When we go to visit father’s grave my husband and children stand by my side. None of them knew my dad; they are there for me. I always cry a bit; I get hugs all around. On the way home from our last visit my youngest asked, “Why do we come if it makes you cry every time?” I say, “I really feel fine. It’s hard to explain.” I wish I had a better answer. I’m surprised that he wonders why I would cry every time. I’m not sobbing; I just “puddle up.” I wonder how my children will manage grief when it affects them. I wonder how I might help them through it. So, when I get home, I call Lucy.
Lucy Nile is a bereavement facilitator who conducts support groups for schools and family support organizations including Annie’s Hope. Lucy told me that, for a few of us – children and adults – grief might be so “complicated” that it requires the help of a professional therapist. The vast majority of us try to manage on our own with support from family and friends. Actually, there’s something in between. A bereavement facilitator helps families, teens, and younger children when they lose someone significant in their life. Lucy helps guide others through the mourning process. A bereavement counselor can be particularly helpful to children – whether their loss is that of a parent, sibling, relative or friend.
Lucy tells me that younger children tend to grieve in spurts; not usually with the intensity an adult might have. And they show it differently than teens or adults. While an adult might want to stay at home and cry for hours, a child is not inclined to show their sorrow in that way. Their sorrow is usually seen in “spurts.”
Then, there’s a difference between grieving and mourning. Grieving is what happens inside: what we don’t see. Mourning is what is visible others. Adolescence means an increased sensitivity to what others think about how you behave. Adolescents have entered the road to independence and when a death happens it can make that road all the more difficult. Your preteen or teen might be thinking, “If I show my sadness others might think I’m not as grown-up as I am.” Lucy says that one of the most important things she tells parents is to not hide their own sorrow: “You’re a role model to your children for how to cope with death in life.”
Adolescence is stressful for a lot of reasons. Add a death to that and you can see how it may become overwhelming. I don’t know about your family but, other than making a legal will, the death of someone significant is not something we’ve spent time preparing for — us or our children.
My father died when I was 30. Our sons have had two grandparents die and, as Lucy put it, they grieved in spurts – something I didn’t understand at the time. Our sons are in the double-digit years and I expect that a death of someone close to us would cause a much different reaction now.
After talking with Lucy, I’ve decided to talk more often with my sons about how their father and I have coped with deaths in our past. I’ll encourage them to talk with me about how they see others dealing with death in television shows, in the news and in our family and larger community. I’ll continue to cry at my father’s graveside. I’ll be a role model for mourning a death when it happens as well as days, months or years after. And, should a death occur that affects us all, I will call someone like Lucy to help me help them.
One of the books that Lucy recommends is “Healing a Teen’s Grieving Heart” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph. D. You can read more about Dr. Wolfelt and see his other books at Center for Loss and Life Transition
What resources can you share with others?
by Expert Mommy, Diane Asyre