by Annell Decker, LPC
During years of working as a counselor and not long ago as a joint facilitator of a children’s grief group, some specific concerns stand out. Here are some ideas to consider, some about dealing with other children.
How long is it OK to grieve? As long as you need; whatever is right for you as an individual. The responses of others will change and you may get more positive response from a professional after several months. Often, this is because people just don’t know what to say.
Belongings and “Shrines” – It is not unusual to set up an area of the house, or a whole room, with the deceased person’s belongings. Or, the person’s belongings are gathered and there is a strong urge to not allow others to touch them. In order to include relatives and close friends, they may need something specific to hold onto, just as you do. Try to be generous and patient. This in no way diminishes your grief. Please allow those who loved the person that died to touch and reminisce, sharing their memories. This is an important part of healing. If the “shrine” is up after an extended amount of time, please consult with family and a therapist about healthy ways to move on, incorporating the change of dynamics.
Holidays – This is an especially hard time, whether a largely recognized special time or time that was an annual family event. Allow those involved to have a say. It may feel better to do something completely different – go on a trip, reach out to others, participate in some kind of charity event. Or, the family may want to keep a traditional activity & modify it – hand-made gifts or tree decorations instead of commercially purchased. It is always appropriate to honor the deceased loved one with an ornament, sharing time, memorial given in their honor, planted tree, etc.
Children grieve differently – You can learn about the normal way that children develop and their thoughts, processing and understanding change. Try to answer questions as honestly as you can. It’s OK if you are not ready to talk much. It is always right to listen. Smaller children incorporate the events around them into their play time and this is age appropriate. Teens may be broody, need space, or just the opposite. There is no perfection. Try to be open, honor their feelings, and be willing to share yours.
If healing does not seem to be coming – old wounds, childhood hurts, family of origin issues all are brought into the grieving process. If you are not able to eventually get back into some semblance of a normal routine, it is healthy to seek help. There are many sources available. Taking some kind of physical action is useful: write a letter and burn it to release to the universe, a photo or memory album, donation to a cause that is worthy, volunteering can all be helpful. Take good care of yourself!
About the Author: Annell Decker has a BA in History and a MEd in Counseling from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. She is a certified Licensed Professional Counselor. Annell worked with the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend, Alpine and the Ray D. Anderson Community Corrections Facility, Brownfield (TX). For the last 7 ½ years, Annell has worked as a Case Manager for La Hacienda Treatment Center in Hunt, (TX). She has volunteered her time with the American Cancer Society as well as Peterson Hospice (Kerrville, TX) with their Bridging the Gap and Pathways programs.