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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!