Information Sharing

Resources for Grief

Hello friends,

Do you have any helpful suggestions and/or books to recommend for a mom with a 4 year old who suddenly lost her husband in an accident?  The mom needs to know how to talk to her young daughter about this and what she can do to help her daughter (and herself) get through this trauma. This happened today, and I hope to pass on any helpful information as soon as possible.

Thank you; I know there’s a lot of wisdom in this group.

10 Comments to “Resources for Grief”
  1. Hi Minalee,

    So sorry to hear about this terrible loss. Such a death reverberates out and affects many people in the child and family’s circle. I am imagining you are one of those people.

    I used to work for an organization here in Connecticut called “The Cove Center for Grieving Children.” (http://www.covect.org/) The organization has changed a bit since I worked there but it is composed essentially of support groups for children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or very significant other. The structure of the groups are great – some time for kids with other kids and parents with other parents and then families together. Feel free to call me and I will talk with you a bit about it. You may also want to check out the National Alliance for Grieving Children (http://childrengrieve.org/) to see if there are groups near this child. In a couple of months that might be helpful. I actually started such a group with a friend for a family near where I live. It is an amazing experience to accompany a child through the process of facing death. Their questions and ability to be in the present moment can transform the adults close to them.

    There are many resources for parents of grieving children. The book that I know best was written by the founders of The Cove. It is called “Guiding Your Child through Grief” by James and Maryann Emswiler. It is an excellent, well written book by a father of three children whose wife died and the co-author is the children’s step mother. There are many children’s books as well – one of our favorites at The Cove was “Ten Good Things about Barney.” If you email me directly I can send you some handouts that we used to use and I imagine you can get some materials through The Cove website as well. One thing to keep in mind with a four year old is that they are very concrete. It is not a great idea to say “we lost” Daddy because then she might think why aren’t people trying to find him. Families often talk about Daddy up in heaven or looking down on you – again very concrete and may be confusing about why doesn’t he just come back down here. Saying he is “asleep” also can have problematic consequences as you can imagine.

    What I learned about supporting grieving children is that it may be best to keep it simple and be honest. We don’t exactly know what happens after you die, but this is what we believe. Kids also may ask very concrete questions – what happened to his body? Where is it? What does it mean to be dead? Our answer to the last was that eyes don’t see, ears don’t year, noses don’t breathe, hearts don’t beat, skin doesn’t feel.

    As far as participating in the funeral or other related events, it was often suggested that one inquires of the children if they want to be there. And let them know that if they do want to be there, that there will be a person who will be their person (in addition to grieving mom) and that person can take them outside at any time for as long as they want to be outside. It is also important to save things items of her dad’s that she would like to keep like a favorite shirt or hat. And it is helpful for the adults to write down memories of dad – his favorite food, tv show, activity, things he did with his daughter. The more vivid and specific the memories, the more helpful to her.

    Children grieve in everyday life and they often delay their own grief when the adults in their lives look devastated. So, this child might seem fine and an aunt is taking her to McDonald’s a week from now and the child breaks down remembering that dad did that not so long ago. She might not show her sadness at the funeral or when others are grieving. And she might wait til mom looks better. It wasn’t unusual at The Cove for a mom to tell us that a year or two after her husband dies, she feels better, gets involved with someone else and suddenly the kids are a mess.

    Please don’t hesitate to give my phone number to the mom or to call me yourself. Children’s grief is a life long process. Big transitions are times when it can re-emerge. This little girl might even on her wedding day have some poignant feeling that her dad won’t be walking her down the aisle. Support groups are great for kids so they don’t feel like they are different. Often children experience a death in the family and a couple of years later it becomes invisible. Teachers might now know and it is important to recognize it is part of her development. My experience at The Cove was that children were amazing in their abilities to process this experience and grow deeply from it if they had adults around who could support children’s grief and model healthy expression of the adults own emotions.

    Kindest regards,

    Ruth Ettenberg Freeman,

  2. Hello Minalee,

    I am very sorry to hear about this situation. Unfortunately, many children do experience terrible losses when they are young and have a hard time making sense out of what happened. It is extremely hard for the parent also as she is experiencing his or her own sense of loss and yet has to devote his/her energy to support the child. Trying to support both the child and the parent is essential, and I am glad that people like you are ready to extend a helping hand.

    I just consulted with a colleague of mine, Paul Thayer, a faculty member here at Wheelock College who specializes in the field of children’s and families’ experiences of grief and bereavement, and he had the following suggestions:

    1. Talk with the child in concrete and simple ways. Four year olds cannot establish very abstract connections, so they need to understand what happened and be re-assured that everything is going to be OK, in a concrete and direct way. Simple explanations will be easier for the child to understand.
    2. He highly recommends a book “When Families Grief” that was published by Sesame Street. This book is a “special guide for parents and caregivers”, and it is included in a kit that also has a DVD and a short story written in Spanish and English to share with the children.
    3. The same company has a number of free materials available on line at sesamestreet.org/grief. Please check that site out as it includes materials for adults and also for children.
    4. Books are only helpful in that they open up the possibility for more conversation with the child. The book by itself will not be helpful, but using the book as a way of initiating a conversation with the child will be. He mentions that there are several books written for children on this matter. He says that Marc Brown –of Arthur fame– for example, wrote a book about when dinosaurs die, which is helpful to a point to introduce the idea of death and dying, to talk about the process, etc., but usually 4 years old will wonder ”why you are talking about dinosaurs when my dad just died.” Four-year olds will not be able to necessarily establish those connections, so the more explicit –and sensitive—you can be when establishing those connections for the child, the better.

    I hope this is helpful in this very difficult circumstance…

    Eleonora

  3. Without looking at my resources the one simple description I remember as helpful with preschoolers is to explain that death means the body stops working.

    For example: “Daddy was hit by a car so hard that now his body won’t work anymore. He wants to be with us but his body can’t be fixed. We have to remember him in our head and hearts. Our family and friends will help us. It hurts and we will be sad because we miss him.”

    The family can add their own faith messages to this explanation. Be sure the child has the opportunity to speak of their dad, draw lots of pictures and look at photos. It is also fine if the child just needs to play and act as if nothing has happened while they incorporate the information. They may need the explanation repeated again and again to understand its permanence.

    Best wishes,

    Mary Maher

  4. Hi Minalee,
    When my own father passed away, my son was just turning three. As someone else suggested, make analogies…we used flowers…..things he could see that were no longer “thriving”…..what he tended to do was in his own way, seek confirmation of what we told him about his grandfather not being with us any more, not being able to eat or feel or do things he could associate with….so we spoke with his daycare helpers and anyone else he may stay with for a period of time…so the explanations were consistent…this helped bring some level of comfort (I think….he is 22 now…I should ask what he recalls!)
    We also spent time looking at photos and videos, especially ones with my son and his grandfather, and those without him in it became a source of stories ABOUT his grandfather.
    I hope this helps.
    Colleen

  5. Although my children were much older when they lost their father to cancer, their pain was intense. I like the suggestions already given because they reflect responses parents can make that are developmentally appropriate for the particular child.

    I have recently become aware of a new foundation called Grant Kate’s Wish that will be devoted to helping parents deal with grief issues from the moment of the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Although different from an accidental death, I learned from one of the founders that there are three main questions young children have after the death of a parent: “Did I cause it?” “Will it happen to me?” and “Who will take care of me now?” All reflect the normal egocentrism of young children, and can be addressed even if a child is not able to put the questions into words.

    My thoughts are with this family.

    Peg Lindlof

  6. In Seattle we have a wonderful resource called Safe Crossings through Providence Health Systems:
    http://www.safecrossingsfoundation.org/pdfs/Helping.pdf Here is a very comprehensive article that might be helpful at this difficult time.
    Becky

  7. Minalee and all,

    Here are two book resources I recommend:

    Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen. Both authors are from Portland. You can order easily. There is also a DVD according to my quick web search. The illustrations are lovely. It can be read over and over as needed.

    25 Things to Do
    When Grandpa Passes Away,
    Mom and Dad Get Divorced, or
    the Dog Dies
    by Laurie Kanyer, M.A., Parenting Press is the publisher. It is recommended for 5-12 year olds but would be a good resource.

    I have both books and think they are worth purchasing and sharing.

    Drew

  8. Here is my brief article on Coping With Death
    http://www.yoursocialworker.com/p-articles/coping-with-death.pdf

    Best,
    Gary

  9. Hello-

    This article of mine was just posted and I thought it might be a useful resource for families! Feel free to share.

    http://www.parentmap.com/article/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-death

    Warm regards,
    Sarina Natkin

  10. Hi Minalee,

    So sorry to hear about this terrible loss. Such a death reverberates out and affects many people in the child and family’s circle. I am imagining you are one of those people.

    I used to work for an organization here in Connecticut called “The Cove Center for Grieving Children.” (http://www.covect.org/) The organization has changed a bit since I worked there but it is composed essentially of support groups for children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or very significant other. The structure of the groups are great – some time for kids with other kids and parents with other parents and then families together. Feel free to call me and I will talk with you a bit about it. You may also want to check out the National Alliance for Grieving Children (http://childrengrieve.org/) to see if there are groups near this child. In a couple of months that might be helpful. I actually started such a group with a friend for a family near where I live. It is an amazing experience to accompany a child through the process of facing death. Their questions and ability to be in the present moment can transform the adults close to them.

    There are many resources for parents of grieving children. The book that I know best was written by the founders of The Cove. It is called “Guiding Your Child through Grief” by James and Maryann Emswiler. It is an excellent, well written book by a father of three children whose wife died and the co-author is the children’s step mother. There are many children’s books as well – one of our favorites at The Cove was “Ten Good Things about Barney.” If you email me directly I can send you some handouts that we used to use and I imagine you can get some materials through The Cove website as well. One thing to keep in mind with a four year old is that they are very concrete. It is not a great idea to say “we lost” Daddy because then she might think why aren’t people trying to find him. Families often talk about Daddy up in heaven or looking down on you – again very concrete and may be confusing about why doesn’t he just come back down here. Saying he is “asleep” also can have problematic consequences as you can imagine.

    What I learned about supporting grieving children is that it may be best to keep it simple and be honest. We don’t exactly know what happens after you die, but this is what we believe. Kids also may ask very concrete questions – what happened to his body? Where is it? What does it mean to be dead? Our answer to the last was that eyes don’t see, ears don’t year, noses don’t breathe, hearts don’t beat, skin doesn’t feel.

    As far as participating in the funeral or other related events, it was often suggested that one inquires of the children if they want to be there. And let them know that if they do want to be there, that there will be a person who will be their person (in addition to grieving mom) and that person can take them outside at any time for as long as they want to be outside. It is also important to save things items of her dad’s that she would like to keep like a favorite shirt or hat. And it is helpful for the adults to write down memories of dad – his favorite food, tv show, activity, things he did with his daughter. The more vivid and specific the memories, the more helpful to her.

    Children grieve in everyday life and they often delay their own grief when the adults in their lives look devastated. So, this child might seem fine and an aunt is taking her to McDonald’s a week from now and the child breaks down remembering that dad did that not so long ago. She might not show her sadness at the funeral or when others are grieving. And she might wait til mom looks better. It wasn’t unusual at The Cove for a mom to tell us that a year or two after her husband dies, she feels better, gets involved with someone else and suddenly the kids are a mess.

    Please don’t hesitate to give my phone number to the mom or to call me yourself. Children’s grief is a life long process. Big transitions are times when it can re-emerge. This little girl might even on her wedding day have some poignant feeling that her dad won’t be walking her down the aisle. Support groups are great for kids so they don’t feel like they are different. Often children experience a death in the family and a couple of years later it becomes invisible. Teachers might now know and it is important to recognize it is part of her development. My experience at The Cove was that children were amazing in their abilities to process this experience and grow deeply from it if they had adults around who could support children’s grief and model healthy expression of the adults own emotions.

    Kindest regards,

    Ruth Ettenberg Freeman