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Death - Helping Children Cope With Grief and Loss
By Scott Wardell

This article will help you explore what you and others in your life may be going through. We the people, who live in the United States, are often poorly prepared to deal with a loss. We seldom, if ever, discuss the inevitable death that will take place for all living creatures. We don't begin to think about loosing a job, a friend, a pet or other tangible items until they are no longer with us. Loss is a personal and can be a complicated event. Feelings range from heartfelt hurt to extreme anger. No feeling is unusual or uncommon. Pain, grief and suffering are the most common feelings when one experiences a loss. Loss often affects our entire body and mind. It may make one feel exhausted, helpless and overwhelmed. It is my hope that the following paragraphs will introduce you, the reader, to begin to work through your loss (or help your child through a loss) by learning the language of loss, coping while grieving and helping yourself (or your child) through the healing process.

Before we begin, I must share with you that there are many people who are professionally trained to help you and your child through the grieving process that comes with loss. Numerous medical organizations have trained mental health professional to help you learn to cope with loss in a face-to-face counseling setting. Most religious organizations have trained professionals ready to meet and serve your grieving heart. Job loss individuals can get individual help from job find organizations that are listed in newspapers and Internet in each state. I encourage you to explore these opportunities. You do not need to go through the process alone!

What is Loss?

Loss is an ending of what we once had. It is an event. It is often a natural and common event that we Americans seldom prepare for. Over two million people die each year in the United States. Although 94% to 96% of our population is working, millions of workers each year suffer from a job loss. Pet lovers grieve from the four to five million cats and dogs that die each year. It is common to refer to a big loss, such as the death of a family member, as being the most hurtful loss. We need to realize, however, that the loss of a job, spouse through divorce, and yes, a family pet can be just as hurtful. Sometimes loss comes when we move from our existing home, change of job or being disappointed in not getting a material item that was expected. Loss comes to many who become disabled, get cut from a team and have a friend end a relationship. All of these events are a loss.

What is Grief?

Grief is an emotional experience. While loss is an event, grief is a feeling. Grief often makes us feel uncomfortable and sad. Like all feelings, grief has a range of weakest to strongest in terms of how we may feel. Grief is associated with other feelings that may include:

Loneliness, Confusion, Anger, Guilt, Fatigue, Helplessness, Worry, Resentment... and yes, Laughter!

Grief may include many different feelings at the same time. It can also come and go. One minute a person can be feeling a real harsh pain; the next feeling may be one of calm. There are no rules governing the feeling of grief. The best way to end our grief is to begin to understand what we are going through as we manage all the feelings that come with grief. This process is called "coping."

Coping With Grief

The word "coping" means to" handle" or "work through." People who are "coping" through a situation are learning ways to manage their feelings so they do not take over their life in a negative manner. People who understand the grieving process and how to search their feelings before a loss occurs in their life often do better when a real loss comes their way. It's important for parents to talk to their children as they are growing up about grief specifics ideas and talking point will be shared with parents to help their child through the grieving process brought on by a loss.

The first step in learning to cope through grief is beginning to understand the stages of grief.

Denial Of Loss: It's common for many people who are facing a loss to go into denial.

"This is not happening to me," or "I am fine. Nothing bothers me," or "This is not going to bother me," are all common denial thoughts or statements. Often people, consciously or unconsciously begin to entrench themselves in work or activities to keep from dealing with the potential hard feelings that go with loss. Denial of these feelings often only prolong the loss process and for some makes the process harder to go through at a later date in their life.

Shock: After one begins to accept that a loss has occurred, shock often begins to set in. Your body and mind take a big hit. The emotions often run deep to the point where you feel as though your breath is being taken away. Helplessness is a common feeling. It's experiencing a moment that you don't want to go through. Some medical professionals describe shock as the body's way of taking care of it's self. Your heart may beat faster to restore the oxygen used quickly by your blood cells. The body is also using more energy and your metabolism is strongly challenged. Faint or loss of consciousness may occur.

Confusion and Questioning: It's not uncommon to become disoriented and confused after a loss. Loss brings about a change and change brings about confusion and numerous questions. Questions may include:

"Why did this happen to me?"

"What am I going to do now?"

"Why do I feel this way?"

"How long am I going to feel this way?"

There are hundreds of questions that come with a loss. No question is a bad question, but the answers may often be hard to find. It will take time.

Guilt, Anger and Fear: Many individuals who have gone through a loss may experience the feelings of guilt, anger and fear. The feeling of guilt may come after one assesses how the loss occurred and what could have been done to prevent it. You may want to blame yourself (or others) for not doing enough to prevent the loss. Guilt often leads to anger. Anger at yourself and anger at others (including your God) may occur. The feeling of anger is normal and okay as long as the anger does not become revengeful, destructive or violent toward self or others. Fear of loosing control, the unknown and being alone with your thoughts is also common. Fear, like shock, is a body protection mechanism. It tells us that something is wrong and we need help.

*If you (or someone you know) gets to a point where anger leads you to violence or destructive behavior, it's important that you (or the person you know) get professional medical or mental health attention. When we have a toothache, we see a dentist. When we are having a difficult time seeing, we see an optometrist (eye doctor). When our car breaks down, we see an auto mechanic. And, when our brain and body aches, we see a doctor.

Help and Healing: It is a strong person, not a weak person that gets help. We all need help after a loss. Admitting that we need help is the beginning of the healing process after a loss. There are very few (if any) human beings who have made it through their entire life without receiving some kind of help. Don't be stubborn! Don't let your pride get in the way to begin the healing process. Accept help!

Below are some skills to consider as you or your child begins the healing process after a loss:

Just be you! Accept the feelings that you have while going through the loss and begin to accept you for who you are at this time.
Don't try to keep it all together. Let others help with chores, cooking, doing laundry or just let "stuff" sit for a while.
Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do. That's right- do nothing! Don't try to fix it. What you are going through is normal.
If you or your child needs mental health help, get it! It's call "mental health" because you do things to get your mind healthy again. A good place to start is with your medical doctor or your insurance company. If you do not have either of these sources, go to your phone book and contact a crisis health center and they will get you moving in the right direction.
It's okay to cry! Cry if you can. Cry alone or cry with a friend. Most people report that they feel better after they cry due to a loss.
Talk to someone. Be with people who care about you. Talk to a friend, religious figure, parent or another adult. Kids can talk to another kid if a parent or adult is present.
Take care of yourself! Bigger losses cause a hard drain on our bodies and mind. We often use a lot of energy. We need to regain this energy by eating food. Eat healthy (fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole breads are good energy foods). Talk to your medical doctor about eating to replenish your energy.
Time needs to pass. Let it pass! Remember, bigger losses, such as a death, require larger amounts of time to heal.
Religion has helped many people get through their loss. Begin to accept the loss that you cannot control and turn it over to a spiritual force that you believe in. Many religions teach and use prayer as a means of coping. Seek help from your individuals who have been trained in your faith to help you or your child through a loss.
Be positive and optimistic. Tell yourself and your child "we can make it through this. We have made it through other tough situations we will make it through this loss too.
Be nice to yourself. If your child is going through a loss, be a comforter. Make a favorite meal. Go see a happy movie. Be complimentary. Take a warm bath. Take a nap. Rub your child's back. Let your child rub your back. Say, "I love you."
If the loss is a death and the child or you don't feel that you had a chance to say "good-bye," write a letter that expresses your (or the child's) feelings. Have a ceremony that honors the person (or thing) that is no longer a part of your life. Planting a tree in memory of the loss has comforted some people. Others make donations of time or money to an organization that they believe in to represent the person who past away.
Make a scrapbook depicting the memories of your loss. Have your child draw pictures, write stories, and tell stories of the positive moments that were shared before the loss occurred.

Moving On

After you or your child experienced a loss, experienced grief and established coping mechanism to help you get through the grieving process, it's time to get life going again. The "moving on" process is important and okay to begin after one has sufficiently grieved. The amount of time it takes to go from one process to the next will vary from individual to individual. If you are working with your child who has experienced a loss, you can tell if the child is ready to move on by letting them experience one or more of the possibilities listed below. If the child is not ready to "move on" then slow down and continue with some of the ideas presented in the previous paragraphs.

DO NOT "MOVE ON" JUST TO ESCAPE YOUR GRIEF! Move on to get things going again in a health manner.

1. If your child lost a friend due to a move, help your child make new friends as you make new friends too. Modeling this behavior in front of your child will help your child feel secure by following your example. Don't expect the new friend to take the place of the lost friend, but tell your child to focus on what's good about having a "new" friend.

2. Get you and your child involved in new, fun (non-stressful) activities. Provide your child with lots of options. Let your child pick the activity. Inform the leader(s) of the activity selected the issues facing your child so that they can be encouraging and helpful.

3. If you or your child is facing hard times due to a move, share with your child the positive "new things" and "opportunities" that come with change. Change can be exciting, but scary at the same time. Ask your child how he or she is feeling about the change. Asking helps your child to feel safe. Let the child know that you will be there to discuss their feelings when they need to talk. Inform the school, church and other activities that your child participates in how your child is feeling.

4. Believe in yourself and believe in your child. "We can do this!" is the attitude that you want to display. Smile, be positive and share positive thought. Don't look at what can't be done, but all the possibilities of success. Keep trying and don't give up!


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