ill, we must speak to kids frankly about what to expect. Disfigurement from illness, perhaps. The person’s confusion or silence. And then death and its accompanying rituals of mourning. “We will all sing her favorite songs together. Some people will read poems, and some people will talk about Grandmummy. Then we’ll have snacks she liked. She won’t be there, but we’ll all be remembering her and celebrating her life together. It might feel sad, and it might feel nice, too.

It’s OK, as the adult, to shed tears through these conversations. It can help to spell out that sadness is universal and survivable: “It might seem scary or strange to see me cry. But everyone cries sometimes, and crying can even help us feel better. I promise I won’t cry all day. A cookie and a hug from Papa will help.”

As holidays loom, we might suggest to children, gently, that Thanksgiving without a beloved family member may feel strange and sad. With such foresight, they are better equipped than they might have been, certainly. But doing and saying the right things will not make the death of a loved one painless. Grief will be unimpressed by our developmentally appropriate phrasing. It will still hurt, and that’s OK. Parenthood, after all, is a series of repeated exercises in learning when to step in and when to sit back. When to problem-solve or protect and when to say, “This stinks.”

My daughter doesn’t expect me to fix her grief — she is not fully acclimated to our cultural habit of smoothing over misery — but, oh, how I wish I could. Instead, I can tell her that I am hurting, too. That pasta with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese is still delicious and our kayak still cuts beautifully through the cold autumnal water. That I love her and that we will both always love my mother. That sorrows cannot always be escaped but they can be named and endured. That I will always listen to her woes and that saying them aloud sometimes helps — but that sometimes it doesn’t. That fearing the death of loved ones is a deeply human pastime. And that longing for someone gone is perhaps one of the hardest parts of being a person.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Use Transitional Objects as a Way to Process Grief

Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, and this one may be worth a shot.

By Elizabeth Yuko

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone process a loss in their own way, and on their own time. Grief is also very sneaky: You may think you have dealt with it, only to find that a certain song, scent, or memory causes you to experience the sting of loss all over again.

As it turns out, some people have found that having a transitional object may help them grieve a person who has died, while still holding part of them close. Here’s what that could look like.

What are transitional objects?

Transitional objects come up most frequently in the context of kids—particularly those who may be dealing with separation anxiety. Here’s how the concept was described in a 2018 Lifehacker article:

If a child has a tough time leaving you, a transitional object such as a stuffed animal or favorite toy can be helpful. For younger kids, it allows them to maintain a sense of comfort and consistency.

So what do transitional objects look like for adults? Like the rest of the grieving process, it’s highly personal. While some people may find comfort in photos or videos featuring an important person in their life who has died, others respond more to a tangible item, and find that having something that belonged to the person they lost makes them feel closer, according to Lisa Kanarek in an article for Well+Good.

How do transitional objects help people process loss?

Let us start by saying that some people don’t find transitional objects comforting at all, and, in fact, find it easier to avoid the deceased’s personal belongings altogether. But for others, they’re an integral part of their grieving and healing process.

“For a lot of people, it’s evidence that the person existed, especially if the death was unexpected,” Megan Devine, LPC, psychotherapist and bestselling author of It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay told Well+Good in an interview. “Even when the death was expected, sometimes there’s that unreality like they were here, and now they’re not.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to help your child deal with the death of a loved one

“The best thing you can do is be present and empathic.”

BY

When I lost my father suddenly to a fatal heart attack four years ago, the pain of loss and subsequent grief were overwhelming. At the time, my husband and I had two little girls (ages 5 and 2), who were very attached to their PopPop Geno, and in many ways, they were my path through grief.

I had to quickly figure out how I was going to walk them through the grieving process while trying to navigate my own emotions. Loss is an inevitable part of life, and the intense sorrow that accompanies the loss of a loved one through death or separation is a normal response. These feelings can be overwhelming and confusing for children who don’t quite understand death.

In preparing children for death, it’s important to be honest, explicit and as concrete as possible without providing too much information. After a loss, avoid saying well-meaning euphemisms for death such as, “he’s gone to sleep forever,” or telling a young child that someone, “…was very sick and died,” which can stoke fear of going to sleep or getting sick for children who are very literal in their thinking. It’s best to have conversations that are simple, honest and developmentally appropriate.

Here are four ways to help children deal with death:

1. Have patience.

Children younger than 8 years old don’t typically understand the permanence of death unless they’ve experienced it first-hand. Even when they’ve acknowledged, “So, Grandpa isn’t coming back?” they may ask days or months later when they will see their loved one again. Our brains are designed to protect us. Research shows that young children will only process loss in small chunks of time. Parents often misunderstand this as them being done with the grieving process or not really understanding what’s happening. Although children grieve for short blocks of time, these can occur over very long periods of months or even years depending on the age of the child. It is important to be patient, answer questions as they arise, and pay attention to behavioral cues. Consistency and establishing a routine is the key to making sure your child feels secure during this period of uncertainty.

2. Develop a narrative.

Often, feelings of change or abandonment can surface depending on how close the friend or family member was to the child. Having a story about that person to hold on to allows them more time to fully process the loss as their capacity to better understand death also develops.

Having a narrative also helps kids understand they didn’t do anything wrong and that they weren’t the reason the person left.

In my case, we opted to talk about good memories and how much their grandfather loved them. Now, they will often do something they are proud of and say, “PopPop would have loved to be here for that!” It continues to let him be present and for my kids to stay in a relationship with him. Remember that if you don’t help your children develop a narrative, they will develop their own.

As you develop a story with them, make sure you share your own feelings as well. It’s hard for a child to understand unexpected emotions, but having a caregiver model feelings can be powerful. Children learn well when they have a vocabulary for these feelings and a model for behaviors that are appropriate expressions of grief. Seeing a parent cry can be scary for them but that experience provides a learning opportunity and therapy for you, too. So, sharing that you are okay but sad right now might help children normalize their own feelings.

3. Create a totem.

Children are such concrete thinkers, meaning they have trouble with abstract concepts, so having a tangible object, such as a picture, item of clothing or even a game or figurine from that person can help ease the transition in their absence.

By allowing a child to transfer significance to a lovey connected to a person they lost, they can also grieve in their own time. Creating a scrapbook with memories and pictures can be a powerful way to process loss together in an experiential way. Try making a game of hunting for meaningful items, pictures and items that represent good times.

4. Give children the chance to say goodbye.

You may decide not to expose your child to the funeral and that’s okay. However, it’s important to let them find a way to help them say their own goodbye. Funeral rituals can provide closure for family members and allow us to grieve in community. Consider having a small family memorial that allows your child to tell their passed loved one about their favorite memory, what they loved about them and what they might miss. At any age, this can be cathartic. If you decide to take your child to the funeral, make sure you prepare them ahead of time that a lot of people will be sad but they are there because they all loved the person who passed.

Above all, respect that your child is handling intense emotions the best way they can. If you don’t have the perfect words, just reflect back what you are hearing your child say. The best thing parents can do is be present and empathic.

Complete Article HERE!

When spouses disagree on the best course of treatment for their kids

Each parent wants what is best for their child, but their version of what that is tends to differ

By

When a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it changes the family dynamic. For parents, it is devastating news, and regardless of the outcomes, they will never be the same again.

These parents are expected to make difficult medical decisions about treatment for their child. However, they often don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to adequately deal with this heartbreaking situation. They lack an effective support system and the knowledge needed to make truly informed decisions.

In emotionally charged situations like these, I often see parents revert to ingrained beliefs systems and fear-based forms of decision making – simply because they are struggling to come to terms with the reality of what is happening to their child. Unfortunately, this is exactly what can cause disputes between parents about how to proceed with treatment.

Over my 15 years with Chai Lifeline Canada, I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Family conflict is almost unavoidable when the life of a child hangs in the balance. The truth is, each parent wants what is best for their child, but their version of what that is tends to differ. But disagreements can be resolved amicably when parents are provided with support and guidance.

I’ve also seen parents reach compromises on the best course of treatment but, unfortunately, this is not always enough to save their child. This leads to feelings of guilt and resentment. The cycle of blame and guilt can be disastrous for a marriage when both individuals are experiencing intense grief.

I will now delve into how beliefs affect the decision-making process, the most common causes of spousal disagreements, methods to resolve family conflict around treatment for a serious illness, whether a marriage can survive the death of a child, and reasons why the marriage may end anyway.

Studies show that parents tend to make medical decisions based on information provided by clinicians, but how this information is perceived differs according to their personal values and beliefs. Each parent has their own set of values and beliefs that have been formed since childhood and two different world views. This can result in disagreements and family conflict, especially during trying times.

Each parent will frame the information received in their own way to determine what they believe is best for their child. One parent may feel that aggressive or experimental treatment is the only way forward, while the other may feel that their child has suffered through enough medical interventions. Neither is right or wrong, but each wholly believes that their decision is what’s best for their child. Both individuals are simply trying to be good parents in an extremely difficult and unfair situation.

When parents disagree on the best course of action, tensions rise. Incompatible beliefs and conflicting decisions can increase negative emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt in both parents. This mental and emotional stress not only affects both parents but also has a negative impact on the child. When drawn out disagreements lead to treatment delays, the child’s best interest is no longer being considered.

But how can parents move beyond their subjective beliefs to make decisions that are truly good for their ailing child? Is it even possible?

What people believe forms them. Therefore, when contradictory information is introduced, the cognitive dissonance between their belief and reality causes an internal battle. They may logically be aware that one course of action is the better option, yet emotionally they are unable to make it. When both individuals feel this way, it can be tough to reach a resolution.

Once parents understand that their decision-making process is driven by their beliefs, it may become easier to find a compromise that appeases both individuals. However, this depends greatly on their previous ability to resolve conflict. It’s important to acknowledge the factors that cause disagreements between spouses as these tension-causing factors are enhanced during stressful times.

There are, of course, many different factors involved for parents with a terminally ill child. But the main reasons why disagreements develop between spouses in terms of treatment are:

  • A lack of communication
  • Different perspectives
  • Feelings of powerlessness

Poor communication between spouses is the single greatest source of conflict. If a couple had poor communication skills before, dealing with the stress of a seriously ill child is likely to aggravate the problem. A lack of communication between partners can quickly escalate when faced with a difficult situation. This causes a breakdown in trust, avoidance tendencies and arguments. Open, clear, and honest communication is essential for parents to resolve disagreements about medical treatment for their child.

Differing perspectives about the situation are another factor that can cause disagreements. Each person will have a unique perspective based on their internal beliefs and values. This influences how they interpret the information provided by medical professionals and healthcare workers. A person’s perspective will affect how they justify the risks and view the benefits of certain medical treatments. When parents have different perspectives about important issues, disagreements occur. Spouses need to realize that, although their opinions may differ, they still want the same thing – what’s best for their child.

There is nothing more heart-wrenching and disempowering than watching your child struggle with a serious illness. As a result, many parents deal with feelings of powerlessness. This common experience may contribute to the development of disagreements. Parents tend to feel excluded from medical discussions about their child (feeling they are the last to be consulted) or that they haven’t been given enough information to truly make informed decisions. When people feel as if they have lost control over something as important as their child’s health, they will try their best to take back control in any way possible. This can manifest as someone stubbornly sticking to their decision for treatment even though their spouse doesn’t agree or that it may not be the right choice for their child.

In cases where families disagree about treatment, a resolution somehow needs to be reached. When parents are bitterly divided about continuing or discontinuing treatment, the hospital may turn to the court for guidance. Unfortunately, this can delay matters. In the end, it is better for everyone involved if spouses could come to an agreement before a trial is required.

Although parents make many decisions about their child’s medical care, many parties are involved in the process. The child’s care team may consist of the parents, doctors, nurses, specialist physicians, other supportive family members, and in some cases, even the child (depending on age/maturity). Each of these individuals has a right to share their thoughts, voice concerns, or weigh in on treatment decisions. Therefore, if parents cannot agree on a course of action, further discussions with the entire care team are required. An impartial or objective professional could even mediate these discussions to ensure a shared decision is reached.

Since many parents feel like they don’t have adequate knowledge to make an informed decision, a mediated discussion with the medical team can be helpful. During these sessions, the healthcare providers should answer any questions the family members may have. They should also offer as much information as possible in terms of the available options, as well as the benefits and risks involved. If the ill child is old enough, they should also be included in the discussion and have a say in the decision. This may even make it easier for the parents to resolve their disagreement.

A psychological support system can also be helpful for spouses. Counselling can help parents improve their communication skills, understand the basis of their differing perspectives, and come to terms with the situation that is making them feel powerless. A trained professional can help spouses deal with the issues causing disagreements. By expressing their emotions and learning to understand their partner’s perspective, the tension may defuse and allow the conflict to resolve itself. In this manner, they can form a united front and focus their attention on their child, who needs them to be present.

Despite the effort of everyone involved and regardless of the treatment decisions made, the child may die. The death of a child is one of the hardest and most traumatic events that a family can ever experience. Both parents are changed forever after the loss of a child. This puts an enormous amount of stress on a marriage – even a healthy one.

There is a myth that most marriages (80 to 90 per cent) will fail after the loss of a child in any manner. However, the truth is that only about 16  to 20 per cent of marriages end as a direct result of a child’s death. Instead, this type of trauma tends to put a spotlight on the existing properties of the marriage. Consequently, some marriages will get worse, others will improve, some may simply continue without much change, while others will end in divorce. It all depends on the strength and health of the marriage before the trauma.

With extenuating circumstances, such as the stressful months or years that their child was sick, the risk of divorce increases. When spouses are opposed to treatment options, this can cause further tension. One parent may feel guilt that they proceeded with their choice, resulting in the passing of their child. At the same time, the other parent may feel resentful that their decision wasn’t followed and blame their spouse. A cycle of guilt and blame combined with intense grief can easily destroy even the strongest marriage.

There are many reasons why a marriage may end after the loss of a child. But three main factors will ultimately affect the outcome:

  • The different ways in which individuals grieve (specifically the differences between males and females).
  • An inability for spouses to meet the needs of their partner during the grieving process.
  • The nature and circumstances of the death (a long, stress-filled period of illness) influences the grief response.

People grieve in different ways. The very nature of grief makes it a subjective experience. Grief is a long-term process, not a once-off event. In any other situation, spouses serve to comfort each other during times of grief. But when both partners are experiencing the raw grief that accompanies the loss of a child, they may find it difficult to comfort and support each other. This is because the mode of grieving for each individual can change from moment to moment. Neither spouse will be in the same mindset simultaneously, which can cause misunderstandings and feelings of being disconnected.

Males and females also tend to process grief in different ways. Women and especially mothers will feel intense grief for longer periods. On the other hand, men usually become more task orientated as a way to manage their grief. When confronted with grief, women will show their emotions openly while men will release their emotions privately.

These differences can make each spouse feel as if they’re going through the experience alone. Essentially, problems in the marriage occur during this time because each spouse is grieving in their own way, making them unable to meet the needs of their partner. This is not intentional. Most parents can barely meet their own needs, let alone anyone else’s, after the death of their child. Grieving people turn inwards, focusing on their own emotions and leaving little energy for anything else. Even though they are grieving simultaneously, each partner will suffer from a profound sense of isolation. When people feel that their grief is not being understood or their partner can’t meet their needs, it puts additional strain on a marriage.

Finally, the nature and circumstances of the child’s death can also influence the parents’ grief responses. Generally, parents experience less guilt if the child dies an anticipated death. Unfortunately, this is not the case if they disagreed about treatment. The prolonged anticipatory grief likely exacerbated the marital relationship as well. Often, parents of seriously ill children deal with many compounding stressors such as financial issues due to medical bills or pressure from clinicians about treatment. All of this can have devastating consequences for their marriage.

Parents of terminally ill children need support systems. Open and honest communication with each other and the health care team should be established from the onset. Conflict will only be resolved if parents feel empowered to make informed decisions about their child’s well-being. Regardless of the state of their relationship, bereaved parents need to seek support from organizations such as The Compassionate Friends to overcome their grief or even save their marriage. There are many resources available aimed specifically at supporting families throughout the entire process.

With the proper support systems, open communication and a solid foundation, it is possible to move past tragedy as a united front.

Complete Article HERE!

I had no idea how to talk to my children about a loved one’s death.

I’m not alone.

By Katie C. Reilly< When I was 16, my uncle died unexpectedly — my first exposure to the death of a loved one. Upon hearing the news, my dad got on a plane and flew to the West Coast to be with my aunt and cousins. When he returned, there was no conversation beyond “Uncle Jimmy died.”

My mother died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, when I was in my late 20s and my father died of cancer four years later. Having never witnessed the grieving process up close before, I felt like something was wrong with me for the intensity of my grief on each parent’s death.

Now as a mother to two small girls, I want to speak to my children about their grandparents and also prepare them for my eventual passing. Living through the past pandemic year, and being inundated with constant news about illness and death, has only made this feeling more urgent. But like many parents, I have no idea about when or how to begin a conversation about death with a child. And apparently, I’m not alone, experts say.

Many parents — like my father — avoid speaking to their children about death because they want to protect their kids from sadness and pain, says Cara Mearns-Thompson, a licensed clinical social worker focused on grieving children and the co-founder of the Grief Club of Minnesota.

But there’s more than concern for their children that holds many parents back, says Vicki Jay, chief executive of the National Alliance for Children’s Grief. “It’s our own uncomfortableness with [the topic] that prevents us from opening up the discussion,” she says.

Yet as much as they might try, parents can’t protect children from seeing or hearing about death: about 1 in 14 children in the United States will lose a parent or sibling by the age 18, according to Judi’s House/JAG Institute. And according to a recent study in the Lancet, more than 1.5 million children worldwide — 114,000 in the United States — have lost a parent or primary caregiver due to the covid-19 pandemic, with more such losses expected.

It is never too early to speak to children about death, but in an age-appropriate manner, experts say.

“Death is a normal and natural part of our life and, therefore, there is not a specific point that a child reaches that you can say it is now okay to talk to them,” Mearns-Thompson says. “But instead it is woven into conversations throughout their life as they are learning and developing. If they are going for a walk and see a dead bird — even if it’s a 2-year-old, to talk about it, to point it out,” says Mearns-Thompson.

“It is really based on their age, their brain development, their understanding of the finality of death and the irreversible nature of that. As they go through different stages and ages in their life, they will understand death in new and different ways,” Mearns-Thompson says.

“It is important to know that kids grieve differently than adults. And oftentimes, what may appear to be a frivolous play activity for children may actually be a very worthy way that they are working through grief,” says Linda Goldman, a therapist in Maryland whose work focuses on children and grief. Goldman, who has written several books on the subject, recalls working with a 5-year-old who had lost his mother. Goldman handed him a telephone and asked him if he’d like to call her. The little boy picked up the phone and began a conversation. “ ‘Hi mommy, I really miss you. How are you? Let me tell you about my day,’ ” Goldman says.

“Using the word death is appropriate,” Goldman says. “ ‘Why do people die?’ a little child might ask. People die when they are very, very old or very, very sick or when the doctors and nurses can’t make their bodies work anymore. And you can vary that. ”

Mearns-Thompson says she would use the same principles when speaking to children from different age groups. “Telling them simple, and honest information and allowing their questions to lead to what information they may need more of,” she writes.

Goldman says it’s important to avoid euphemisms about death, which can create confusion and even complicate the grieving process.

“Society doesn’t realize just how harmful some popular cliches can be to the grieving process,” Goldman says.

Mearns-Thompson notes that saying someone has “passed away” or that the person is “sleeping” makes it hard for children to understand what has happened (and, others say, may create real uncertainty or even anxiety about what can happen when someone goes to sleep.)

That doesn’t mean you can’t speak to children honestly in an age-appropriate manner. Annie Sperling’s husband died of a virulent type of brain tumor in 2020 when her two children were ages 4 and 8. Sometimes “my [younger] daughter will say to me, ‘Is Daddy ever coming back? or ‘I would give my stuffed animal away just so I could have daddy back for one day,’ ” says Sperling, who lives near Minneapolis. “And as heart-wrenching as it is to tell her ‘no, Daddy isn’t coming back,’ I want to be honest and sometimes the truth can hurt, but I feel like by not telling her the truth it would only hurt her more in the end” by creating false hope.

Being honest with children also helps to establish trust, experts say.

For example, “if a death by suicide was kept a secret or explained in an untruthful manner, once the child figures out the true cause of death they may have mistrust for those closest to them that didn’t truthfully tell them the cause,” Mearns-Thompson writes.

Younger children, for instance, may assume the death of someone close to them was their fault because of the egocentrism of that age and magical thinking, which are common characteristics of that age group. Teenagers often want to know more details about death compared to younger children, Goldman says. For example: “What kind of cancer? Who was with Mom when she died?”

Young people have “this vivid imagination and they fill in the blanks with imagination,” Jay says. “It is important so that they don’t get misinformation or misguided, that we stay tuned into them and help them put the puzzle together by offering multiple opportunities to ask them questions and for them to ask us questions.”

When a parent loses a loved one, they also have an opportunity to teach their children how to grieve in a healthy way by modeling. “The best thing you can do for your kids . . . is model to them what a healthy grief experience is,” Jay says. “So it is okay to cry in front of your kids.”

Similarly, Sperling says, parents should encourage their children to express their emotions: “Whenever my kids are experiencing a tender moment, my words to them are, ‘Just let it out,’ ‘Just cry it out.’. . . It’s a way for them to communicate to me that they are sad and that they need me in that moment. I don’t ever want them to feel like if they are crying or feeling blue that they can’t express themselves to me.”

Naming the different emotions that you are feeling — as well as including children in remembrance rituals — are other ways to model healthy grief for children, Mearns-Thompson says.

“I always say speak your loved ones’ name because the moment you stop saying their name, the moment you stop looking at pictures and sharing stories, is the moment that that memory kind of fizzles away,” Sperling adds.

Despite how difficult that can be, I am trying to take Sperling and experts’ advice when speaking to my own children.

“These remind me of Grandpa Jack,” I said recently as I passed the Honey Nut O’s to my husband at breakfast. My dad religiously had either oatmeal or Cheerios for breakfast.

“Where is Grandpa Jack?” my 4-year-old asked. I told her Grandpa Jack died, as I had many times previously. She never reacted before.

“So . . . I’m never going to meet him?” she asked for the first time as she burst into tears.

“No, honey, you will not,” I replied.

“That’s so sad,” she said. And I nodded. And then she wiped her tears and jumped off her chair to play outside.

Complete Article HERE!

The Best Books to Help You Cope With Death and Dying

How the wisdom of Joan Didion, death doulas, and Big Bird have prepped me to dance into the void (and plan my estate).

by Mary Frances Knapp

The chillest people I know are the ones surrounded by death. I’ve spoken with a lot of them over the years: end-of-life doulas, hospice workers, embalmers; eco-coffin designers, grief counselors, and country homesteaders; all of whom look their inevitable demise square in the face. They’ve all taught me something different about death and dying, but they’ve also driven home a similar point: Death doesn’t have to be this freaky egg that gets cracked on your head out of the blue. Death—rather, dying—is a process, and that process is what you make of it.

One of my first writing gigs in college was all about death (which is why I’m on this coffin-shaped soap box in the first place). I freelanced for an end-of-life planning business in San Francisco, which was part practical, local resource for what to do after a loved one dies, and part death blog (that was my jam). We were always careful not to stew in topics related to death and dying in a macabre way—the landing page was baby blue, and blogging topics ranged from DIY crafts for memorializing loved ones to learning more about biodegradable urns. Why on Earth they let a 19-year-old with no knowledge of funeral homes write for them is beyond me, but I’m so glad they did. I learned that when you’re constantly surrounded by death, it doesn’t feel as foreign and unnavigable. Of course, those in the death and dying industry don’t become magically exempt from the emotional demands of death, and having the time and resources to live and die well is a privilege. But in the years I spent learning about estate planning, or talking to home health aides about what you can do literally moments after a loved one has died to find some peace, I learned that dying well is just like living well: You reap what you sow.

So where do you start? Books. Read what other people have been through in hospitals, at home, or with their own existential crises. While the titles below are hardly a definitive guide to death and end-of-life planning, they’re the ones that have helped me feel better prepared to dance into the void.

No one does death like le French

Simone de Beauvoir is a *chef’s kiss* great Frenchy to hold your hand through the topic of death. This is one of the author’s most beloved books from the 1960s, and it takes you through the experience of her mother’s death with an acute sensitivity to detail; it’s Beauvoir’s talent for focusing on the more “banal” moments of terminal illnesses and dying with philosophical panache that makes it so good.

A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir

Learn how physicians feel about patient care

This one reads like a diary, if diaries were super exacting tell-alls by medical professionals. Author and doctor Ira Byock is a palliative care physician, and getting insights into the strides and pitfalls of his end-of-life care experiences teaches you a lot about the kinds of questions you’ll want to ask when/if you ever end up navigating similar situations and medical institutions. It’s the kind of book that just makes you feel like you have someone on your side, even in the face of daunting health scares.

The Best Care Possible by Ira Byock

Yes, there are end of life doulas

We usually think of doulas as kindly granola folk who help bring wee babes into this world, but there are also doulas and death midwives who are trained to accompany those who are dying and usher them into whatever comes next. I’ve spoken with a lot of them over the years, but this book rec actually comes from a friend who just started pursuing a career in end-of-life care. “I picked up this book to learn more about reclaiming deathcare as a sacred, holistic, and intimate practice,” she told me, saying she’d absolutely suggest this book for those who could see themselves in a similar profession, or who just want to learn more about the above.


Anne-Marie Keppel

Death Nesting by Anne-Marie Keppel

There’s room for creativity

Overall, I think the United States has this knee-jerk reaction to sterilize the processes of death and dying. We exact our funerary ceremonies with a kind of uniformity and somberness—which is fair. Death is hard, and everyone grieves differently. But, dude. Have you ever seen the coffins in Ghana? They’re beautiful, and personal. A really celebratory labor of love.

The Buried Treasures Of The Ga: Coffin Art In Ghana by Regula Tschumi

Raise your hand if you’ve got daddy issues

A hard read, but a super cathartic memoir by Jesmyn Ward for anyone who has lost a loved one at a young age, or who tightrope-walks their relationship with their parents. The book follows the author’s relationships with five different people in that sense, and it’s also a powerful portrait of what it means to live and mourn as a Black person in the American South.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

That’s one way to cope

We’ve all had it happen, or seen it happen to someone else: Rather than confront our grief, we pour ourselves into a new hobby or time-suck pursuit (cc: all those quarantine sourdough loaves). And that’s OK. There’s no etched-in-stone timeline for grief, and this memoir by Long Litt Woon, written about her late husband, is a great reminder of that; it’s about all the curious, dark, and beautiful places our grief can take us, such as mushroom hunting. “Long tells the story of finding hope after despair lightly and artfully,” writes the New York Times in a review that I think really hits the nail on the head. “[She writes with] self-effacement and so much gentle good nature that we forgot how sad she (and we) are.” Then, like the narrator, we remember. But guess what? We’re still in one piece. 

The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon

If you’re not spiritual…

… Then read every essay and book by Joan Didion, honestly. Her writing will spoon feed you a tough yet deeply observant love, and feels like getting a sit-down chat from your most level-headed relative about hippies, the Pioneer West, and, in this case, the death of her husband and collaborator John Gregory Dunne. So many books on death and dying are deeply spiritual or religious, but for those of us who have only ever had faith in logic and, IDK, Pokémon, Didion is your gal. No one else writes quite like her about the surreal logic of grief-brain with as much honesty and accuracy. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

One for the kids

Do you have Muppet Feels? (Of course you do.) You might remember the legendary Sesame Street episode where Big Bird deals with Mr. Hooper’s passing. Heavy shit, man. The children’s book adaptation of that episode brings the same nuanced tenderness of the show, and literally everything in life is better when Big Bird is by your side. Give this to a kid, or anyone going through it.

I’ll Miss You, Mr. Hooper by Sesame Street

See you in the next life.

Complete Article HERE!

How to support children through grief and bereavement

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When it comes to casual conversation, death understandably very rarely comes up as a subject that we jump at the chance of openly discussing.

Yet, it appears the coronavirus pandemic has made us all more aware of our own mortality and the mortality of those around us. Research by Dying Matters, a campaign group working to create an open culture around death and dying, found that nearly a quarter of UK adults (24%) say that the pandemic has made them more likely to have casual conversations with family and friends about preferences around their death.

While adults are potentially seeing the pandemic as a way to be more open about death, be that from coronavirus or other illnesses, one group is continually overlooked: children. Figures from Child Bereavement UK show that a child loses a parent every 22 minutes in the UK, equating to around 111 children being bereaved of a parent every single day.

During the pandemic and beyond, children have not just lost parents; they are also having to deal with grandparents, family friends, teachers and even siblings dying. Campaign groups and charities are working to help identify bereaved children and offer them the support they need, whether the bereavement is due to coronavirus or any other type of illness or injury. It’s now becoming apparent that we need a shift in public discourse, education systems and possibly even legislation in order to help bereaved children feel acknowledged and safe.

The current situation

The Childhood Bereavement Network analyses data from sources like the Office for National Statistics and uses its own research to estimate that 1 in 29 five to 16-year-olds has been bereaved of a parent or sibling – equating to a child in every average school class. “Unfortunately, there are no official figures on how many children are bereaved of a parent,” says Di Stubbs, a bereavement practitioner for charity Winston’s Wish. “A study has shown that 78% of children in the UK say they have experienced a ‘significant bereavement,’ showing that our children are very aware and affected by the mortality of those around them.”

Charities like Winston’s Wish were seeing many children before the pandemic to help support them through bereavements, alongside working with adults who know bereaved children to offer advice on how to best help young people during periods of grief. While children were facing countless bereavements before coronavirus, the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the situation. “COVID emphasised our natural assumptions,” says Di. “The children we work with fall into many different groups. We are dealing with children who have been bereaved due to coronavirus. We are also dealing with children who have experienced a loved one die due to other reasons over lockdown, as the same amount of people are still dying from health conditions like heart attacks and strokes.”

There’s also another group of children that is now finding grief to be an issue. “Children who were bereaved before the pandemic are now finding that the current situation has really highlighted these intense emotions,” explains Di. “Suddenly, everyone is talking about death and bereavement all the time. Even for children who are not grieving, many have been quite suddenly exposed to the fragility of life and are having to respond to a new world.”

children bereavement

Navigating a new world

Coronavirus, and the lockdowns implemented to curb the spread of the disease, have caused confusion for many children around dying. “All of the rituals surrounding death, like funerals, were suddenly not there anymore,” says Di Stubbs. “We saw extremely sad situations, like shielding grandparents trying to comfort children over the death of a parent, whose only option was to do this through a window as no contact was allowed.”

Roseleen Cowie, regional lead at charity Child Bereavement UK, echoes this sentiment. “The effects of the pandemic have caused further pain for children going through a bereavement,” she says. “Without the usual rituals, children cannot say goodbye when someone dies, which has added to the difficulty. This is superimposed on the grieving, resulting in an additional loss and some people expressing their grief more deeply than may have been expected.”

Shelley Gilbert MBE, founder of specialist bereavement service Grief Encounter, stresses the importance of supporting bereaved people during and after the pandemic. “COVID has stolen things away from most of us, some bigger than others,” she says. “If someone special dies for young people, they are gone forever, and we need to think about how we support children throughout this period.”

Understanding children’s grief

Children grieve in a similar way to adults, but with some noticeable differences. According to the experts, ‘puddle jumping’ is to be expected. “Puddle jumping is the process by which children move in and out of their grief,” explains Roseleen Cowie. “A child may be very upset one moment and perfectly alright the next. Being aware of that is really helpful for people, especially in schools, as you can then appreciate that this is the way that children grieve.”

Puddle jumping tends to be different to how adults experience dealing with grief. “Adults tend to wade through grief, but children do this much faster; cycling in and out of grief and oscillating much faster than adults,” Di Stubbs explains. However, in many ways, the features of grief in children and adults are very similar, if not the same. “We can’t expect children to grieve differently to adults,” says Di. “All that anyone can do when they are bereaved is experience whatever intense emotions they are feeling. Eventually, we all grow around grief, allowing ourselves to experience new adventures and have fun.”

children bereavement

Talking to children about death

Undoubtedly, the consensus from experts is that children need to talk about death. “We recommend people use words like ‘dying,’ ‘dead’ and ‘death’ around children so that they have a clear understanding of what this is, as they won’t understand euphemisms,” explains Roseleen Cowie. Di Stubbs notes that language is particularly important, as phrases like ‘heart attack’ won’t make sense to some children, who may instead become distressed at the thought of a loved one being attacked, rather than understanding this to be a medical term.

Another expert who stresses the importance of using the right language is Nima Patel. A qualified primary school teacher and conscious parenting coach, she began her business, Mindful Champs, to encourage the practice of mindfulness between parents and children. Her latest project, a grief journal for children, encourages them to express themselves in whatever ways they can after a bereavement. “In 2017, my father suddenly died,” Nima discloses. “Seeing people lose loved ones during the pandemic, I wanted to create a toolkit for children and young people that I never had,” she says.

Nima realised the importance of having honest and open dialogues with children around death by using language that they can understand. “Children will have so many questions around death, but adults often don’t know how to answer these,” she explains. “My aim is to help children develop language to express themselves, and encourage adults and children to voice their feelings. If emotions aren’t spoken about in the home on a daily basis, a lot of children don’t have the language needed for emotional events, like a bereavement.”

Many children may find they need professional support when they are bereaved, and adults and schools are able to refer children to charities like Child Bereavement UK, Grief Encounter and Winston’s Wish or to NHS services. The way in these organisations can support grieving children or adults who are concerned about bereaved children can take a multitude of forms, from offering helplines to one-on-one counselling sessions.

If you know a bereaved child, in addition to talking to them about their grief and emotions, another good way to help them express grief is through creativity. “Sometimes words are not enough to express our grief and this is where creativity comes in,” explains Shelley Gilbert MBE. “Being bereaved often means you haven’t the words to describe what you’re thinking or feeling. Old words have no meaning or take on new meanings and you’re learning words you’ve never heard before. Following the loss of someone special, we need a new language of grief.”

Creativity can come in many forms when expressing grief. Winston’s Wish encourages children to make memory jars or emotional first-aid kits, while there are also resources out there made specifically for grieving children, like Nima Patel’s Mindful Champs Grieving Journal. “We encourage activities like memory jars, flower releasing ceremonies and memorial trees in the journal to help children express their grief however they wish, be that verbal or non-verbal,” says Nima. Di Stubbs also recommends that books can be a great resource for children, including I Miss You: A First Look at Death and Goodbye Mousie to explain death to young children and Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love for teenagers. A further reading list is available at Winston’s Wish.

children bereavement

Assisting children with learning disabilities

For any child, dealing with grief can be tough, frightening and confusing. For children with learning disabilities, who may have acute difficulties expressing themselves, this can be a particularly hard time, especially during the pandemic. “We can’t emphasise enough the huge impact that the pandemic has had on children with learning disabilities,” says Tracey Hartley-Smith, a learning disability nurse and clinical lead at Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. “Coronavirus has impacted children’s opportunities for developing their social and communication skills hugely. We’ve seen through our work and heard from parents, carers and colleagues that children with learning disabilities have experienced heightened anxiety during this time.”

Tracey and her colleague, Dr. Jacqui Wood, a clinical psychologist at Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, have continued working with children with learning disabilities throughout the pandemic, including supporting them through grief and bereavement. “We encourage everyone interacting with a bereaved child to use the same, simple phrases when talking about death, as repetition is so important for consistency,” says Jacqui. “Visual aids, such as pictures or symbols, can often be helpful for sharing information with non-verbal young people, and helping them to express themselves,” she explains. Tracey adds that, as well as using the right language, “children with learning disabilities need to feel safe and loved, in whatever type of communication they use for this reassurance.”

Jacqui has recently published a guide specifically tailored for parents or carers of children with learning disabilities, which is accessible here. “Keep routines and boundaries, as they help establish predictability and security for children,” she advises. “Try to find opportunities to involve children in arrangements like funerals, to help develop their understanding of what has happened. Children with learning disabilities may also benefit from multi-sensory memory items, such as a piece of clothing from their loved one to touch and smell. This can help them learn to manage their expectations over time, so they adapt to remembering their loved one rather than physically seeing them,” she explains.

Jacqui also advises encouraging emotional regulation activities, be these for fun or relaxation. “Help children have fun during this difficult period by encouraging movement, whether that’s running around in the park or splashing about in the bath,” she says. “For calming sensory experiences, try dimming the lighting in your home, making a den to establish ‘quiet time’ or just comforting your child with regular hugs.”

children bereavement

Acknowledging and making memories

Above all, acknowledging that a child or teenager is grieving is incredibly important. Research by Dying Matters shows that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% say that being happy to listen was one of the top three most useful things someone did after they were bereaved.

“Above all, we should remember that love never dies,” says Shelley Gilbert MBE. “Lots of our work focuses on remembrance in difference ways, including remembering our loved ones as they were in the past and thinking about them in the present and future. When we make new memories, it can help to remember that our dead loved ones are with us in some way.”

When adults grieve, there is trauma and then a long road to acceptance. And, we should not assume that children and teenagers are any different. As Roseleen Cowie says: “When helping bereaved families, our ethos is that grief is a normal part of life: you can’t get over it or make it better, but you can learn to live with it.”

Complete Article HERE!