Raising Grieving Children

How children can survive the death of a loved one.

A talk at the Library

A gathering at the library is a good setting to learn about how children grieve.

Last week I spoke at our local Public Library. I spoke to the librarian in charge of programming last spring to see if they would be interested in a reading from my book, "Raising Grieving Children".

They scheduled it for Oct. 22. They saw this as an opportunity to reach grieving families in the larger community and to provide a source of information to these families. I was very excited by the publicity they gave this event, advertising it as a conversation with me. They reached out to the clergy, to the school system and to families in the community.

I could not recognize all those who were in the audience. I was told that here were pre-school teachers, public school teachers, clergy, friends of grieving family and parents who were grieving. It made me realize how important these opportunities are to reach out and to offer families learning opportunities about a subject that affects them all. It also made me realize that much of what people wanted to know Madelyn Kelly and I had put in our book.

I also invited a staff person from the Children's Room: Center for Grieving Children and Adolescents to join me. It seemed important to provide information about services in the community that focus on grieving families and children. Colleen Shannon, the Program director came. She talked about the services they offered and showed part of a DVD of the Teen Performance Troupe the Children's Room sponsors. I thought it important that people see how teens express their grief when left to improvise from their own experience. They have so much to teach us about their pain and how they cope. I have talked about this troupe before in an earlier blog.

I wasn't sure how it would go if I depended on a flow of questions from the audience and if indeed we would have a conversation. I had no need to be concerned. People came with questions and we talked well past the end of what would have been the time for my talk, that I never gave.

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What did they want to know? A key issue was how to tell children about a death. One mother talked about her own mother's recent death. How do you tell a 4 year old that her grandmother is dead? How do you introduce the word "dead" into a child's vocabulary? We talked abut the importance of being open and honest with children but not telling them more than they can understand. Since we were in the library I was able to point out the value of finding age specific books for children that help them take in this fact of life. Librarians can be very helpful in finding appropriate books, for all ages, to help parents when they need to explain what has happened.

The audience was very moved by the vignette of the teen troupe. They were impressed and pleased that these young people had so much to teach them. The troupes members carried pictures of their deceased parent or sibling. It make the whole discussion more real. The audience were eager to see this years performance that a new group of teens are working on.

We talked about the need to talk openly with children but that  it is important to accommodate to children's ages. Age makes a difference in chidren's ablity to understand death and grief. We talked too about it being alright for children to see you cry as long as you can explain to them why you are sad and crying. Children often need to know that your tears have nothing to do with something they did. I reminded the that people don't really recover, they adapt and find a way to the future and  that remembering the deceased is part of adapting. You don't live in the past, but the past is part of who you are.

A member of the audience shared a family story with us that demonstrated how people remember and that there is no specific time limit on when this is done.. Members of her family had been killed in an automobile accident 25 years ago. Among those who died was a young couple newly married. This past year members of the family decided it was time to visit the site of the accident and planted a garden there.

I have talked before about our need to build a sense of community so that reaching out to the bereaved, and being there with them, is an automatic part of what we do. I think of this event as a step in doing this in our community.

 

Phyllis R. Silverman, Ph.D., is a Scholar-in-Residence at Brandeis University Women's Studies Research Center.

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