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Answers for Adults
Q:

I am a school counselor and need some help with an 8 yr old student griefing, lost her mother from cancer and student does not want to go to school and cries all the time.


A:

It is quite normal for a child to not want to go to school after the death of a parent. She is probably scared to leave her dad’s side, she doesn’t want to explain to other students what happened, she doesn’t want to be “different”. With mother’s day coming up, which is often a big deal in elementary schools, it might be worse than usual. To make it a little easier for her, you could encourage her classmates and teacher to write cards to her, you could talk to her friends about helpful ways to interact with her, you could ease her back into school by inviting her for only two hours or a half day, being close to her most of the time to support her. Give her time to talk to you or spend time in your office expressing her grief in creative ways – crayons, clay, paint…. You can find many more ideas on how to help children with their grief in our bookstore. You can also look at our website for children KidsAid to find resources and other help. Please encourage your student to join our support group for children and/or find a local support group where she can talk to other children who had similar experiences. Most of all, give her some time, listen to what she needs, and answer her questions and concerns openly and honesty.

Q:

I have a question about a one year old child who has lost their mom. Do they know at that age to grieve, and if not, does the grieving start at an older age? My step son who is now 6, lost his mother shortly after he turned one. He knows he has a mommy in heaven and one on earth, but doesn't quite understand the whole death thing, and acts out in different ways, that family members tend to blame on the fact that he lost his mom when he was a baby. I am wondering if he remembers that, and if that is in fact a reason to be acting out now at 6 years old. He tends to go back to what my husband and I call baby mode. He will sometimes talk like a baby, act like a baby, and want to sleep with the blankets and animals he had when he was a baby. He likes to interact with kids younger than him, and doesn't want to participate in age appropriate sports.. Although, he is very smart and does well in school. People that do not know us will ask "how old is he 4"? we say no, 6 and they are amazed. If he falls down, just a little fall, he gets up screaming as though he just split his head open. The other day we were at a friends, and he came in running and screaming.... my friend just knew it was something bad, our blood ran cold... we calmed him down to find out he just bit his tongue while playing. My other boys would fall down, get hit with a ball, etc, and jump right back up and continue on.... in fact, at 6 I would even say... dust yourself off... you are ok, no blood! Is there a different way to handle these things with him? Is it too harsh on him to say, get up dust yourself off and continue playing. We have tried things like that, and it is a 30 minute event that he is still hurt and cant move. The more we tell him he is ok, the more he screams. He still wakes up sometimes at night crying but doesn't know why he's crying. My husband said he has never slept well, and he just started sleeping through the night about a year ago, except for the times he wakes up crying. It seems to be more after he spends time with maternal grandparents. He wakes up at night and gets rocked back to sleep, or has talks about "mommy" when he is there. He comes home and talks a lot about his mom, and gets angry. I feel like its because he is talking about someone and things he does not remember, but I could be wrong.... thats a big question, does he remember? Should we be talking about her, or should he be a little older to understand more? Has it done too much damage since others talk so much about her to him? I haven't ever dealt with anything like this before and want to know the right way, positive way, and loving way to handle it.

Thank you so much!

M


A:

Dear M,

All of your questions are good ones. This is an area in which people are seldom properly educated.

People grieve at any age. Newborns who lose a twin shortly after birth grieve. Death is universal and is recognized for what it is by what is known as the hind-brain: the part of the brain that carries all our evolutionary knowledge. For instance, the sight of a corpse is immediately recognized by other members of the species, including humans. My daughter at age two asked questions for five days straight after a friend's baby was stillborn. When we went to the open-casket, graveside service, she took one look at the dead child and then immediately gave me a look that clearly said, "Well, why didn't you tell me she was dead?" That was the primal recognition. All the frontal-lobe thinking and my explanations made no sense to her whatever.

So, yes, your stepson is grieving and never had to learn how to do it. This loss will follow him all through his life. As he moves from one age to the next, he will re-grieve this loss. As he goes from grade to grade, as he graduates, when he marries - each time he will have to review the loss of his mother from a new perspective.

He is not acting out. He is grieving. Age 6 is the transition from very young to being bigger and having more activities and demands placed on him. Clearly he is finding this hard and a regression to younger behavior is quite normal. Even children with no trauma often go back to things they did when younger as a source of comfort; children with trauma do this more often and more intensely.

I'm not sure his dis-interest in age-appropriate sports is related to this loss. I always hated age-appropriate sports, preferring solo sports in which I did not have to compete. This is perfectly normal for anyone. As for his freaking out over falls and blood: I think this is hard-wired in. I've observed many families in which some kids fell apart and others just brushed it off. I was one of the latter group, and this many years later, with four decades of practicing psychology behind me, I believe that pain is perceived differently depending on how one's nerves and brain are hooked up. This seems to be true across cultures. I will discover bruises on my body days later from crashing into things as I charge through life. One of my daughters tries to imitate me in this way, but is caught up by injuries and blood. What doesn't hurt me may momentarily completely disable her. She required instant and total attention for her wounds and injuries when she was young. As an adult, she has learned how to work with this reaction. Blood will always be upsetting for her unless she decides to change professions and go into the medical field. Then, of course, she would eventually find that instant reaction overridden by knowledge.

This leads to the "you are OK" difficulty. If he doesn't feel OK, he isn't OK. And I remember these days all too well. Instead of trying to minimize the event, I would suggest reacting to it at the level he is experiencing it. For him it is not OK, and when he's told that the opposite is true, it seems to lead to a greater meltdown. That's because he is getting conflicting information from his body and from his parents. He cannot separate and evaluate the information at his age, so his panic increases. I think you'll find that over-reacting to his pain will actually lessen the time he needs to recover. When he knows that he will get the comfort and attention he needs, he won't have to express his need so greatly. I certainly remember going from the 30 minute knee scraping to the 5 minute bandaid on the bloody cut and "Thanks, Mom!"

At night our bodies slow down, our cortisol levels drop, and we have fewer defenses against painful feelings and memories. Waking up crying is normal for every child. For kids dealing with loss it is very common. Many, of any age, go back to betwetting. Nightmares are common. Needing to be rocked and comforted is normal.

It is understandable that his memories would be more near the surface with his maternal grandparents. They share his grief and evidently are not trying to prevent him from showing his. For a long time people in our culture believed that the less one thought or talked about the deceased, the better one would do. This is not true for anyone of any age. Grief can not be pushed away or forgotten. If it doesn't come out one way, it will come out another. When working with children, we encourage them to express their grief in many ways: through play, drawing, talking, games... You can find a lot of information about helping children deal with grief in our annotated bibliography and books for children. You might also take a look at information from the Dougy Center that we have on KIDSAID. Yes, do talk to him about his mother so that it becomes a regular and frequent topic of conversation. The more he expresses himself, the less will be bottled up. I have always over-talked difficult issues so that the child is the one who stops wanting to discuss, rather than I who is cutting off the child.

It is wonderful that you are trying to find the best way to deal with your son. He is lucky to have someone who cares so much. I know much of this will be counter-intuitive for you, but I think as you proceed you will find that this style works.

Don't hesitate to write back if you want more help. I am also copying this to our child psychologist, Antje Rath, who oversees KIDSAID. She may have other, helpful ideas.
With caring,

Cendra

Q:

About a month ago our family lost one of our younger members. I had two twin cousins, both 10, and one was killed in a car accident. One survived, but he has completely shut down and will not deal with anything. It upsets him to see his parents (who are divorced.. I am the niece of his mother) upset and he will not talk about his feelings, the accident, or anything emotional.

Instead he has become "sarcastic, superficial, and introverted," in the words of his therapist. His mother, my aunt, asked me to try talking to him. I am usually able to stay "composed" around my family (I do my grieving in private) and she thinks he may open up to me. I am, however, completely unsure of how to try and talk to him. I want to respect his privacy, of course, but I also know that he HAS to start processing what has happened. How do I approach and help him? He is eleven and I am eighteen.


A:

Dear friend,

I am very sorry about the death of your cousin. His twin is quite fortunate to have loving and caring family members who can help him through this difficult time. I would be very open with your cousin. Tell him about the concerns of his parents and that they asked you to help out. But also tell him that you respect if he doesn't want to talk about his brother and that he can chose his own pace of grieving. I then would try to spend time with him doing things he likes. Play video games, go hiking, go to a football game, go out for dinner, whatever works for him. Talk about things he would like to talk about, school, sports, movies... Feel free to mention his brother whenever it feels appropriate. Talk a little bit about your own grief, such as: "it makes me sad to think about ... but I usually cry when I'm by myself, I don't like it when people see me cry". This way, you give him permission to talk without asking him questions or pressuring him.

It might be helpful for your cousin to join a support group with other kids in similar situations. Often hospitals or hospices offer them or at least know about them. Of course he is welcome to join our email support group for kids. You can find the information on how to join here: KidsAid Groups

Give him time, be there for him, be a good listener and a good role model, that's the best you can do for him.

I hope this was somewhat helpful, please feel free to email me any time if you have a question or concern.

Q:

Hello. I have a precocious 7 year old daughter who is typically at about an 11 yr old's level vocally/academically ... However emotionally she is probably 5. She its very cold when it comes to death. When her grandfather died she would talk about it in such a matter of fact way like she was telling about the weather. It hurt peoples feelings.

We are about to put our 14 yr old cat down. I forewarned her that he was old and may be put to sleep soon. She was sad but asked a lot of questions about the process. Now she makes little comments to the cat like, "soon we're going to take you to the doctor and you're going to sleep forever."

Is this a healthy response to death? I have never seen her mourn anything, including the loss of a toy. She is capable of other types of sadness. If it its healthy, that's fine. But how can I explain to her that other people are hurting and to be more gentle with her words without making her feel like not being sad is weird. I don't want to convince her she needs to feel a certain way.


A:

Dear friend,

Children often react differently to death than adults. They don't have any preconceived notion yet on what's "appropriate". I have met many children who talked about the death of a loved person or pet in a matter-of-fact way. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them, they just cope differently. It is possible that your daughter might have a more emotional reaction later in her life, like my nephew whose grandpa died when he was four. At that point, he was more interested in the logistics of the casket than anything else. When he was seven, he had a phase where he cried and said he missed his grandpa. Children are pretty good at taking care of themselves but they shouldn't be expected to take care of adults. You could read some books with your daughter that talk about death and grief, it might help her to find the right words for her feelings, even if she can't or won't express them right now. You can find a good selection in our bookstore.

 
Q:

My 24 y.o. daughter was killed in a motorcycle accident in June of this year. Her son was 3 1/2 at the time and they had just moved in with my husband and I 6 weeks before so she could finish her last semester in college with a heavy load. She had legal physical custody of her son and his dad (never married) had visitation every other weekend and on Wed. He excercised his every other week end visitation regularly but only occassionally on Wed (he is 21 and lives at home with his parents).

After her death, my grandson moved in with his dad and his parents. We can see him but only every other weekend (as directed by his dad). He was used to seeing us everyday and I am concerned that he feels he has lost us as well as his mommy. Legally in the state of MO, my lawyer says that is more than we could get under the grandparent right law, so we haven't pursued this avenue.

I am grieving myself, but I am trying to understand how my grandson grieves (he will be 4 in Nov), and how to help him through this process. When he leaves our house he has a meltdown and if I am at his house and leave he has a meltdown. Even if I call him to talk on the phone, he immediately asks if I am coming to pick him up. His other grandparents are very good people and his dad, well his dad is 21 (what else can I say).

I want to do the right things, say the right things and help him without my own grief directing my responses to what I see and hear from him. Is there some book that might help me.......we bought books for him and read them to him (about death, heaven etc.) and they seemed to help, but sometimes I feel I am forcing her on him with memories and pictures and talking about her in prayers etc. I guess I am concerned that he we forget her.

Thank you so much for any help you can provide.


A:

I am so sorry about the death of your daughter. It must be hard for you to take care of your own grief while you are so concerned about Noah. He is lucky to have grandparents who have his best interest in mind. It sounds like you are doing the right thing: Spend time with him, read books, talk about his mom, give him a space to grieve. It’s important to follow his lead – if he’d rather go play outside or not talk, that’s okay. You are his role model for grieving, he will learn from you how to cope and how to live a happy life despite your loss. It is a big transition for him to move to his other grandparents but if you feel he is safe and well cared for, I would try to make it as easy for him as possible. The better your relationship with that side of his family is, the easier it will be for him and for them. If they feel you support them, it will help them to let Noah spend time with you.

You are more than welcome to join one of our support groups to talk to people who had similar experiences. You can find the information on how to join at here

I hope this was somewhat helpful, please feel free to email me again if there is anything else I can do for you.

 
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Q:

My 5 year old daughter lost her father in a sudden car accident prior to her birth. She now has siblings that have a biological father and see him often. She tends to ask about her father a lot. I started speaking about her deceased father since she turned 2 yrs old. I feel like now she understood that he will never come back. She is getting scared of death and feels sad at times. She answers to questions like "a long time ago, when daddy was alive?" I do not know what to do. I stopped taking her to the gravesite because I feel like it is only making her sad right now. I mourn still and for her too. The more she understands the harder it becomes for me too. I sometimes do not know what to say or do. I feel sad that she never met him. That he died from a horrible car crash. I need some direction. I want to do the best thing for her. Thank you.


A:

Your daughter is at an age where she starts to understand what death means. I think you did the right thing by talking to her about her dad and explaining things to her. It is also very normal for kids her age to be scared of death because they realize that everybody, including their parents and themselves, can die. One of the biggest concerns for most children is the question: Who takes care of me if my mom dies? That might be something you could address with your daughter every now and then. There are some very good books that help children understand and talk about death and grief. You can find a selection on our bookstore. One of my favorites is the book "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen.

The truth is: it is sad that her dad died and it is normal to be sad about it, both for your daughter and for yourself. As long as she can still enjoy live, has friends, is healthy and doing well in school, it is okay to be sad every now and then. For yourself, you might consider talking to a counselor or joining a support group to help you cope. Griefnet offers support groups for widows with children, and most hospitals and hospices offer support groups, too.

Children are very resilient as long as they have a person they can rely on. You are doing the best thing for your daughter by being there for her, being honest with her, and by showing her that the world is a beautiful place and life is wonderful with some sad moments in between. I hope this was somewhat helpful, please feel free to email me any time if you have any other questions or concerns.

 
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Q:

My 10 year old little girl recently lost her father, unexpectedly. She was suppose to stay with him the night he passed away and she decided not too. He drowned that night in his bathtub and was found the next day and she is so glad she was not there. They shared an extremely close and unique relationship. She was definitely Daddy's Little Girl and the center of his world as well as he was hers. He was the best father anyone could have ever asked for and God decided it was his time. It has been very difficult for me as well even though her father and I have been separated for 5-6 years now. He is the father of my child whom I spent 10 years with and my heart is shattered for my little girl. She is not talking about him much and will answer yes or no to a question about him but will not go into a conversation or open up much. She has only cried twice, that I know of. I tell her when she is sad to cry and let it out, but she doesn't. I think she is trying to be strong for me. She is doing great academically and socially, almost like it never happened. Is that normal? I try to mention him everyday and we have included him in our prayers. Am I doing the right thing, or should I get her into counseling?

One more question…She has spent the last 3 Christmas' with her dad and his family (siblings & parents) in TN. So, Christmas is going to be extremely difficult for everyone this year. I was thinking about getting a gift from her dad to put under the tree this year. Maybe even start a collection of some sort or something. Any suggestions? Is this a good idea?


A:

I am very sorry for the loss you and your daughter experienced. It is almost impossible to say what is "normal" grieving, particularly for a child. In my experience, many children between about eight and 15 don’t cry much after a loss. There are also many children who do not like to talk about the person who died. That doesn’t mean that they are not sad or that it won’t change over time. I know some children who hardly expressed any grief for about a year, and then they started crying and talking. I don't think your daughter needs to see a counselor as long as she doesn’t have severe nightmares, problems with friends, or expresses the wish to talk to somebody. However, there are ways you can help her. Mentioning her dad and including him in your prayers, like you already do, gives her the permission to talk about him when she is ready. You can let her know that it is okay not to cry and talk, that it is her decision, and that you will be there to listen and to comfort if and when she needs you. It might be helpful for her to express herself through drawings, clay and such. You could ask her what she would like to do to remember her dad – plant a tree, tie a letter to a balloon, create a scrapbook…. There are some very helpful books for children and their caregivers that can give you ideas and might help her to process some of her feelings. You can find a good selection in our Bookstore. Of course, your daughter is more than welcome to join our email support group for kids if she would like to.

About Christmas – it might be a good idea to include her as much as possible in the planning, like: "What are your thoughts on Christmas? How would you like to include your dad?" You can give her some suggestions, such as creating a special ornament for him, donating a present to a charity in his name, decorating a picture in a special place, whatever makes sense for her and you. Personally, I would not give her a present "from" her dad. You could talk to her about what her dad would have given her this year and maybe make a special shopping trip to buy it together, that could become a nice tradition.

Be a good role model by expressing and coping with your own grief, let her know she is oaky and all of her feelings are okay, and be there for her when she needs you – those are the best things you can do for your daughter.

 
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Q:

My mother passed away on December 6th, 2004, after being sick for about a month - it was unexpected. A few hours before her funeral my father had a heart attack and died. He was heart broken. They were both 68. My 8 year old daughter and her 8 year old cousin found my father on his driveway. They ran inside and got my sister and then went outside with her to discover he had died. At that time my aunt took both girls inside. We (my sisters, brother and I) were all screaming and falling to our knees. The paramedics came and tried to help him. It was like a nightmare.

Two of my daughters teachers have mentioned that they are a little concerned about her and a friend of mine told me this weekend that she sees that my daughter is sad by just looking at her. My daughter follows me everywhere. Upstairs to get the wash, in the kitchen to get a drink of water, etc. I do not know what to do to help her...I also feel like she is trying to be my caregiver. When it first happened she kept repeating to me over and over again the conversation that she and her cousin had when they found my dad. I want to help my daughter. I am also trying to deal with my own grief and overwhelming sadness.

Can you give me any suggestions?

A:

I am so sorry to learn about your father's tragic death right on top of your mother's. You and your family sound undertandably in shock. And of course your daughter is very sad.

It is normal that after such a trauma she would want to be with you. She needs that feeling of safety and comfort. A parent's presence gives that reassurance. Have you looked in our Bookstore? I think that there you will find many books that will help both you and your daughter. Many of those books are in public libraries - others can be purchased through us.

Are you aware we have support groups for adults? Our group adult-parents is for adults who have had a parent die. I think joining with others who are dealing with this painful loss would help ease some of your pain and give you a place to talk about how you and your daughter are doing.

Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of further help.

 
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Q:

I need to find out how to explain to a 4 year old child with very limited talking skills that his classmate has passed away suddenly. The children at school keep asking about the little boy and I need help and if should take him to his friends funeral or at least to funeral home to let him say good bye to his friend. Thanks.

A:

I don't know whether this child is your son, grandchild or student. It would help if I knew.

The short answer is, if you are going to have ongoing contact with this child personally, then, yes, do take him to the funeral home and let him see and touch his friend's body. There is innate, instinctual recognition of a corpse by all mammals. Seeing his friend's body will give him the information he needs better than anything verbal that can be done.

As to the funeral, it depends on what sort of funeral it is. If it is highly participatory, such as people talking about the child, sending up balloons, etc., then yes, you might go. If it is mostly ritual, then probably not. That is of little relevance to a child.

There are excellent books in our store to help children learn about death, books for both children and adults. Many of these books can be found in public libraries.

If you have more questions, write back with more information about your relationship to the child and I will try to help. With caring...

 
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Q: My son, seven years old is in histerics obout our 14 year old dog that we just had to euthenize do to hip problems.it has only been two days but he about every two hours starts freeking out,crying/yelling her name. I have tried to explain that (naomi) has gone to heven and is happy and pain free but he doesn't seem to care about any explanation other than why is she gone and how can she be happy? I am at a loss of words. Any suggestions??
A:

Your son's response is quite normal. He is not able to understand an abstract explanation, and the fact that Naomi might be pain free is of no relevance to him. What he is expressing is his pain at her absence. By his reasoning, he believes she is as unhappy about the separation as she is.

I gather you did not include him in her euthanasia? That would have been the best way to handle it, as then she would not appear just to vanish. But the thing to do now is to deal with his grief. Have you buried Naomi? If you have, then a visit to her gravesite and a graveside service would be good. If you have not, then a memorial service might be appropriate, one that involves the whole family plus all Naomi's friends, both people and animal. Ceremonies have a way of providing closure.

He should be encouraged to draw pictures of her, write stories about her, perhaps release a balloon with a message attached to it...anything that gives him an outlet for his feelings. Obviously she was a lifelong companion for him, so her death is of extreme importance and needs to be taken very seriously.

There are a number of good books available for children. Many of these books can be found in your local library; others can be purchased through us. Some good ones I can recommend are Aarvy Aardvark, Lifetimes, Badger's Parting Gift, Saying Goodbye, The Dead Bird, Dog Heaven, Goodbye Forever, When a Pet Dies...there are so many there.

When your son is upset, pick him up and comfort him. Let him know it's OK to cry, to miss her, to feel bad. If you are sad, share your sadness with him. The more you comfort him and encourage him to share his feelings, the easier it will become for him.

Don't expect his healing to be fast. He had Naomi all his life. It will be a long time before she's only a happy memory.

 
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Q: My 6 year old niece is mourning the loss of her grandfather.  He died of cancer at 65.  It has been about 6 weeks since he died.  She is constantly drawing him pictures and writing "I love you" and I miss you" on them.  She lets balloons go up to the sky to him.  I think this is normal grieving, but how long is too long for these activities to go on?  When does normal grieving become abnormal?
A:

Your niece is quite normal. Six weeks is nothing in the life of a loss. I still mourn my grandfather's death at age seven, and I'm sixty. She is acting out her grief in a very healthy way, and what she is doing is quite healing. For her to do these things for many weeks or months would not be inappropriate. At age six she probably has very few ways to express and discuss her grief.

Rather than worring about it, adults around her can help by encouraging her to express her feelings in other ways. I always like the use of books and art. She seems to have the art working, so try looking in our library for books that are appropriate for her age. I'd start HERE - and many are available in your local library.

 
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Q:

I am a 39 year old mother of a Ben 16. and Rose and Charlotte twins, aged 10. I have had breast cancer for 6 years and I have been told this week that I have less than a year to live. My children have always been kept informed of my illness and though sad have coped with me in my poorly times and seen me keep going to work and and manage our family in the better times.

My dilemma is now, how do I move this forward to help them start the grieving process whilst I am well enough to support them. I don't know what to say. I know that my husband and very supportive family and friends will be there for them but the pain of my grieving my loss of them and the emotional pain it will cause are making it difficult for me to see the best way to help them.

I know I need to be honest and that I can do, but how can I help them?

I would appreciate and advice that can help us move through this together.

Thank you.

A:

I am so terribly sorry to learn about your illness and about your being told that you have less than a year to live. My best friend died of breast cancer when she was not much older than you. She, like you, looked to the future of her loved ones and did many things to help us deal with her leaving us.

First of all, are you in a support group for yourself? We have a support group on GriefNet (our parent site) for those with life-threatening illnesses. It is called grief-coping.

Talking to your children regularly and frequently about your death and what their lives might be like afterwards is so important. If you all can be sad together now, then your presence will be with them after you've gone and they are sad.

Create memories. Gather old photos and videotapes and watch them together when it is appropriate. And begin to create a memory book with them that they can continue after you're gone. Perhaps one book for each child and one for the whole family. Thoughts, poems, photos, mementoes that will fit - put them all together. My grandmother packed and sent me over the years little boxes with family treasures in them. I still open them from time to time, and feel the crocheted place-mats and anti-macassars and re-read her instructions on how to wash them. I find the silver dollars she set aside from the last century. I read some of her personal letters that she wrote to an aunt when she was a teenager. She developed Alzheimer's before I was really old enough to appreciate her, but these items make me remember her in "her right mind."

You might want to write or to videotape messages to your children for the upcoming anniversaries when they will miss you so greatly: the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without you, religious holidays, birthdays, graduations, marriages, the births of their children. I would suggest letting them know that you are doing this, so they don't have total shock when the first occasion arrives. One of my friends helped her best friend do this last autumn when she was dying. This spring my friend received one of those cards, and even though she knew that these were being put aside to be sent at future dates, it still was quite a shock to her to receive it. You will know best how to arrange these future messages for your children.

Talk with your husband a lot about how the children grieve and try to foresee what they will be missing in the ways that you comfort your children now. You can explore ways that they can receive help from others in the family and in your caring community.

Whatever your beliefs are about life after death, talk about them now. Find out what your children's beliefs are. Help them think about how those beliefs might or might not change after you're gone. Talk with them about funeral or memorial arrangements. The more of that you can plan now, the easier it will be on all of your family and friends.

Your kids might wish to join our support group for kids, kids-to-kids. There are several children in that group who are anticipating the death of a parent. The kids in the group are extremely supportive of each other.

I am a great believer in books. You might want to browse your public library and our bookstore for books that might help them.

Expect your children to regress to earlier behaviors, both now and after you are gone. It is normal for children to retreat to an earlier time, when their worlds were safer.

Finally, do not hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

 
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Q: What about having a message board specifically for kids who have lost a parent unexpectantly to a sudden accident or illness?
A:

Focusing on this type of loss is a great idea.  Sudden loss is very different than an anticipated loss. 

We don't use message boards at GriefNet because we have found they are  unsafe.  Sometimes people post nasty or hurtful things and we do not find  them before they cause some damage.  What we do instead is have support  groups.  Our group, kids-to-kids, is for any kid with a major loss.   Right now this group is kind of small, but when it grows bigger, we could easily start a second group, or a 3rd and 4th, for kids who want to talk  to other kids about a specific type of loss. Thanks so much for the suggestion!

 
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Q: Which group could I write on advice on how to help my 7 yr old deal with the death of his grampa 1 yr ago. He was being counseled in school last year. He is still having a problem I think. I can't get him to talk to me about it. Thanks.
A:

There are several email-based support groups at GriefNet (KIDSAID parent organization) that would be helpful to you in dealing with your son. One would be kids-to-kids. Parents and friends of kids may write to the list with questions, though only kids can chat in general. If your son is computer literate, this might be a good place for him to come, too. The other would be for you to join grief-training, which is a place for anyone working with the bereaved, whether professional or lay. There are over 100 people in that group who would be happy to give advice. 

I often find that reading books works better with children his age. Kids do not usually articulate their grief. They often deal with it through reading, art, or play. I can suggest a few books for you, or him or both:  "Bimmi Finds a Cat", "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf", and "Helping Children Cope with Loss"   All three of these books are available through GriefNet's Bookstore. They may also be available locally at your library or bookstore. 

Finally, if he was getting counselling last year, perhaps you might speak with his counsellor and get some further advice.

I hope some of this helps. Please let us know.

 
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Q: My husband was killed in a car accident on 12/19/98. I have two girls, 8 and 4. They were close to their dad and have missed him very much and have had times of sadness but seem to be dealing with their grief well. I have tried to follow any suggestions from reading material that I have found in helping children deal with grief and tried to keep their routine as uninterrupted as I can. I guess my question is is it normal for them to seem uneffected by their father's death? It is not that I want them to have problems but as any mother, I worry. I worry that they are holding their feelings in. The counselor I have spoke to indicated warning signs of a problem, all of which they do not have.
A:

I am so sorry to learn that your husband was killed. This is a terrible loss for all three of you. Your daughters are fortunate to have a mother who is concerned about their feelings and their healing.

It is quite normal for children to appear, at times, unaffected by a loss. Children's grief is not constant, as an adult's is, but comes and goes. There are times when they appear not to be grieving at all. But they are. Take a look at the Dougy Center page http://www.griefnet.org/KIDSAID/dougypage.html We got permission to re-publish it here because it describes kids' grief so well.

We have other resources for you through our bookstore. The Dougy Center has a publication, Helping Children Cope with Death. We also recommend Helping Children Cope With Loss.

Then there are many books for children about death and loss. Check both our bookstore and your local library. I find that reading these books to a child allows for discussion and caring, as well as letting the children know that grief is normal.

Finally, make sure you are getting the support you need. You might want to consider joining our support group for people who have lost their partners, run through our parent site, GriefNet. It is called grief-widowed.

Don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help.

 
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Q: My mother and grandmother passed away three years ago, within two months of each other, my son who was only six at the time was very close to both of them. My mother suffered a couple of strokes which really affected her not only physically but mentally. I was her main caregiver and it was a very difficult time and he saw everything that went on and of course he did not understand a lot of what grandma did and said and it really affected him. My grandmother had a broken heart I know that sounds crazy but I really believe she grieved herself to death. My grandfather died a few years before she did and she was never the same. (they had been together for sixty some years) Both really loved my son and called him thier little man he was there sunshine you could see it in thier faces. It has been three years since they passed away and he will just all of a sudden get very upset and start crying and telling me how much he misses his grandmas. Then it will escalate to he is mad at God for taking his Grandma why can't he just let him see her for just a few minutes at this point he is usually sobbing and I just don't know what to say anymore to help him out. Can you offer any help or suggestions? It breaks my heart to see him go through this and I know his heart is broke too.
A:

I'm so sorry to learn of your loss of both your mother and grandmother. It is hard at any age to lose such special people.

Your son's reactions are both normal and deserving of more attention. Children grieve in a cyclical way - as they age, they re-work their grief from this new perspective. We adults do that as well, but the cycles are usually triggered by events, rather than growth or the passage of time. However, sometimes a birthday will set it off.

The best thing you can do with your son during these upsets is to listen and to comfort. Sometimes we just have to be with them while they get their feelings out. If you can do this, be sympathetic and understanding without trying to change his feelings, that may be sufficient. You don't say, however, how you are dealing with your own grief, and this could affect your son. If you are at peace, then he can find that peace by being with you.

If you are not, which would certainly be understandable, you might wish to do some things to help you deal with your own grief. One might be to join a grief support group. Our parent site, GriefNet, has a support group called adult-parents, where adults grieve the loss of their parents, grandparents, and parent figures. If you son likes computers, he might like to join our support group for kids, kids-to-kids.

Take a look at our page from the Dougy Center, How Children Grieve. That is certainly a good thumbnail of children's grieving. You might also want to look in the Bookstore of GriefNet, too.

These suggestions may help you get started, but don't hesitate to write back if we can be of further help.

 
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Q: My kid has this mental disease that when she's hurting she cuts herself. I don't understand why. The other day she was talking about killing herself. I know she is going to end her life. I work most of the time and I'm not there. I'm worryed about her, I love her to much to lose her. What can I do to keep her alive?
A:

I am so very sorry to learn your child has this particular form of illness. You need to do two things right away. The first is to make sure she is in a safe environment ALL the time and the second is to get her professional help. It is undoubtedly difficult for you to arrange both of these things, but the risk of not doing so is way too high.

If you must work, are there friends, family, neighbors who can be with her? Explore EVERY alternative.

For professional help, start with your family doctor. Ask for a referral to a child psychiatrist. You can also call your local community mental health association for referrals. There are people who are expert in helping children with this disorder. It may take many phone calls, but persist.

I strongly recommend you suggest she join our support group for kids, kids-to-kids. The kids in this group are extremely supportive of each other. They seem to have the knack of pulling each other back from the brink.

These are some suggestions to start with. Don't hesitate to write me back for more advice and support.

 
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Q. My eleven year old son is experiencing problems in school.  They seem to be related to the death of his father......which was almost 5 years ago.  He has gone from a straight A student in gifted classes to barely passing.  My husband and my son were inseparable, and my son grieved over his death deeply,  but seemed to go through all of the phases of grief with the support of family and the help of counseling.  Now, I find him withdrawn and close to antisocial outside of his home environment.  Is this a normal occurrance?  I have him in counseling again.  What more can I do to help him?
A:

Your son is both normal and in need of help.  One of the aspects of grief which is not well known is that grief repeats itself.  One must re-grieve one's losses at each new stage of life.  For adults this may happen at a marriage, at the loss of another significant person, at moving to a new place.  With children this happens as they enter a new stage of development. Your son is nearing or entering puberty. The loss of his father takes on new aspects, and he must come to terms with the loss all over again.

Getting counselling for him is excellent. That will also enable you to learn more of what is troubling him. Kids with loss often fall on their faces when they turn a new corner. When their parents don't abandon them to this new form of loss, the kids usually work it through.  Your understanding of what may be underlying your son's behavior is a wonderful gift to him. Keep on being there for him and have faith in the inner child you know is there.

Your son may wish to join our support group, kids-to-kids.  There kids support each other and that seems to be of great help to many of them.

You might wish to browse our children's bookstore

Some suggested titles:
Helping Children Heal From Loss

Together We Can Heal -- an excellent musical tape.

We are adding new titles to our bookstore daily, so if you check back from time to time, there should be new titles to consider.

Don't hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further help. 

 
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Q: My 21 year old son was killed April 12, from a gunshot wound to the head. He has a 7 year old sister and 9 year old brother who did not ask many questions or talk much about his murder. Within the last week both of their teachers have said they have been terrible and out of control in class. In fact on one occassion both of them were sent to the principals office at the same time. This is not normal behavior for them. I talk to them and ask them what is wrong or if there is anything they want to talk about. They always respond with no nothings wrong. I don't want to punish them right now because I feel their actions could be in response to their brothers death. I also do not know how to get through to them or what I should do at this point. Do you have any suggestions?
A:

I am so terribly sorry to learn of your son's death. What a tragedy for you as well as your younger children. I am sure you all devastated.

Your children's behavior most likely does result from their brother's death. This is quite normal and is also an indicator that they need more attention. Children often do not express their feelings directly, and often will say nothing is wrong as a way of pushing themselves further away from painful feelings. Please take a look at our page from The Dougy Center which explains children's grief so well.

Punishment is never my first choice for finding out why children are mis-behaving, especially with the little ones. It is true, though, that they often won't tell their parents what is wrong, even when they know. In the case of such a horrific loss, I would seek professional help for them. Places to seek such help would be through local hospices, funeral homes, or community mental health centers. If you hit a dead end, write back here.

If you kids are computer literate, they may wish to join our on-line support group for kids, k2k. The kids there are incredibly helpful and supportive of each other, young and old. And kids almost always feel more reassured by other kids than they do by us.

Another resource to try is books to read to them. Check your public library and you can also look in the kids section of our bookstore.

Although I write this last, the first and most important thing to do is to take care of yourself. Children follow their parents' models. This tragic loss of your son must surely be taking its toll on you, as well. Please check our support groups for adults for a place to get help for yourself. We have numerous groups for bereaved parents and for those who have lost loved ones due to violence.

Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

 
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Q. I have to tell my grandaughter, who is ten years old that her other grandmother passed last night.  I did not tell her this morning before she went to school;  but will have to this afternoon.  She has been living with me for the past 4  years; her older brother is living with a great aunt near us and her two younger siblings live in another State.  Please help me with some words to break the news to her.  Thank you.
A:

 I am sorry you have this painful task.  It sounds as though your granddaughter has been through some hard times with her family split up.

The best way to tell her is just to tell her.  Just say, "Grandma Brown died last night."  Then pause and wait for her reaction, if you get one,  and if not, go on to tell her what you know about what happened, what  funeral arrangements are made, etc. 

There is no way to make bad news feel good or even OK, so don't worry  abut it.  If you let me know how old she is, I can suggest other things  that might help and resources you might use.

 
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Q. My 15 yr. old is having a very hard time w/ my father's death.  One year ago a close friend of ours that was 92 yrs old passed away now  3 weeks ago my dad died and my 15 yr old says she is afraid to go to sleep because someone else will die.  I've talked w/ her and tried to keep her active in her normal activies but she still seems depressed and sad.  She has even told my mother that if something were to happen to her (my mom) that she didn't think she (my daughter) could live.  I don't know what to do or say any more.  Could someone Please help me HELP HER.  I have worked w/ our guidance counc. here at school (but not the school my daughter attends) and she has given me several books etc to read. I'm trying but I feel I need to move FASTER.  Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
A:

I'm so sorry to learn about your daughter's pain.  It is very hard for  any of us when a loved one dies, but sounds especially difficult for your  daughter.

Since I'm not in a position to evaluate her, let me suggest a number of  things for you to consider.  She might wish to join our support group for kids, kids-to-kids.  If she continues to be this upset for a few more weeks, you might have  your family doctor look at her.  Depressive disorders can emerge any time  throughout life, and often are triggered by major loss.  These disorders  have a medical base and often that is the first course of treatment. Usually that is accompanied by therapy with counsellor, especially one  trained in bereavement.

Finally, you can check our bookstore for useful items.  We are adding to our topical listings every week.

You don't say how you are doing with the loss of your father, but you  might wish to know we have a support group here for adults who have lost  parents.  It is called adult-parents and you can find it at the same URL as kids-to-kids.

Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

 
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Q. Hi I am writing to you for my cousin Nina. Last March her husband, who suffered from manic depression killed himself and left her with 2 small children, 5 and 7 years old. We are trying to find a peer support group for the children to join. Do you have any suggestions where to look? We are from Northern New Jersey. Any help would be appreciated. We saw your special on Nik and thought it was great, we even taped it so we could watch it again. Its is so a difficult topic, more power to you and your staff for tackling such an important issue.
A:

I am so sorry to learn about Nina's husband.  What a tragic loss for all of you, especially the children.

We do not have listings of specific ground-based support groups; just the Internet.  But most hospices have or know of support groups for children.  I would suggest you look under hospice in the yellow pages and call any of them for referrals.

Thanks so much for your kind words about the show.  We are so glad to know that we had a part in helping you.

 
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Q. My wife died during childbirth leaving me with a premature baby and two slightly older siblings. My middle child who is 5 is starting to behave poorly in school. My oldest is not exhibiting any signs of grief and has handled the situation well. The three year old is healthy and has few developmental problems associated with prematurity. I need reources of all types to assist me in helping my kids. PS my mother also died when I was very young (9 months) and I was the baby of the family--seven in total. So I have issues of my own but at least I have a basic understanding of what my children may be going through.
A:

I am so sad to learn of your wife's tragic and untimely death.  You certainly have your hands full while dealing with your own painful losses.  We will do our best to help you find the resources that can aid you all in healing.

First, you may wish to join a group for widowed people.  This is run at our parent site, GriefNet.   Just click on the Support Groups and you will find your way there.  It's a truism that when caring for children, one has to first make sure that the parents are well cared for.  In this group you will find many others who have lost a partner, a lot of them with children.

As for your children, I think we can also be helpful in finding them resources.  Your older child, and even your five year old, may find things at KIDSAID that catch their interest.  Kids of any age are welcome to join kids-to-kids and the site has lots of great links.

Another resource for you is the Bookstore at GriefNet.  We are adding titles almost daily, so if you browse it from time to time, you are likely to find many things to help you.  And finally, if you reach a dead end, write me back.

 
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Q. My 11 year old son is having a difficult time dealing with his grief following a friends death.  His friend  was killed while playing Russian roulette.  Our family is close to the family of the boy that died, my other two children, 14 & 10 seem to be doing fairly well.  However, my 11 yr. old, still cries everyday, seems to be obsessing over details, and is depressed. (experiencing loss of appetite, falling grades, inappropriate anger, sadness)  He talks of his friend frequently, and has a lot of questions concerning the circumstances surrounding his death.   I have been very honest with him, and am concerned that I am not helping him as much as I could, or that there may be more that I can do.  Please help, I am very concerned about him.
A:

I am sure your son is having a very difficult time dealing with this horrific death.  All of the symptoms you describe him having are what one would expect after such a terrible loss.  That does not mean, however, that this crisis will resolve itself unattended.  I would encourage you to get professional help for him immediately.  He is having to deal with a death that even most adults would find excruciating, and he's only a child.

The type of help you seek may need to be two-fold.  Ideally a child psychiatrist who is experienced in bereavement counselling would be the place to go.  However, such a person may be difficult to find.  In that case I would look both for counselling and for a physical evaluation by an M.D.  Many of his reactions, such as loss of appetite and motivation, are symptoms of depression, and that is a physical illness, not an emotional one.  Depression warrants as much medical attention as, say strep throat.  It is fortunately easy to treat, though when it is accompanied by trauma, the trauma warrants psychological intervention.

Please don't hesitate to write me back if I can be of further help.

 
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Q: I am an elementary school teacher and have recently had a student who lost his father.  Can you give me suggestions how best to help this student at school, and how to prepare the rest of my students for their classmate's return to school.
A:

Talk about it.  That's the first, last, and most important thing to do.  Bring up the subject at a time when the kids are attentive, and deal with it however the kids can.

What I do is to sit on the floor and ask them to sit near me.  I start  with "Do you all know X's father died?"  Regardless of their answers, I go ahead and tell the story as I know it: how he died, when he died, and how X must feel.  Meanwhile I've been passing out drawing paper and crayons and suggest that as we're talking about this sad subject, kids might wish to make X a card or letter or picture telling them they're sorry his dad died.

I also have a handy, dandy stack of books near me.  If the kids aren't talking much, I read one of the books to them.  A short one.  I'll attach a bibliography  (I'm just now working one up for our bookstore, which you can find HERE) and so what you will find there is incomplete.  But I'll bet your library has some of these books on hand. 

I also model for the children by talking about losses I've suffered: "My mother died.  I was very sad."  I often go into pets, as many kids have lost pets.  That's also a good way to get into body disposal questions (burial, cremation, and with fish, flushing them down the toilet!  I prefer burial for ALL pets, but many kids have had fish flushed.....)

When X comes back to school, he can be given the cards by the children.  Maybe do something like have punch and cookies to make it a positive event.  But I wouldn't push talking about death unless X feels like it.

Let us know how this goes and if we can be of further help.   With great caring...

 
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Q:

I am the stepmother of a lovely little 8 year old girl whose mother may well be dying.

Over the past five years, she has visited her mother approximately every  six weeks and for only a couple of hours at a time.  There is a  complicated history.  The mother has advancing  symptoms of MS and has also been hospitalized for mental illness for 18 months, just having been released one year ago.

Her mother's family contacted her father and nearly three months ago.  At that time they feared the end was near so we made the decision to  take her to visit at the hospital.  We tried to prepare her for what she  may see however it was very shocking.  Her mother was totally dibilitated ... blind, bedridden, and wailing.

This child is very quiet by nature and not very expressive.  She cried a  couple of times after the visit but that is it.  She goes through bouts of being quiet and withdrawn but will not speak of her feelings even when coaxed.She has told me that she thinks her mother is dying.

What type of ongoing grieving process might we expect?  She doesn't want  to visit her mother again or any of her relatives.   We have given her a journal to write her thoughts in and she has a couple of times.  How can we help her get her feelings out?

A:

What a tragic and horrible situation.  How dreadful for all of you.  But the wonderful news is that this sweet child has someone, you, who is looking out for her emotional needs.

Indeed, we can offer many things to help.  First is KIDSAID, our newly opened wing of GriefNet designed especially for and run by kids.  You can find it by clicking on our front page or by going to kidsaid.com  There you may find much that she, in particular, will enjoy.

If she's a reader and writer, she might wish to join our support group for kids, called kids-2-kids.  We check with each kid to learn whether there is an adult who is aware of what they are doing.  Adults may lurk but may not participate.

Thirdly you might wish to check out our Bookstore.    The other one we are adding to our store.  The book is caled *My Mom is Dying* and it's by Jill Westberg McNamara.  I cannot imagine a better book for this age. 

Furthermore, there is some wonderful music out for children.  The best is *Together We Can Heal* and you can find it in GriefNet's Bookstore under Music.  It was written for kids and much of the performance is kids.  It's very professional and has lyrics kids will listen to and draw from.

And what about help for the stepmother?  Our support group, grief-coping,  might be a place where you can find a number of supporters.  The issues that the families of seriously ill people have are pretty much similar. You'd be amazed at how many people will truly care and also have some useful ideas. 

Don't hesitate to write back for any further help.  Our deepest caring to you all.

 
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Q: Hi. My son has a friend who is 12 and lost his father to cancer about 3 months ago. The boy never talks about it. How can we help him or should we do anything/nothing?
A:

What an excellent question this is. So many people want to know just how to respond to someone who has had a major loss.

We think that you should definitely tell him, at an appropriate moment, that you are very sorry his father died and know that he must miss him a lot. Your son's friend may not want to talk about it right then, or even say anything other than a mumble, but his heart will hear your caring.

Generally people who are bereaved don't bring the subject up because they have already run into many people who don't want to talk about it or who say hurtful things. By mentioning it you let him know that you are not afraid to talk about it. By saying you're sorry, you let him know you care. By saying nothing more and letting him respond as and when he will, you let him know you are not going to force the issue on him.

 
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Q: My 19 year old son committed suicide three weeks ago. I have six other children, ages 18 to 5 year old twins. Five boys and one girl. I have been hearing that my family is now at an increased risk for suicide. What are the factors that make this so and are there ways to prevent the other children from being at risk? I would appreciate any resources you can recommend. We are also going to start family counseling in a couple of weeks.
A:

I am so terribly sorry to learn that your son ended his life. What an overwhelming tragedy for you and your family.

Although I am a psychologist, I am not a suicidologist and so cannot comment on whether your family is at increased risk. But I can point you to a number of resources to help you. You can begin with our suicide page at our parent site. There are links there to resources around the world.

You might wish to join our support group for parents whose children have taken their own lives. It is called griefparents-suicide and you can join it by going to http://griefnet.org/support.dir/sg2.html Your children may wish to join our support group for kids here at KIDSAID. There are a number of children in that group who have experienced loss due to suicide, and they are extremely supportive of and caring for one another.

I hope that your family counselling helps you all in dealing with your loss and that it makes you stronger as a family. I applaud your wisdom of seeking help for you all.

Finally, I send you the very deepest sympathy of all of us here at KIDSAID and GriefNet. Do not hesitate to contact us for further help as you travel down this long hard road of bereavement.

 
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Q: My nephew, now 19 years old, lost his father nearly 18 months ago. I thought he'd been coping with it but recently found out that he has neither come to terms with it nor has he spoken about it to anyone. He opened up to me and has said things like every moment he is not occupied, he thinks about his dad and all the things they used to do. He is clearly depressed. His father was a very good father and lived for his kids. I am willing to do everything I can to help him but not quite sure where to start. I care about him a lot and he knows it. He's intelligent and will hopefully be starting university in September but that depends on his exam results. I think first I need to help him with his depression then take it from there. Rather than be his uncle, I have told him that he's like a younger brother to me. I am 31 years old. Is there any advice you can offer me to help him?
A:

Your nephew's grief about his father is in fact very normal. Coming to terms with a loss such as this one, of a parent while one is still young, does not happen easily nor quickly. Thinking about his father when he is not otherwise occupied is quite understandable. Eighteen months is not a long time, considering that he'd had his father all his life.

You say he is clearly depressed. By this do you mean he is sad, as you've described, or clinically depressed? A clinical depression has specific features which may include changes in appetite, sleep, libido, metabolism. It may also include the inability to be happy about anything, a desire to vegetate or to super-achieve. It is a specific biochemical disorder that can, fortunately, be treated by a physician. His regular doctor should be able to evaluate and treat him if you think this is the case. If you're not sure and want to discuss it further, just write back.

If he is on line, I urge you to have him join our support group for adults who have lost a parent. There are, in fact, many younger people in that group, and it is a more appropriate place for people his age than our group at KIDSAID for kids. Just point him to our adult support groups page, and he can easily join.

Whether uncle or older brother, your nephew is very lucky to have you to care about him. Few of us, of any age, have someone who cares so deeply about one's feelings. Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help, now or in the future.

 
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Q: My 45 year old husband died 2wks ago from a malignant brain tumor. My older son and I held vigil until he died. My concern is for my 14yo son who did not want to stay at the hospital. He has shared his feelings, somewhat, with 2 of his closest friends. He refuses to talk about his Dad's death to his brother or me. What are your suggestions for helping him through this? Is his reaction normal? He and his father were not always on the best of terms, and there was limited interaction between the two when my husband died.
A:

I'm so sorry to learn about your husband's death. What a tragic loss, both for him being so young and for you losing a young husband. This is very hard for all of you.

Your younger son's reactions are both normal and he may also need some extra help. As it's only been two weeks, it's still early to evaluate his reactions. Those two weeks probably seem both like a year and like only a minute. Just letting more time pass may give you a better idea of how he is doing.

If your son and your husband did not get along well, then his grief is going to be harder for him to manage. This seems always to be the case when we lose someone about whom we had strong but mixed feelings. This alone may be enough for you to consider counselling for him. A therapist who deals with adolescent grief might be appropriate.

We have a support group here for kids: kids-to-kids. There are kids there of all ages, both sexes, with many different types of loss. Your son would be very welcome there, indeed.

Finally, don't forget to consider yourself. You are not only widowed, you have become a single parent. How well you deal with your grief will greatly determine how well your children deal with theirs. You might wish to consider joining our support group for widowed people at our parent site, GriefNet. The group is called grief-widowed.

On GriefNet you also might wish to check our bookstore. Our topical index should help you find resources for both yourself and your children.

Don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help to you.

 
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Q: My 18 yr old son lost his girlfirend in a pedestrian accident last Fri. They had gone together a long time and were thought to have the real thing He experienced the loss as well as the trauma. At the same time he is making lifetime decisions since college decisions must be in this week. Should we encourage him to stay in town and go away later, or should we encourage him to change locations. I don't want him to think hwe are saying just move on but i want what is best for him down the road. Much can change in 4 months. What do you suggest?
A:

First of all my apologies for not replying sooner to your message. It arrived here shortly after the Littleton massacre, and we are still trying to answer everything.

I'm so very sorry to learn of your son's loss. It is tragic for all of you, and the loss for him not only of his girlfriend, but also for many of his dreams about the future.

My advice now is the same as it would have been had I been able to answer sooner. It is that it is not possible to know what would be the best thing to do. There are pros and cons for staying in town and for going away. And it is really not possible to know right now which would be best.

You are correct that much can change in four months. Try to remember that all decisions are made on the basis of insufficient data, meaning that hindsight is always better than foresight. Your son will probably go through many changes due to this loss. My concern would be to get him the support and comfort that he needs to deal with it now, and to let some of the decisions wait. It will undoubtedly be easier for him to change schools down the road than to deal with the loss of his girlfriend right now.

Please let him know about the resources both here at KIDSAID and at our parent site, GriefNet. He would be welcome either in K2K or in our "widowed" support group for adults. He's at that in-between age, and we have both had older kids in KIDSAID and younger adults in grief-widowed. Have him write to me directly if he wishes.

Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

 
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Q: My husband died last year leaving me with 2 boys, who are now 6 and 2. It was a terrible time and through lots of counseling, we are all doing quite well. My concern is this: My late husband's parents have nothing to do with my sons even though we live within walking distance. I have tried to maintain contact, but so far to no avail. My oldest is starting to think his grandparents don't like him now that Daddy is dead. I have told him that they love him very much but beyond that, I am at a loss as to explain why they don't see him. How can I explain his grandparents grief in a way he'll understand?
A:

I'm so very sorry to learn of your husband's death. How difficult for you all to deal with this loss and the complete re-structuring of your family. I am so glad to learn that you found dounselling and that you are now doing well.

Your in-laws' absence from your lives is a very painful one for your son. From what you say it seems as though they are not dealing with the loss of their son very well, if seeing their grandson is so painful that they avoid him. My intuition would be to tell your son what you think the reason really is, even if it is that they don't "know how to be sad." You can point out to your son that counselling helped you but that his grandparents haven't had that help. Or, if it is the case, you can tell your son that you just don't know why.

Reassure your son that their feelings are not the result of anything that he has or has not done. Their feelings do, indeed, come as a result of his father's death. And while their behavior is tragic, it is unfortunately not uncommon. Tell him that sometimes people do this: they get so sad that they can't feel their love anymore. But let him know that this will not happen with you; that you have learned how to be sad and still feel your love for him.

 
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Q.  My sister died at the age of 29, last month. It was an accidental overdose, she was manic depressive/bipolar. My family is trying very hard to deal with it. My question is relating to my 13 year old daughter. She and Karly were very close, more like sisters than an aunt niece relationship. Anyhow Katie is scared now. She is scared that Karly will come back at night. She is afraid of the dark, afraid of going in her room alone. She has spoken to the minister, but she didn't say too much. She made me take the mirror out of her room. I tried to find a bereavement support group, but she doesn't fit the categories as a niece. What can I do?
A:

I am so terribly sorry to learn about your sister's death. What a tragic way for her to have died, especially since we are now able to treat manic depressive illnesses with medication.

This is of course especially awful for Katie, given how close they were. Her fears are perfectly normal after such a shock. Many of us have such fears after a death, even when we are adults. My best advice would be to give her the comfort of contact, going into her room with her and leaving a light on at night. I'm glad you took the mirror out, as she asked. As you allow her to experience her fears, her feelings will begin to emerge. But first she needs to feel safe.

You might also reassure her that if her aunt does come to her, it would not be in a scary way. It sounds as though she is reacting to the myths and beliefs about death that children her age become fascinated with. I remember when my daughter had to hold her breath when we drove past a graveyard until we passed a white house, and when she thought "ghosts" were in her room at night. Reassurance and time got her through.

To learn more about how children grieve, go to our page from the Dougy Center. You will also find some resources in our Bookstore at GriefNet

I think you will also be pleased to know that here we have a support group in which she would be welcome, called kids-to-kids. The kids in that group are of ages 8-18 and have experienced many different types of loss.

 
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Q. As an educator, how can I help my students overcome the death of classmate involved in a serious car accident?
A:

There are many ways to help your students deal with the death of their  classmate.  You don't say what age your students are, so I will give you some general suggestions which you may wish to vary accordingly.

The first thing to do, of course, is to talk with them about the loss.  They should be encouraged to voice their  thoughts, their fears, their feelings.  By sharing your feelings, you model this.

Books and art are the next two methods that I prefer.   You can see some of these suggestions below.  With students of any age, I would recommend reading to them the books you find that are most appropriate.  You can begin your search in the GriefNet Bookstore.

Drawing and other forms of art work are very healing.  Your students might wish to make cards for the classmate's family, or they may wish to write notes to the classmate himself that can be put on his grave, if there is one, given to his family, or simply hung on a special place in your classroom. Your students are certainly luck to have such a caring teacher in you.

Finally, please realize that your students won't "overcome" this student's death; hopefully they will learn how to live with the loss.   Grief never ends, but it can become more manageable.   Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

 
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Q. My son recently lost his dad to a heart attack after surgery it was very unexpected and 3 days before this my brother commited suicide and I need to know how to deal with both of these being so close together.  My son was not close to his uncle but very close to his dad and so far has not expressed very much emotion. In the past 2 months we have had a very trying time.  My mother's uncle visited & ended up in the hospital and then my dad was in the hospital and then my son's dad was in the hostpital and my husband (stepfather to my son) had his son's mother die.  So it has been a very trying time for us all around.  I am having a hard time dealing with my own grief and dealing with all the other things so I do not know how to help my son and would appreciate some feed back.  Nights seem harder for him and it almost seems like he has not accecpted the fact that his dad is gone and therefore will not so that he is upset.  We do have a lot of friends who have talked to us and him and this has seemed to help because they all have gone through a relative that has died in the last couple of years but I need to know what to do to help his express his grief and signs to look for that tell me he is having problems.  Any suggestions would be helpful.
A:

I am so terribly sorry to learn about all these losses just coming one after the other in your lives.  It is no wonder that your son is  overwhelmed and has not expressed much emotion.  It is very common for kids to hold in their grief and to only express it once in a while.  Feelings ARE harder to deal with at night.  And it makes sense that he would still be wishing his father would come back.

Whatever age your son is he could certainly join our support group, kids-to-kids.  Here he might find others to talk to who understand.  Even just reading what other kids have to say can help.

If you can tell me how old he is, I can recommend some books that might help.  I can also recommend some books that might help you help him deal with his losses.

In all of this you don't mention how these losses affect you, but I'm sure you have very painful feelings.  We have support groups at GriefNet which can help you, as well.  Please go to our support groups page and check out what we have to offer.  You might wish to join adult-sibs, to help you deal with your brother's suicide.  Others in your family might wish to join a group, as well.  We work to keep our support groups safe places in which people are safe to deal with overwhelming feelings. I hope some of this is helpful. 

 
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Q. If you get this on time. I am a counsellor who has been asked to quickly  take on a case immediately. The children are 7 and 9 live with their mother and the father died today suddenly. I have not met the family  yet. I will go over with the social worker tomorrow. We are in a very small town in the interior of BC, very little resources. The family is on social assistance. The parents split about 3 years ago. The youngest spent more time with the father. It was not suicide. This is all I know. Do you have any suggestions as to books. or approaches. I am just going to normalize as much as I can. Kids say the darnest things. Any suggestions will help It is very late in the evening. I have never worked with kids on this particular matter. divorce, moves etc... I can draw it in, but am looking for something else.
A:

Although I might not get this message to you right away, it will not be too late to help you, because your work with this family will  not be a one-shot deal.  If you have worked with children on other issues  of loss, and if you have faced death personally or professionally, you  will be able to deal with them on this one.

The basics:

  • never lie or soften and answer.  Answer straightforwardly and honestly,  even if the answer is gruesome.  Kids' imaginations are much more ghastly  than any reality ever could be.

  • Don't hesitate to raise the topic, even if the child shows no interest  or response.  You need to model that this topic is one you can handle.

  • Don't press them for a comment or even a show of interest.  If kids don't want to talk about something, they simply shut down that part of their consciousness.

  • Remember that kids cycle fast...an upset with tears, etc., that would put a normal adult into bed for the rest of the day after strong  infusions of tea, will be over for a kid within minutes and they'll go on to something else.

  • Children grieve much more deeply and intensely than adults.  You may not see it, but it's there.

  • Children grieve more nonverbally than verbally.  Art, stories, song, dance, etc. etc. will help them work through their grief.

  • Remember that just by being there and caring, you are giving them much more than their world is able to do.

We have lots of info on our site you can browse through, and links to other sites.  I'm a great believer in books, both for the kid and for the helper. 

*****   Don't hesitate to write back for any further help and advice. 

 
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Q. I am the mother of two.  I have a 13 month old who was only 9 months when we lost his big sister (3 yr. old) in an auto accident.  I want him To know his sissy who loved him so.  He knows her pictures-he sees us Grieving-I just don't know how to maintain a relationship between he and his sissy's memory since he is so young.  He will probably have no conscious memory of this beautiful girl.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.
A:

I am so sorry to learn about the death of your daughter.  What a tragic loss for your family.  And what a  wonderful mom you are to want to help him remember his sister and her love.

We know that infants grieve, so certainly he knows his sister is gone.  Photos and, if you have them, videos of his sister will help keep her memory alive for him.  But since she died before your son had many language skills, his memory of her will be different than if she had died when he was two or three.

Your love for your daughter is what your son will know most.  He will learn from you how much she loved him, and how much you loved her.

Are you aware that we have support groups for bereaved parents at our parent site, GriefNet? 

Don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help.

 
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Q.

Hello.  I'm hoping you can help me.  I am 29 years old and have a brother who is 43, and has Down's Syndrome.  We recently lost our father very suddenly.  My brother "R" often doesn't express himself when he's upset, and much to my relief, he has cried over my father's passing.  It has been several weeks now and he seems to be quite depressed.  As he is not able to read, and won't let me read to him (being treated "like a grown up" is VERY important to him) - are there any books on tape available geared toward someone like "R" that is trying to cope with grief??  His education level is around 1st grade.    Do you have any suggestions on how to help him express his feelings? I've started out by reassuring him it's ok that he feels sad and that crying doesn't make him a "baby" (this is a HUGE concern of his).  I've also let him know that we can talk whenever (and if ever) he wants to.

After that, I backed off because I don't want to push too hard...I would appreciate any advice that you can offer.

A:

Although I don't know all the answers to your questions, this is an excellent topic for us all to learn more about.  I am not highly experienced in working with the retarded, I believe that many of the things that help children would help people like your brother.  I am going to offer my suggestions, and then those of some of my colleagues below.

Does your brother like to draw?  That is often a good way to express feelins, for people of any age.

When you ask for books on tape, are you looking for books at a 1st grade level?  Or would he be able to handle books written for higher ages? Because I can recommmend books, but then finding them on tape would take a little research, which you could easily do.

One thing you might do is to model talking about grief, by bringing up your own feelings of sadness at times you think are appropriate.  If he wishes to follow the conversation, then he will.  If not, then you can just let it drop.

With all of us, learning to deal with loss takes enormous repetition.  We go over and over and over it in our minds.  Certainly this will be just as true for your brother, if not more so.

One suggestion I have for you is to consider joining our support-group, adult-parents.  There you will not only get support for yourself, but you may well run into others who have retarded relatives and get some ideas there.

Suggestion from a colleague:

The New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (44 Holland Ave., Albany 12229)has materials available regarding bereavement resources for persons with developmental disabilities.

Also, articles in Journal of Pastoral Care (Vol XLI(1), 1987)"Journey into Understanding Mentally Retarded People's Experiences Around Death" and in Journal of Gerontological Social Work (Vol 13(#/4), 1989 "Group Work Experience With Mentally Retarded Adults on the Issues of Death and Dying."

Also a chapter in Doka, Living With Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve(Brunner/Mazel, 1998)on "Helping Individuals With Developmental Disabilities."

Here's another suggestion from a colleague:

I think there is an audio of "Freddie the Leaf" out there. It is appropriate to all ages, very simple, but profound. I can't remember who voices it, but I do remember they do an excellent job.  Amazon.com has the book in audio.

 
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Q. My six year old son's great grandfather died two days ago after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease.  I'm concerned about how to answer my son's questions regarding what happened to his Papa, especially questions regarding burial, etc...  as the body will be cremated and the ashed scattered at sea.  I'm afraid that in improper explanation could cause damage to my son.  I will certainly appreciate any advice you can give me.
A: I'm so sorry to learn of your son's loss, and I'm glad you wrote.  It just so happens that today I visited the site of one of my bereavement professional colleagues, Alan Wolfelt, and found he had posted an item about this very topic.  It is an explanation that will certainly help both you and your son, and I cannot do more than to point you to it HERE.   Please don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help.
   
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