I remember four years ago August very
clearly. The focus was on my oldest daughter Carly going off to college. She was only going an hour away to Monmouth University,
however, I still felt sad that she wouldn't be living home anymore. Don't get me wrong, I also felt happy, proud and excited
as well but the grief was the emotion that I was feeling the strongest. I realized during that summer and fall the importance
of listening to others when they share their sadness over changes in their lives. I truly needed someone to listen to me
but had trouble finding people who would truly just listen. Instead, when I did share about my feelings of grief, most people
were not at all supportive and even looked at me strangely and said with a judgmental tone, "Aren't you happy for her?",
"Isn't her going to college a good thing?", "I couldn't wait til mine left." I walked away from most
of these interactions feeling unheard, frustrated, and feeling that that there was something wrong with me. After
all there are commercials on TV showing parents pretending to be sad when the kids leave home and then jumping for joy and
throwing parties. So what was wrong with me? Why couldn't I only feel happy and thrilled at this wonderful opportunity for
Carly? I guess I wasn't supposed to be sad or at the very least I wasn't supposed to talk about it.
So I stopped telling others how I felt. I also vowed to become a better comforter
of others when they shared with me any sadness or pain in their lives. I also wanted to teach others how to really listen
to their friends, loved ones and co-workers when they shared anything emotional. I would remind them not to try to
fix it or to be so quick to offer advice. Just listen and try to understand. It isn't hard to really listen, but it is a
skill that we would all benefit from practicing. I wish that listening was taught in school. Our relationships would
Grief is not only due to a death
or divorce, but grief can come from any type of separation, ending or change in our lives. I found myself comparing my loss
to other's losses. As a grief counselor, I warn folks not to do this. I shamed myself when I thought of all of those I know
who have lost a child through death and knew that this loss could not even come close. Minimizing my loss though didn't
help. My grief felt like an ending. It was the beginning of the end of my experience of being the kind of mom as I had been
for the past 17 years. It was the beginning of my children becoming independent and not needing me in the same way as they
had before. I know that is what is supposed to happen and all about giving our children roots and wings, but knowing that
didn't make if feel any better.
I loved having all
of my kids home and around. I don't think that will ever change. I am one who wishes there could be a law that if family
gets along then our siblings have to return to live in the same town so that cousins can live near each other. I know quite
a few families in Springfield whose children are all in this town and the cousins even go to school together and grandparents
are able to be very involved in thier day to day lives. It is wonderful to see. I can appreciate that as my
younger brother lives in Illinois and we only see his family once a year. I wish that young adult children could get jobs
that were close by their family and at the very least live in the same state. However I know that with today's economy that
doesn't always happen. One woman told me "Today you are lucky if your kids live in the same country as you since quite
a few of them get jobs in far away places." Her son works in China. I immediately thought of my first cousin who lives
in Amsterdam with his family. We miss him so much.
I started to wonder about other parents. Weren't they sad as well? How can we live with our children for 17, 18 or
19 years and then drop them off at college without us experiencing any feelings of grief? I came up with many ideas: Maybe
some didn't really like being with their kids. Maybe some were denying their true feelings of sadness or just pretended
they were "fine". Maybe some were truly anxious to get back to their own lives that didn't involve their
children as much. Whatever it was, I wanted to find the other parents who felt like me. I was on a mission. I even ran a
workshop in town four years ago called: They're Excited About Going Away to College, But What About Us? About ten moms
attended the workshop and it was great to share with each other.
Over the past four years I have spoken with many moms and dads who have shared their own grief with me about their
children leaving home. Often with couples, it is one parent who expresses sadness more than the other. Some confide to me
that it is their own spouse who "shamed them" about their feelings of grief, especially if the dad was grieving.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting a Navy Seal dad at a Long Island
AAU basketball tournament, who shared with me that of all the experiences he has had in his life, including that of a Seal,
nothing was as hard as dropping his oldest daughter off to college last year and saying goodbye. He told me how he cried
the whole drive back. He has five children and is already grieving about his second child who is a high school senior who
will be going away next year. I felt such a sense of validation from this kind father's honest sharing. It helped me to
feel better about my own feelings. Sometimes just talking to others who feel similarly to the way we feel can help enormously.
We don't feel so alone and we feel a bit more "normal".
Anyway, if you are a parent who has a child going away to college and you feel sad, find people who will listen
to you and show comfort. Allow yourself to feel the grief. Don't talk yourself out of how you feel. Find support on Facebook
as many parents I see lately doing. "Pack lots of tissues" one mom said in a post to another who shared that they
were on their way to college.
It really does get
easier, although I will confess that each year she packed up and left I cried. One time Carly said, "Mom, I am a senior
at college. We have been through this many times. Why do you still cry when I leave?" "I don't know", I sniffled,
"I just miss you." I guess it's love or neurosis, but that is who I am. I know I will cry when my younger
ones leave the nest as well, but at least they all know how I get, so it won't be a surprise to them. Who knows maybe it
makes them realize just how much they are loved. I hope so.
"Listening is a high art of
loving. Ask yourself," When is the last time I really listened to my child? My parent? My brother or sister? When someone
is ready to share, three magic words amplify your connection, and they are, "Tell me more." ~ Rev. Mary Manin
We Clear Our Schedules for a Funeral
But Not for a Lunch Date by Lisa Athan (Printed in The Patch)
"Sorry, but I don't have the time for dinner or even a cup of coffee
with you next Tuesday, but honestly, if you were to die on Sunday, I am sure that I would drop everything to attend your funeral
on Tuesday. So, as long as you are alive on Tuesday, I will have to say no."
Of course no one would ever say these words out loud, and yet
sometimes I feel as if we live like this.
One day as I was doing my daily reading of the obituaries, I was struck by the thought that most of
the time, we find out about a death and the funeral from reading the paper, or from an e-mail or a phone call. We usually
have only a day or two notice, if that. Yet, we respond immediately by clearing our calendars and Blackberry planners so that
we are available. Nothing seems more important than attending the funeral, wake or service to show our respect for the person
who has died.
do find it fascinating that we, as busy people living such hectic lives, who pride ourselves on multi-tasking, can drop everything
to attend a funeral, yet so long as the person is alive, we decline invitations for lunch or coffee because we're too busy.
"Perhaps another time," we say. We tend to assume that there will always be a chance for another time.
Working in the field of grief has made me more appreciative of life and reminds me that each moment is sacred and
that tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone. We never really know how much time we have left to spend with our friends and loved
ones. That notion motivates me to make people a No. 1 priority. I have learned to drop everything for the important people
in my life when asked. I share this idea with people whenever I deliver workshops on grief. Many people thank me for reminding
them all how precious life is. Many share that they already made some dates with their friends and loved ones before the workshop
was even over. Don't put it off. Make a call today. Even if you can't see the person, you can talk on the phone, write a handwritten
note or an email or even video chat.
C. Smith, an inspirational author and speaker on death and dying, shares a powerful example of this from his own life. Many
years ago, he and his younger brother had talked for quite some time about taking a bike trip together out west. They were
both in their 20s and both very busy with their careers, so they kept putting it off, although both really wanted to have
this great bonding experience.
himself a note on his calendar months away, to remind him to call his brother and make the date firm. Well tragically, his
brother died a short time later and they never did get to take that trip. Doug was devastated but weeks later decided to make
meaning out of his tragedy. Doug keeps that laminated calendar page framed on his wall and to this day, years later, reads
it as a fierce reminder that life is precious and not to put off spending time with people who we care about. He encourages
us to make time for the important people in their lives before it is too late. I thank Doug for that lesson.
I hope each and everyone of you makes some time to spend with
someone important in your life this week. Make of list of those who you have been meaning to see but life got in the way.
Make a call today. You will be very grateful that you did.
"Enjoy the little things in life for one day you may
look back and realize they were the big things." ~ Antonio Smith
Check out my website, www.griefspeaks.com for information, support and resources dealing with grief and loss in the lives of children, teens and adults.
Please visit my two Facebook pages: Grief Speaks (quotes, resources and inspiration for grievers and those who care about them) and a brand new one, Grief Speaks 4 Teens (full of cards written by teens sharing their thoughts, feelings and concerns about grief, loss and other tough
Books by Douglas C. Smith: Caregiving: Hospice-Proven
Techniques for Healing Body and Soul; Being a Wounded Healer.
Helping a Friend Cope with
a Tragic Death (Published in the Springfield Patch 1/6/12)
Here are some thoughts on how to support a friend, neighbor or co-worker
who has experienced a tragic death.
be there. Keep your friend company. You don’t need to say something profound or do anything earthshaking.
Just let your friend know that you are there for them and that you will be there for whatever it is they need, if that's
true. Just being present, without having to say too much can be a great comfort. Then your friend will knows that if she
wants or needs to talk she can, but doesn't have to.
a general question, “What can I do?” can be too difficult to answer in the days and weeks after a tragic death.
Your friend may feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. It helps to be more specific with questions
like, “Do you need groceries?” “Do you need a ride to the…?" "Would you like me to pick
up your children at school?"
don’t wait for your friend to call you. Please initiate contact and you can even suggest some activities.
Respect that your friend may be feeling very tired but please don't let that discourage you from contact. Sometimes a brief
check in call, a text or stopping in for a cup of coffee are much appreciated. Often grieving people, especially those
who have lost someone in a violent death, tend to feel isolated and alone, as people around them don't know what to say
and may avoid them. Often they won’t reach, because it takes energy to do that and may be difficult for them to reach
out and ask for help.
Tell them you are
around to listen to them any time and really be there. (Of course, if you can’t or are too uncomfortable,
please don’t offer). Many grievers remember empty promises that many make but don't keep. Offer a shoulder to cry
on, open your heart to their pain. The greatest gift we can offer is the gift of our undivided attention that allows the
person to share their story, if they want to, instead of holding it all inside. Please don't ask them about details, unless
they want to share them. And then, take please care of yourself. If it is too difficult for you to hear be honest.
Help him to remember the good things. Share
memories and listen when he share his own memories. If he begins to show his emotions outwardly, know that you haven’t
made him upset, you simply have created a safe space for him to open up a bit more open in your presence, which is a compliment
to your presence. You may want to share a story, a photo, a song or something that you remember fondly about the person.
Those stories are priceless.
and listen some more. They may need to tell the story again and again as a way to begin to process their enormous
grief. Please don’t judge your friend even if they say something that seems outrageous. Please do not ask about any
details, unless the friend initiates that and wants to “tell you the story” and you are willing or able
Be careful of cliches, religious
platitudes or easy answers. These don't help. You may not be able to help with certain issues right now, so don’t
be too quick to share your opinions if they say something you don’t agree with. They need time to work things out in
their own way and own time. Most of these statements wind up making a bereaved friend feel misunderstood or angry.
Don’t tell a bereaved parent that at least she has other
children or she can have more, or at least she had her child for that many years. And don't tell them stories of families
that have had it even worse. It isn't a competition of loss. Don’t tell the person that you know exactly what they
are going through, even if you lost someone in a violent way. It isn’t ever the exact same thing because people have
different relationships and we are all different.
send a note of condolence, however brief, written in your own words, rather than a store bought card. This is especially
true if you can’t be there in person. It may seem like a trivial act, but it is often experienced with incredible
impact; people even in the deepest shock or despair usually recall for many years and with absolute precision, who spoke
out of comfort to them and who did not.
there after the first wave is over too. Often in the early days and weeks, many people are around to help,
but as the weeks and months go by, less people are around. People tend to go back to their lives and forget. Your friend
cannot forget what happened. That is a very good time to call or visit.
Most importantly: please don’t run away. Even if you are uncomfortable,
try to stay with the grieving friend. At times you may feel uneasy seeing sides of him or her that you have never seen before.
Do not judge. And please know that you can't “fix” anything that has happened or make it "all better",
but your being there, in whatever way you can, is of great importance.
Be on the lookout for destructive behaviors. Traumatic loss can lead some into depression,
alcohol, or drug abuse. They may need an extra eye on them while things are especially tough.
Remember that humor can be a good diversion. Laughter is good medicine.
And as Bill Cosby said, whose son was tragically killed, “Through humor you can soften some of the worst blows that
life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”
Be willing to do the difficult things with your friend.
Maybe they need someone to go to court with them, or a safe space to rage. Or help with the funeral or afterwards.
Learn about grief. Read books that are helpful
or articles such as the ones on my website: www.griefspeaks.com as well as order the two books listed below.
your friend find support and inspiration. No one friend can be the entire support system to a griever. Encourage
him or her to create a support network which may include other friends, a religious group, a support group, on-line support,
relatives and more. Encourage healthy outlets too such as exercise, writing, art, meditation, yoga etc. Know that often
a poem or song will speak to your friend in ways that no one else can. Talking to someone in a support group that also lost
someone in tragic way may also help them to know that they are not alone. Find a list of support groups on: www.selfhelpgroups.org
Have patience and confidence that your
friend will eventually begin to heal. And also know that they will grieve for the rest of their lives. Some days
will be better than others. One day they hope to reach a point when the good days outnumber the bad. That will be a major
Two wonderful books: What
To Do After the Police Leave - A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss by Bill Jenkins (filled with simple,
frank and useful advice vital to families suffering a traumatic loss. Written by a father whose 16 year old son was killed
in a robbery while working his second night at a restaurant). Good book for months later as well.
A Grief Like No Other: Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love
by Kathleen O'Hara. A Therapist and mother whose college-aged son was murdered. This book which focuses
on violent death including suicide, drug overdose, and death by homicide and drunk drivers, is a great resource for families.
This book finds real answers to the most difficult question of all: How do I go on after losing someone I love to violence?
I hope that this will help you to be of greater support the
next time someone you know unfortunately might need it.
Please Think Twice Before Handing a Crying Person
Please think twice before handing a crying person
a tissue! When you hand someone who is crying a tissue the person almost always stops crying. Being a grief counselor
and grief educator I have come to know about the value of allowing people to express their feelings and crying is often
a way that many express grief of some sort.
that you are sitting in with a group and one person sharing about a loss in their life begins to cry or you are speaking
with a friend who begins to tear as they share with you something difficult that they are going through with a loved
one or themselves. Your immediate impulse may be to hand them a tissue. So you go in search of one. You break eye contact,
stop fully listening, and rummage for a tissue in your bag, or you start looking around the room. Maybe you interrupt
them to ask someone else for a tissue. You may even get up from your seat and get one, all in an effort to "support"
your friend. You hand the tissue to them and now they (maybe suddenly feeling self conscious) wipe their tears and blow
their nose...and if you count to three, chances are they have stopped crying.
I don't want people to stop their tears if they are allowing them to them flow. I feel
good that someone trusts me enough to well up with emotion and let it spill out. I am aware of the heavy toll we pay for
keeping it all locked inside, the pressure many feel to "keep it all together and look strong" most of the time.
I think that when we hand a tissue, we are really saying, "Please stop crying, as you are making me very uncomfortable.
Your tears are getting me in touch with my own pain, and I am afraid that l may cry as well." Or you might be thinking,
"When you cry I feel helpless, which makes me uncomfortable. I want to fix your pain, although I know that I can't.
So let me stop you from expressing that pain, so that I can feel more comfortable."
Next time you see someone crying, just sit with them, be present and listen. No
need to offer tissues or try to "fix them." After all, that is what sleeves are for. Someone crying often doesn't
need anything except someone to be with them. Crying can be quite healthy for our immune system. Please remember that
tears are part of the healing, not the hurting. Maybe this is the very first time that he or she feels safe enough to
cry. I am glad they are feeling safe enough with me to cry. Let the tears flow. Please, try it out and watch the next
time someone offers a crying person a tissue.
by the way, hugging or touching a crying person may act the same way that the tissue does, to unintentionally stifle the
person's feelings. Hugs are welcomed and can be very important and healing, but often not necessarily when a person is
expressing feelings. Plus not everyone welcomes touch when they are upset. It is always best to ask, but only after they
have gotten out what they need to get out. I always ask my audiences how many like to be touched when upset and how
many don't. You would be surprised at how many do not appreciate a touch when they are expressing their emotions. I like
to remind people that what is comforting to you may not be comforting for another. It is always good to be aware of why
we do the things we do and ask ourselves this important question: "Is what I am about to do for their benefit or
is it for my own?" In other words, to help them feel better or to make myself feel better.
The most important thing we can do for someone who is sad or grieving is to be present
and truly listen, nothing more, nothing less.
great book, my all-time favorite as a gift for a grieving person is Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert. Here is a quote from
that book: "Grandy knew she had to make much of this part of the soup alone. She learned from past experiences
that most people don't like being around tears. Her friend would worry if they knew just how many tears Grandy's recipe
callef for this time. So, the old and somewhat wise woman relected on her own special recipe as she looked down into the
large overflowing pot of memories. It was a task she would repeat many times during the next few months."
Ways to Comfort a Grieving Person
Accept that you can’t fix it, and please stop trying. We may so wish that we could take away
the pain of grief, but unless you have a miracle, you can’t. It is when people think they can fix the problem that
they say or do things that cause more pain for the bereaved.
Go to the viewing, wake or service. This is an important time for friends, co-workers, neighbors and relatives
to express their condolences to the bereaved. Sign the guest registry if there is one. Months and years later family enjoys
seeing who came. Share a story or memory of the person. It is okay to share a funny memory, as laughter can be quite healing.
If you can’t attend, please send a handwritten note. Often obituaries point you to the deceased’s favorite charity.
No charity tells how much you gave, only that you did.
Just say you are sorry for their loss. Leave statements such as, “she is in a better place”,
“God never gives more than we can handle”, “Everything happens for a reason”. Sometimes these words
can be very painful for grievers to hear. Please don’t congratulate someone on “doing so well”. That
often makes them feel guilty when they are expressing their grief outwardly. This often encourages the bereaved to become
Academy Award winning actors and actresses. Remember that saying less is best, but nothing is worse.
Let them cry. Listen and just be there with them. Crying is good for
the immune system. And if they don’t cry, that is fine too. Please don’t’ go in as the ‘grief
police’ judging how people appear to be grieving. What you see on the outside often doesn’t compare to what
is going on inside them. The first few days grievers are often in shock anyway. How else could they make all of those
difficult plans and decisions that they have to make?
ahead and give them a hug, if they seem to want a hug. Not everyone likes to be touched when they are sad. However many
will welcome a hug over a lot of empty words. The simple touch says that you care.
Weeks after the funeral, when most have gone back to their lives, the bereaved are
often feeling lonely. This can be a good time to visit. Call and ask if it okay. Bring a snack or offer to take them out
for a cup of coffee or dinner. Most grievers really appreciate it when people keep coming around, that is unless
you are a member of the grief police. Offering to take on a task is also a nice thing to do: shopping, childcare,
pet care, or doing an errand, like getting groceries which often is one of the hardest places to visit especially if a
parent has lost a child. There are so many reminders in the aisles. But, please don't make a promise to help or visit if
you are not sinccere. Many greivers share how disappointed they were by so many who made empty promises. Only say it if
you mean it.
Create a memory book for the
person if you knew many of the friends or family. Collect photos and stories from others and put them all into a scrapbook
for the person. This is especially appreciated if there are young children or teens that have lost a loved one. They will
treasure reading the stories and memories for years to come.
And don’t forget the holidays. This time of year can be especially difficult for a griever. If you are a
close friend or family member you will probably know the most significant days. This is a great time to visit, write,
invite them out or send a special card with a memory. Write, ‘I know this holiday must be very hard for you this year.
I just wanted to say that I was thinking of you. “
Take care of yourself too. How helpful you are to the bereaved friend or family member if you are tired, run down
and stressed? How can you lend a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen or a hand for helping with meals or moving if you
can barely stand yourself? Make sure you are sleeping, eating, making time for family, friends, work and some fun. Remember
when you travel, you have to put your oxygen mask on before you can help another.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening
ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
~ Leo Buscaglia
Teens: What Adults Need to Know by Lisa Athan
(printed in the Springfield Patch, 9/28/11)
One of the most common questions I am asked as a grief specialist is about helping a teenager after a loss. Parents
often complain that their teens aren't communicating with them, or won't open up to them. Teens often say that they would
open up more if their parents weren't so busy judging and criticizing them. Teens share that they feel that their parents
are often out of touch, too busy to listen, too controlling or don't respect their privacy. Yet these same kids often want
their parents to support them and offer some guidance when they are coping with tough stuff such as a loss. They also need
time with friends and time alone. It is hard enough being a teenager, but to have to cope with grief as well can feel overwhelming
Teens are trying to separate from parents
and become more independent, yet after a loss they find themselves conflicted. They want to handle it on their own, yet often
also want adult support, understanding and patience.
teens often will say things like, "Life sucks," "This is not fair that I have to go through this," "You
don't really care about me," "My life wasn't supposed to turn out this way," etc. It feels unfair to a teen
to lose someone close to them through death. Teens feel immortal; deaths of siblings, parents or friends can rock their world.
Expectations are high and hormones may be raging. Adults are allowed to take some time off of work, college kids can drop
out for a semester but teenagers have to go back to school and keep up the frantic pace of life, even after a loved one or
friend has died.
Three feelings that make
grief so hard for teens are anger, guilt and shame. They may be angry at the person who died who has now messed
up their life. They may feel angry at the person for leaving them, angry at God for letting this bad thing happen, angry at
their friends who still may have their loved ones and angry at the world for not getting how hard this is on them.
Teens often complain that their parents are micromanaging their lives.
They want to know every move they make. They want to be in constant contact via cell phones. Teens often feel angry when adults
treat them differently than they did before the death.
can cause a lot of pain for grieving teens too. Many teens feel guilty that they didn't spend more time with
the person who died or regret that they weren't nicer. One 14 year old boy I met last year shared that he and his dad had
a major blow up one night and hours later, his dad suffered a massive heart attack and died. This young man was full of regret
that he never got to apologize to his father. I listened. I reminded him that it is normal for teens to fight with their parents
and that didn't change the love that he and his dad shared. Sometimes teens feel guilty that they could have prevented the
death. A college student shared with me last year that if only she hadn't invited her father to her college for dinner, he
never would have been hit by the drunk driver on his way to her.
Shame also can cause much suffering for a teen. Many teens who experience a death feel very
alone. Teens often hate feeling different, and losing a parent, sibling or friend can make them feel very different. They
don't want to be known as the boy whose dad died or the girl whose sister was killed. This is especially hard when a loved
one died by suicide, homicide or if the family member was driving a car in which others were killed.
How can adults help? Let teens know you are there for them, if
you are. "I am here for you, if you want to talk about it. I don't know how you feel." Teens need their losses
acknowledged and validated, while at the same time they need reassurance that the intensity of their grief won't last forever.
Teen bereavement groups can be great for teens. This will validate their feelings and help them to not feel so alone. Closed,
monitored chat rooms online can also be helpful. Adults can really listen to their teens without judgement and refrain from
trying to fix them or offer advice too quickly. Try to honor your adolescent's need for the avoidance of intense emotions.
Help to create a safe space for your kids to open up and express themselves if they want to. Encourage your teen to have creative
outlets. Such things as art, music, exercise, writing, hobbies, being in nature, volunteering, working for a cause, can be
very helpful. Encourage them to come up with their own list of activities.
Teens feel their emotions strongly which can also scare them. Teaching them coping
skills like breathing or progressive relaxation can help. Encourage them to drink water which is very important during grief.
Going for a walk is helpful, or if in school a walk to the bathroom, to throw some cold water on their face, look outside
a window, visit the school counselor or nurse. Music, yoga, meditation, prayer or napping are other things teens have shared
with me that help. Sometimes screaming into a scream box (how to make a scream box on my website) or into a pillow, crying
helps as it even lowers blood pressure, pulse rate and body temperature. Anything healthy that can reduce tension can be a
Teens can guide their parents
on how to help them by providing a list to parents on what helps. Things on the list may include: Talk about
the loss, but in small doses. I want to know that we can talk about the death, that it isn't taboo. Ask me open ended questions,
"how have you been since your friend died?" Tell your parents that you hate lectures, especially when trapped
in the car with them. Tell parents to accept what you may be feeling whether it be anger or survivor guilt or the feeling
that life isn't fair. Your parents can say they miss John today, but then just leave it at that. If your parents
need to talk about the loss, set a time limit like 15 minutes or less. Teens want their parents support especially now, when
they may be feeling judged and criticized by others including some of their friends. Parents need to learn not to take everything
a teen says or does so personally. Teens want some space and some freedom. They hate feeling smothered by parents. Teens want
parents to keep talking to them, even if the teen isn't responding, they are still listening.
Many teens will find writing in a journal helpful. I was given about
100 journals written by a 17-year-old girl who lost her brother three years ago. She wanted to create a small journal for
kids who also lost a loved one, so that they can grieve in the privacy of their own space and time. If you would like a copy
let me know. It is called The Healing Jar. Some teens write letters to the person who died. They can read it at the cemetery,
keep the letters, share with a counselor or friend, tie it to a helium balloon and let it go, call a hotline like 2nd Floor
(888-222-2228) and speak anonymously to a trained counselor or visit their site: www.2ndfloor.org, make a collage of pictures
and words from a magazine, that remind them of their loss. Spend time with people who knew the person well who also
want to talk about them. Some teens will find visiting with a deceased friend's family or friends helpful. Some will post
memories on their person's Facebook page. Many parents who have lost teens or young adults share with me how touching it is
for them to read the memories shared on Facebook. One mom told me that last Thanksgiving she was so comforted by one of her
daughter's friends who had written on her Facebook Memorial Page, to her and her husband that she were thinking of them on
that first Thanksgiving without "Karen". Her daughter, "Karen", had been killed in a motor vehicle accident
a few months earlier.
Teens often don't want
to cry in front of others. Some teens try to forget about it and act like nothing happened and want to have fun again. Often
this is followed by a feeling of guilt. Teens worry about having too little control over their emotions and wonder if their
feelings are normal and which ones may mean they need help.
Teens can make a list of people to call or text if they need to talk. These are safe adults
who will listen without judgement and who can offer helpful advice when needed. Teens can list a few places that make them
feel safe. They can list a few activities that help them to feel better. They can list a few affirmations or statements that
can help them get through the rough times.
teens may find or make meaning from their loss. Some teens who have lost a friend to drunk driving
may become involved in MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Some will join a support group like Compassionate Friends (for
bereaved parents and siblings). Some teens will start a group at school and educate their peers about whatever it was their
person died of. Others' may start a 5K run in memory of a friend or loved one.
Teens find ways to keep those connections to the person who died. Some listen to their person's favorite
music, TV show or eat a favorite meal. Sometimes teens talk about a place their loved one liked so when ever they are at the
beach they think of them. This summer while I ran the sharing circles at Camp Clover, a free, week long bereavement day camp,
many teens shared about feeling their loved one was always near them or watching over them which helped them a lot.
Two weeks ago I was flown out to Minnesota to help support a grieving
family and community who had lost a caring and loving ten year old little girl through a tragic accident this past July.
I did presentations to all of the students K-12, as well as the faculty and adults in the community. I heard many of
the students share that they will always miss yet feel a connection to their dear friend Kenzie, whenever they treat another
child with kindness as she was always so nice to everyone. They also said she loved life and many wore green, glow in the
dark rubber bracelets that read: Live, Love and Laugh Like Kenzie Raeh. What a wonderful way to keep connected to the memory
of their dear friend. I am still wearing the one they gave to me. Whenever I notice it, although I never met Kenzie, I remember
the wonderful stories about this precious ten year old who touched many, many lives in her ten short years and she inspires
me to be a little kinder. Also reminds me to never take anything for granted.
More ways to keep the connection:
Go to their favorite restaurant or cook their favorite meal. Celebrate their birthday with family and
friends. Write songs or poems about them. On the anniversary of the person's death, spend the day doing things they enjoyed
doing. Create Web pages in their honor. Burn CD's with their favorite songs or make a play list and share with friends and
family. Volunteer for an organization or cause your loved one believed in. Wear something that was theirs or carry it in your
pocket. And perhaps to celebrate your person's life, do something you've always wanted to do but haven't yet done.
"It's like your in a foreign country now and you were just dropped there, and now you have to learn
to make yourself adapt to this new world and this new way of life, and it's not easy." Lauren and Kerri Keifer, who lost
their older brother, a firefighter who was murdered in the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, said.
Helpful books on grieving teens:
The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends
Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding, Support and Guidance
by Dr. Heidi Horsely and Dr. Gloria Horsley
Grief is no cliche by
Lisa Athan (Printed on NJ.Com)
When we don't know what to say to someone who has suffered a loss, we may be tempted to turn to an old,
worn-out cliche. But in our attempt to be helpful, we may wind up saying something hurtful and leave the person feeling more
pain or frustration.
Here are some common phrases
that participants hear all too often and share with me at my workshops on grief and loss.
"I know how you feel". No,
you do not know how anyone else feels. This statement only makes people angry and may shut them down from sharing exactly
how they do feel. Everyone has his or her own feelings. Even if you went through something similar, it still gives you no
right to tell someone that you know how he or she feels. Just acknowledge their feelings and listen to their unique story.
"It's God's Will": This may be your belief
but you don't know what the griever believes or how he or she feels about God at this moment. Many people grow in faith after
a loss but others get angry at God, question their beliefs, or lose faith completely. Many can't accept this terrible loss
as part of a caring God's will. Keep this thought to yourself.
"Your loved one is in a better place. They don't have to suffer anymore." The griever
already knows that the loved one isn't suffering anymore, but they are! They are left to often feel selfish for their own
suffering. They also may question, 'how can my child, spouse, parent' be in any place better than here with me? Children in
particular have trouble wondering why a parent would leave them to go to a better place, or wonder how they failed in making
this a good enough place. Also don't assume that others share your belief in a "better place." This statement causes
so much pain to so many.
"You have to
be strong." This is often told to children, and to adults caring for children. Many people don't feel strong
after a loss and find it hard enough to be strong enough to make it through each day, let alone worry about being strong for
others. People hear this as "don't cry," or "show any emotion." This can be very damaging and stop the
grieving process. It may also imply that no one will be there to support them in their pain and sorrow.
"Keep your chin up." When all a person may
want to do is cry, scream, yell, sob, rage and collapse, they do not need someone to tell them to stop all of that emotion
and just carry on as before. It is important to grieve and mourn.
"You had many great years together. You should be grateful." Many would give anything,
make any bargain, to have more years together. Grateful may be the last thing they feel at this time. There are also people
who did not have great years, and we can't assume always that they did. Some people had abusive relationships that seemed
great, but they actually lived a secret life. These folks often are left to feel more alone and isolated in their pain.Please don't tell people how they should feel. Listen instead to
how they do feel and acknowledge that. Remember that our quiet presence is a gift to a griever, and often doesn't require
a lot of words. Allow those around you to grieve, and they will allow you the same when it is your time.
grieve by Lisa Athan 2008 (NJ.Com)
Grief is an expression of love.
If a child can love, he or she can grieve. Children are used to having a full range of emotions. Think about a three year
old throwing himself on the floor in the grocery store. He is angry and shows the world his feelings. Children know what it
is to feel angry, sad, afraid, lonely and confused and have no difficulty expressing it. So why should children experiencing
loss through death of a loved one, behave any differently.
Children have different responses to grief based on such things as: their relationship
with the person who died, their understanding of death, their developmental level, the circumstances of the death, and the
ability of the adults around them to be present, communicate and support them emotionally.
children want to talk about their loss all the time, others not at all, and many somewhere in between. Some won't talk about
their loss until months or years later. Some children will only remember wonderful things about the person, others may hate
them for leaving and abandoning them. Some children sob uncontrollably, while others appear to be without emotion. Some may
even laugh and act uncaring. Some will feel guilt as they blame themselves for the death and may get themselves into trouble
so that they can be punished. Some will blame others or God, the doctor, the funeral director or family members. Anger is
a common emotion in grief. We can listen and help children find healthy outlets for their anger, such as writing, drawing,
talking, music, art, exercise, ripping up old phone books, or punching a punching bag.
grieve in spurts. They can only be with intense feelings for a short duration before needing distractions or breaks.
A child may cry or be angry and then want to go out and play ball and laugh. Children's reactions are all different. Grief
does not move through stages nor is there a timetable. Children also don't want people to feel sorry for them or
to treat them differently. Children often act out their grief through their behavior more than through words.
Sometimes well meaning adults say unhelpful and hurtful things to grieving children such as, "Be strong. Don't
cry. You are now the man of the house. It is time you move on." This only adds to feelings of isolation, lonliness, and
even shame within the child.
It is helpful to allow children to cry. Sobbing can even help
children express their despair,as they move from shock into realization that their loved one will not be returning. Adults
can model healthy grieving and mourning. It is okay to cry in front of children. Many families say the most connected they
felt to each other was when they all cried together.
Rabbi Earl Grollman, author of Bereaved
Children and Teens wrote," Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional,
physical, and spiritual necessity- the price you pay for love." Adults need to companion children on their grief journey's
and to grant young people permission and safety to grieve and together find healthy ways to mourn.
is grief class? by Lisa Athan
Loss is a part of life. We lose relationships, people we love, things, dreams, abilities, trust and more, yet we
rarely are formally taught about grief and loss. I am amazed that we don't teach grief and loss in schools, although our children
are grieving and sometimes turning to unhealthy means to deal with their grief. I believe that grief underlies
many of the current youth issues today.
One of the things I do
as a grief educator is to go into classrooms and speak to students about grief and loss. I often hear students say, "finally,
a talk about something that we all can relate to. Why don't we talk about things like this more often in school?" I tell
them that I wonder too. I know that children in school deal with loss on a daily basis. They lose friends, pets die, have
a sibling with autism, have a grandparent with Alzheimer's or struggle with a learning disability. Others may get bullied,
rejected, deal with ill family members, addiction in the family or deal with parents' divorce, just to name a few examples.
Students ask me how they can help themselves as well as their friends, siblings, and parents. They
want to know what is normal in grief and how does one live through such pain without turning to addictions. They talk about
guilt and regret, ask if it is normal to never cry or cry a lot, and wonder if numbness is normal. Others ask me how to help
a friend who is in trouble but refuses help, what to say to a friend who has a dying parent, and ask for healthy ways to express
feelings like anger and rage.
Many students say that these are great classes because they are relevant and real.
One student wrote, "I feel like death and grieving are taboo in our culture. It really helps to hear someone talk about
it and how to cope and help a friend." Another wrote, "I think children should take grief classes from the time
they are a small child until graduating high school, if not longer."
Grief and loss education
would allow children to grow up with useful knowledge, tools, and an emotional vocabulary. Empathy, patience, tolerance and
compassion would be units as well as coping skills and healthy mourning. Students would learn about integrating loss, meaning
making and growth that often follow loss. Imagine the difference schools could make if grief and loss education was part of
the standard curriculum.