Raising Grieving Children

How children can survive the death of a loved one.

The Impact of Social Policy on Grieving Families

The impact of congressional action on a family's grief.

fter my last blog when I talked a bit about gun control, I began to think about  other issues that are directly affected by congressional decisions that relate to how people grieve. I thought of two issues that need our attention.

One decision is the repeal of the Don't Ask , Don't Tell order. As we become more accepting of homosexual couples, we need to think about children being raised in these families. These families are becoming more common. They are not protected from life's tragedies, especially if one of the parents could be in harms way in the service. A parent can die, as can a child. Is the grief such families experience any different from the grief most families experience? My experience tells me not.

Often homosexual couples have been hidden from the larger community at such times. Now that more couples are married they are at least accepted as next of kin in hospitals when their partner is dying. They have children who are grieving, and  the surviving spouse or partner is now raising their children alone. Their grief can no longer be disenfranchised, that is ignored by the larger community. We honor the dead if we acknowledge the relationship and make the same help available to them that is available to all grieving families.

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My last comment assumes that help is always available for grieving families. It is not always easy to find support and understanding. Mourners often experience pressure to be over their grief quickly, to move on with their life, to put the past behind them. As we become more sensitive to the needs of mourners, especially those raising grieving children, we want to be sure to reach all grieving families in our communities. I am not talking only about formal services. Neighbors, and other people around us who care, have important roles to play in supporting a bereaved family.

The other issue receiving much attention these days is related to the care we receive when faced with an end of life decision. We heard so much about death panels that attention to the needs of the dying was set aside and replaced by a fear that to save money we will shorten people's life expectancy. There is much talk about keeping the government out of such decisions. Since they were never involved it is difficult to see how to keep them out. It is being revisited in the congressional attempt to repeal the new health care legislation.

I recently heard about a report on the news of a study that looked at the impact on people with very limited life expectancy who decided to leave the hospital in order to die at home, usually with hospice care. If I heard correctly those people who chose to die at home lived longer and suffered less pain at the very end of their lives. For those of you interested I recommend a very interesting, and to some extent disturbing book titled "No Good Deed" by Lewis M. Cohen. The book focuses on the many ways end of life care is seen in this country. Some of these efforts are not very respectful of the right of individuals to make choices that seem to suit them, about how they want to live as well as how they want to die.

As we move into 2011 my own interest in how social policy affects my work with individual families seems more urgent to me. The focus cannot only be on the individual family but on the larger social issues that will affect them as well  For example, I have known for a long time that if the deceased was the one who provided the family with health insurance , then the bereaved family may have none or very poor health insurance coverage for some time after the death. This is an additional stress for the already stressed surviving parent. A good universal health insurance program could save such a family much anguish.

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

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