Children’s Grief Awareness Day

"Sad Child" by Anthony Kelly on flickr
“Sad Child” by Anthony Kelly on flickr

Jennifer Marsh, LMFT, MS is the Community Education & Outreach Coordinator at The Center for Compassionate Care of The Elizabeth Hospice. She is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, with a certification in Crisis and Trauma Intervention.

My first experience with death came at the age of 12. I remember the day as if it were yesterday, instead of 20+ years ago. I was in my classroom at school, balancing between two desks on my hands with my feet raised when the teacher came to get me. My mom was there, she said, and it was time for me to get my things and go home. I walked out of that classroom with a horrible feeling in my stomach I just couldn’t put into words—and it deepened the moment I caught a glimpse of my mom. She had obviously been crying and looked as if someone had just knocked her over. All she could manage to say was, “It’s Grandpa. He’s gone.”

I was old enough to know gone meant he had died. He’d suffered multiple strokes over the past few months and the last time I saw my Grandpa, he was in a facility with all sorts of tubes coming out from all over the place. Gone meant he wasn’t there, in that bed, anymore. Gone meant we’d never see him again. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how this one experience would impact how I coped with grief throughout my life.

That was the only conversation I ever remember having with my parents about the death of my grandfather, or about the grief I experienced. I was confused about the differing emotions around me and was unable to express how I was truly feeling. For quite some time, it was believed that by not discussing grief and loss with children we were somehow protecting them from the pain of life. What we’ve learned is silence oftentimes can be more harmful than protective. Children are intuitive and observant and have an innate sense their lives and the lives of those around them have suddenly been thrust into a state of turmoil.

November 15, 2012 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day designated to bring awareness to the fact that children do, in fact, experience grief and loss and to encourage support and conversation among our families and communities.

How can we support children and teens?

  • Begin the conversation. It’s not an easy discussion to have with children, the most important thing you can do to give a voice to what children are feeling.
  • Listen. Don’t judge. Children may or may not have the emotional vocabulary to tell you how they’re feeling, so their behavior may be the cues you need.
  • Ease their fears. When life changes unexpectedly, our first reaction is one of fear.
  • Be there. There’s no “right” way of supporting children through a loss, but your presence alone can do more than any words of comfort.

Learn more about Children’s Grief Awareness Day by visiting their website.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

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