Keith Hunt - Healing Wounds #2 - Page Two   Restitution of All Things

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Healing Wounds #2

Helping Children Grieve

HELPING CHILDREN GRIEVE


By Bill Jacobs, LPCC


     Several years ago I performed a funeral for a woman whom I
did not know well. Her adult children, were, of course, present.
They no longer attended services with their mother's congregation
so the congregation had not seen them in a long time.
     After the service, members from the congregation and other
family members gathered around those who had lost their mother to
comfort them and pay their respects. As I observed this scene, I
saw off in a corner of the sanctuary a 12 year old boy sitting
alone in the last pew. I recognized him as the grandson of the
woman who had died. I knew that he lived with his grandmother
rather than his parents, though I didn't know why. He looked
devastated.

     Adults hate to see children suffering. It creates incredible
anxiety within us, especially when there isn't anything we can do
to reduce or eliminate their suffering. The first thing adults
must do if they are to help children grieve the loss of loved
ones is to put taking care of the child ahead of taking care of
their selves. If we want to help them, we have to do it in spite
of our own feelings.
     I walked over and sat down beside this little boy who
recognized me as the officiating minister, though he didn't know
me. I sat there beside him for a while before I spoke. What could
I say that would be helpful? A number of possibilities came to
mind.
     Should I say, "It will be alright"? I wanted to. Seeing him
suffering compelled me to fix his problem. I wanted to make him
happy again. Of course, those were my desires; if I said, "it
will be alright," that would be me taking care of myself, rather
than taking care of him. After all, he lost his grandmother, whom
he lived with and loved. How is that alright? After all, Paul
said death is an enemy. Her death has left a jagged, raw hole in
his heart.
     No. It is not alright. Further, if I tell him it is alright,
he might think that something is wrong with him. He certainly
doesn't feel alright. How is he to make sense of the adults
telling him it is? He will feel more alienated and alone.

     Saying "you'll get over it" was another possibility. If we
say that, he might wonder if getting over it means he has to
leave grandmother behind. That might make him feel like he would
have to stop loving her. Besides, at that moment it doesn't feel
like he will get over it. Job's term "miserable comforters" came
to mind.

     How about, "Don't feel bad. You'll see her again"? That's
the truth. But that only points to how much he is missing her
right now.


     All the things I could think of were my own efforts to make
us both feel better. Saying them would have made me feel better,
but I doubt they would have comforted this grieving child.
We try to fix it, but we can't. Death is too strong of an enemy.
Is there anything we can do, then, as adults to help children
grieve?

     As I sat beside him I said, "It's really hard:" He looked at
me and nodded as a tear coursed down his cheek. I put my arm
around him as he experienced the release of tears. When children
are grieving, the most helpful thing is to be understood. To
listen when they are ready to talk, to reflect their feelings,
helps them know that some one is with them in their suffering,
and that is comforting. In fact, that is the core of what humans
can do to help others. Paul said, Christians should , "weep with
those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice" (Rom.12:15,
NAS) There isn't any fixing in weeping and rejoicing. Once we
understand the most important thing, what else helps children
grieve their losses?

     I used to volunteer at the Children's Grief Center of New
Mexico. We would put children with other children who have
suffered the same loss. I remember one teen boy, at the end of
his time at the center, wrote in a survey we gave him, "Having
fun with others my own age who have suffered the same loss helped
me realize that life could go on." Only those who have suffered
the same thing really know what it is like. That sense of knowing
helps children bond and learn from each other. If you have a
child who has suffered the loss of a loved one, grief groups help
a lot. Playing in such groups is incredibly helpful because
children resolve hurtful emotions through play.

     Two other modalities we used at the center were arts and
crafts. Since children rely more on emotions than on cognition,
emotional processing is more helpful than talking. Drawing a
picture of the deceased, visiting the cemetery with something
they made to leave behind, or photographs put in an honored album
are all things done to memorialize and hold on to the loved one.
These types of activities are helpful in the grieving process. We
don't simply "get over" the death of loved ones; we put it in
perspective and move along, while holding on to it.

     One final offering: No one grieves in the same way or at the
same rate. While it is true that some people get stuck in grief,
it is not wise to push children in their grief. Instead, we can
do all the things we've talked about in this article and do some
additional research. A good place to start would be the "About
Parenting" website at:

http://childparenting.about.com/cs/emotionalhealth/a/childarief.
htm.

                            ...................


Bill Jacobs is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in New
Mexico. He works at the Southwest Family Guidance Center and
Institute with children and families. In addition, he also has
worked with the Children's Grief Center of New Mexico as a group
facilitator. 

Bill Jacobs has a "therapy" Website: billjacobslpcc.com

Bill Jacobs also has: liferesource.org

The above article was taken from: September 2007  "ACTS" magazine, 
a publication of the General Churches of God, 7th Day, Meridian, 
ID, USA.


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