Some gems from Michael Tym’s blog

Explaining the Death of a Parent to a Child

Posted on 02 September 2019, 8:56

When my friend Dave was asked by his nine-year-old granddaughter what happens to us when we die, he struggled and stumbled in his response, realizing that it required an answer that went beyond the trite, “we go to heaven and live with the angels.”  Fortunately, Dave’s daughter came to his rescue and explained that people have many beliefs about the afterlife, leaving the door open for her to learn about them and explore her own understanding of what happens when we die, at which point Dave told his granddaughter that he would be happy to talk to her about the subject anytime.

My discussion with Dave was prompted by a movie in which a young girl, about five, lost her mother to an auto accident and was told by her grandmother that “she will live on in your heart.”  I had heard that hackneyed expression more than a few times before and wondered how a child is to interpret it.  It does not necessarily imply that the parent had survived death in a larger life and was still with her, and it might well be interpreted to mean that the parent was now totally extinct and nothing more than a fading memory.

I can still remember the anxieties and fears I experienced 76 years ago when my step-grandfather died.  My parents didn’t know what to tell me, and I, just six at the time, didn’t know what questions to ask.  It was all hush-hush. The trepidation multiplied 100-fold when we visited the crematorium and I struggled with grasping that what was left of my grandfather was now contained in a little metal box, one surrounded by hundreds of other little metal boxes with “people” in them.

Is there a comforting response concerning death for a child? After discussing it with Dave, I decided to put the concern to other friends and to limit it to children under seven (the generally accepted age of reason), leaving the older children for another discussion.  I hypothesized a situation in which my friend could go back in time with his or her present experience and knowledge and attempt to explain to a five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son the death of the other parent in a traffic accident.

I began with my most skeptical (sic)  friend, Dale, who rejects all the psychical research suggesting survival that is often discussed at this blog, as “unscientific.”  “Kids, I’ve got some really terrible news,” Dale thought out his reply. “Your mommy was killed in a traffic accident. I don’t understand how or why it happened but it did. Come here and let’s hug. (We would all break down and cry). I’d answer that Mommy wouldn’t want us to see her and how she was hurt as it would only make us more sad. We will cremate her body as those were her wishes. Nobody really knows what happens when you die; maybe she’ll go to heaven and we’ll see her again some day. Meanwhile, remember all the nice things she did.”

Dale said that such reflects his belief and he doesn’t see it as giving the children false hope, like telling them there is a Santa Claus. Moreover, he would want them to think about all the good things their mother did and not dwell too much on the loss, at the same time realizing that thoughts of their mother would come back to them from time to time, when they’d just have to be strong and be grateful for the time they had with her.

Dale’s approach seems in line with that of mainstream psychology, as I was able to gather from the Internet. It avoids any discussion of consciousness surviving death.  “Kids this young often have a hard time understanding that all people and living things eventually die, and that it’s final and they won’t come back,” we read at KidsHealth.org. “So even after you’ve explained this, kids may continue to ask where the loved one is or when the person is returning. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly reiterate that the person has died and can’t come back.”  More bluntly, as I interpret it, tell the child that the loved is extinct and to get on with life.

Keith remembers that when he was about four-years-old his great-grandfather died and he was told that it is like “falling asleep.”  He feels that this euphemism is still effective with the younger children.  “You know your mom was in her car, don’t you?” he provides his possible explanation.  “On the way a lorry did not stop at the traffic lights, and it hit your mom’s car and she was knocked out.  That is like falling asleep when you get a bang on the head.  By the time she arrived in hospital she had gone to sleep forever.  We all do that sooner or later.  So now she is at the hospital and won’t be coming home again, so you won’t have the chance to see her until you also fall asleep forever, when you are very old.”

When the children are a little older, Keith, who does not subscribe to any accepted religion nor accept the standard Christian version of heaven and hell, would use the word “died” instead of falling asleep and would explain that death is not the end of us, and that Mom is quite possibly living with her family on the other side and waiting patiently for her children to join her.

Glenda recalls the time she was working as a hospice social worker and made a call to a home where a young father fatally shot himself.  The man’s three-or four-year-old son kept asking what was wrong and was told by the police and others that everything was fine and not to worry.  “I thought it was doing a disservice to the child to lie to him and make him distrust his own observations and fears,” she says, adding that her advice in that case was not accepted and she was not allowed to follow up on it.

“They also need assurance that they will always be cared for and safe,” Glenda continues. She does not agree with Keith in suggesting that death is like falling asleep, as it might cause the child to fear wanting to go to sleep.

“My answer is pretty simple,” Mike replies.  “If they haven’t reached the age of reason, and assuming they still have the other parent, I would say to them, ‘God called Mommy home to help Him in Heaven. She still loves you and thinks of you and watches over you from Heaven; and you can talk to her every night before you go to bed when you say your prayers. And she will hear you. And you’ll will see her again when you someday go back to Heaven. In the meantime, I will take care of you   Talk to me any time you want. I always have time to listen to you, and help you. And I love you very much.’”

Like Mike, Norm does not accept the humdrum heaven of orthodox religions, but he believes in keeping it simple for children of that age and expanding on it when they become a little older.  “[I would] explain that an accident is like falling down and scraping your knee, but sometimes more serious because the person will not get better,” Norm states. “God wants her to live with him to make her feel better until all of us can be together again and happy forever.  Meanwhile, she sees you and knows what is happening to you, and she will be at all your birthday parties.”

When the children do indicate that they can comprehend a somewhat more complex idea, Norm would expose them to the evidence for survival as developed over the past 170 years by psychical researchers.  “In other words, I would guide them along the way as far as they might want to go, not indoctrinate them. If they chose a traditional religious faith after all that, I would not attempt to proselytize them. However, I would be happy to discuss the ridged dogmas of both organized religion and materialistic science.”

Getting back to Dave, he would tell the children that their mother has gone to a very special place where she is living with God, who is taking care of her.  “In her new home, she lives in a Spirit body that we can’t see, but she can see us, and she will be living with us and watching over us to give us all her love,” he explains it.  “It’ll be sad for us because we can’t see her anymore, but anytime you want to talk to her you can and she will hear every word you say and she will try to find a way to answer you.  When we die, we will all go see and live with God and Mommy forever.”

Like Norm, Dave would later introduce them to the evidence “that explains and reinforces this belief, educating them on the context of the world’s major religions, including reductionism and the role of science in explaining our unknowns.”

Lewis would tell the children that their mother “had gone to a better world, a happier world, the place we’ll all go to when we leave this one.  I’ll tell them she did not want to leave early and that she had no control over what happened, and that she’ll miss them and think about them for as long as they are alive. And they should talk to her, for she will pay them visits from time to time even though they probably won’t be able to see her.  She will always love them and help them in every way she can.”  Lewis adds that he would be in steady contact with his deceased wife, “sending her my love and assuring her that we love her and wish her every happiness where she is.”

Richard would explain to the children that their mother was killed in a terrible auto accident.  “She can no longer be with us,” he would continue, “but she would want us to be very strong and help each other understand.  She is actually in a ‘wonderful place’ called heaven and her “spirit’ is watching over us every day.  She loves and misses us very much.”  To support his statement, Richard would familiarize them with the stories of Colton Burpo (“Heaven is for Real”) and Akiane Kramirik’s “Portrait of Jesus.”  I would add Karen Herrick’s “Grandma, What is a Soul,” to the list of books that might help children understand death.

All of my friends had more to say on the subject, including how they would explain it to the children at an older age, but space does not permit more here. Readers are invited to share their thought on the subject in the comments section below.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We DieResurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

This has been posted totally unedited but the source can be found at http://whitecrowbooks.com/michaeltymn/entry/explaining_the_death_of_a_parent_to_a_child

 

Nothing is sadder than a child taken by those charged with their care…

http://griefsjourney.wordpress.com/

Keep going dear Williams family and friends, when you stand tall you show the world we can survive the sudden hell we find ourselves cast into when innocence is smashed and where sometimes just the next breath can seem impossible.

May loving arms hold you in the darkest hours and may in your better times you stand tall, survive and shine your light for the new family in hell on earth.

We do not die. They are with us every day.  Just believe.  We will see them again.

Ten Tips for After Death Communication

This is an exercise in channelled writing and after-death communication. Even if you’ve never tried to receive messages from the Other Side, this exercise can help open that door. The hardest part is allowing yourself to come to a place of absolute trust in what you receive. We’re not talking about partial trust… the trust has to be absolute. You have to leave behind your mind, your beliefs, your ego, your expectations, your fears and even your intentions.

It might take a few minutes or it might take a few years. All you have to do is receive and trust.

Listen

  1. Set the scene. You may wish to light a candle or create sacred space in some other way. Heartfelt meditative music is also quite helpful. Make sure nobody can disturb you. Turn off the phone.
  2. Before you begin, say a little prayer asking for the conduit to be opened. Breathe deeply and relax. Ask your guides to assist you. The moment you ask, they will arrive.
  3. Sit down with paper and pen (or at your computer) and begin by writing, “Dear (your name).” You may focus on a loved one on the Other Side if you wish, or you can ask for messages from guides, religious figures or angels.

Write

  1. Start writing. Write anything at all. You will immediately feel self-conscious and foolish and say to yourself, “This is stupid. This is just me talking to myself. I’m just writing what I think I’m supposed to hear.” That’s OK. Everybody thinks that at first. Just keep writing. Don’t stop.
  2. Write down everything that comes to you, no matter how irrelevant it seems. Do you see an image of a baseball or an apple tree? Write it down… “I see a baseball.” Follow that thought as far as you can. Are you hearing words or phrases? Seeing colours? Smelling or tasting something? Did your dog suddenly start barking? Write it all down. These are all messages. Don’t stop trusting. These are messages from the other side. This is the true definition of faith.
  3. The only thing that will stop you from receiving is your own doubts. You will stop yourself a hundred times during this process to indulge your doubts, fears and rationalizations, and that’s OK. Just keep going. Guides and loved ones in the higher realms make an effort to reach us, and our doubts create interference. They need our participation in order to reach us. Ask your guides to help remove your doubts.
  4. Do this exercise for as long as it’s comfortable. When it starts to feel forced, it’s time to stop. You might be able to do this for ten minutes or ten seconds. But if you sincerely want to make contact, you will keep trying and eventually, you will have success.
  5. Sometimes we receive very clear verbal messages… pages and pages of words. And sometimes we receive symbolic messages, like a song or the sound of a train. Write it all down and don’t worry if it doesn’t immediately make sense to you. You can analyze it later. If you receive these things with an open mind and an open heart, they will eventually begin to tell a story.

Trust

  1. You will know that you’re receiving transmissions from The Divine (and communication from the dead) because the words, the writing, the feeling, the energy, will not feel like YOU. It will become automatic. It will flow freely and easily because you’ve taken your fear, ego and personality out of the way. You will absolutely recognize this feeling when it comes. For some people, it happens in seconds. For others, it can take years.
  2. Don’t give up. This is not a special gift. It is your birthright.

Copyright 2007 – Terri Daniel and Danny Mandell

To learn more about after-death communication,
please join us at the annual Afterlife Awareness Conference,
and subscribe to our newsletter, The Afterlife Advocate

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Galactic Gulfs

This was a phrase I read in a Sydney paper to describe one man’s experience of describing his grief following the death of his wife.

Such an interpersonal gulf also applies to many of you as you re-enter your various worlds following the death of your child.

I would argue that is is probably true for families attempting to explain a cancer diagnosis and the treatment experience to their wider world.

In my conversations with palliative and bereaved families, one of the issues that surface frequently is how difficult it can sometimes be to adequately communicate what it is like to be a grieving parent to others.  This is equally true for surviving siblings.

Grief is, for many an overwhelmingly gut-wrenching experience at times…a bit like a being swamped by an emotional tsunami.  When as humans we experience such heartache, we need that heartache to be heard and understood…or at the very least tolerated for what it is.  What we don’t need is silence, irritation, discomfit or mindless platitudes.

Many of you will find yourselves in the position of trying to communicate to extended family or friends what it is like to be heartbroken and to be faced with the challenges of rebuilding our lives.

I was reminded of a piece sent to me a while ago from a mother who had had this type of experience and what she met was advice that she “not do this to her self”, that she should “get on with her life” and to “focus on the surviving children”.

Needless to say, this was not helpful at the time and only served to add to her already existing distress by making her feel even lonelier and more cut off from the rest of the world.  That sense of being ‘different’, of feeling disconnected from the ease of mutual understanding and communication is an experience that many can identify with.

In her distress, she spent time on the internet, exploring some grief websites and found the following lines which gave her comfort at that time.  She thought it might strike the right chord with others and so suggested that it be included.  I know many will resonate with the words.

  • Please don’t ask me if I am over it yet.
  • I will never get over it.
  • Please don’t tell me she (he) is in a better place.
  • She’s (he’s) not here with me.
  • Please don’t say she (he) isn’t suffering any more.
  • I haven’t come to terms with why she (he) had to suffer at all.
  • Please don’t tell me how you feel.
  • Unless you have lost a child the same way.
  • Please don’t ask me if I feel better.
  • Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.
  • Please don’t tell me at least you had her (him) for so many years.
  • What year would you like your loved one to die.
  • Please don’t tell me God never gives more than we can bear.
  • Please just say you are sorry.
  • Please just say you remember my loved one if you do.
  • Please mention my loved one’s name.
  • Please be patient with me when I am sad.
  • Please just let me cry.

Many of us could add many more to the list of do’s and don’ts.

These words, I think, illustrate three very important features of bereavement.

First, that it is not something that people recover from.

Grieving for someone we love ends when we too finally die.

It is a sorrow that is carried as part of oneself, a sorrow that underscores the fragility and preciousness of life and frequently influences in a myriad of ways, the way bereaved people continue into their tomorrows.

It is a process of becoming more familiar with a world that is profoundly changed and moving to a place where, hopefully, the heartache is carried more easily and in a way that permits enjoyment of life again.

Secondly, it describes the fact that while people die…our relationship with them does not.  Children who have died continue to be a part of you and to be part of your lives and remain, someone that you will want to talk about, whose story you will continue to want to share with others.

And thirdly, that communication with the broader social world in which you live can be very challenging at times (the galactic gulf), that language can be limited and that the receptivity and capacity to appropriately respond to another’s pain varies greatly.

Bridging the divide between the world that was and the world that will be, requires the bereaved to re-enter their social worlds – reconnecting with family and friends, developing new relationships perhaps, sometimes distancing or severing some social connections.

Supportive social networks are important to us all.  They are associated with positive mental health and a capacity to manage life crises.  Social support has been defined as feedback from others that one is loved and cared for, esteemed and valued and part of a network of satisfying communications.  Basically, we cope more effectively if we find the social support we need.

For bereaved parents, this will require amongst other things, being able to truthfully acknowledge thoughts and feelings , opportunities to have their changed selves acknowledged and accepted and the freedom to speak freely about ALL their children, both living and deceased.

The death of a child is an unusual event in the society in which we now live and communities are not always familiar with how to respond to the bereaved.

The culture of response tends still to lean towards notions of recovery and closure and a return to normal.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as is so beautifully expressed above.

Bridging the gulf may be difficult but necessary as you re-enter your social worlds, reweaving the web of your daily lives and reestablishing interdependent connections.  This can be comforting and reassuring as it may relieve the isolation of grief…but as observed in the poem, we cannot predict the responses of others and their responses are not within our control and can add to distress.

However, as humans,  we jointly weave our social webs.  By challenging or simply not accepting the platitudes or misguided utterances and providing cues as to “how it really is” we play a role in improving conversations and interactions about love and loss and life after.

blue and purple silk rose flower on pink surface
Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

 

with thanks to Vera Russell Palliative Care/Bereavement Counsellor, a treasured colleague and friend.

 

Conceptualizing Progress in Grief

We often use the simile that grief is like a journey and while grief is a little bit like a journey, it’s not the perfect comparison.  The word ‘journey’ is not quite right because (1) I think it makes grief sound way more exciting than it is and (2) journeys are usually direct and typically have an endpoint.

Grieving is anything but direct and, contrary to what many people believe, it doesn’t follow a specific path or end after an arbitrary amount of time. Grief happens in fits and starts; it’s full of ups and downs, and it requires you to try and try again. Some days, when you’re well rested and confident, you feel as though you have a handle on things and you say to yourself…

“I can do this. I am capable and in control.” 

Other days, when you are weary and tired of the fight, you stumble backward, you stand still, or you manage to move just a few feet in the right direction.  When this happens you say to yourself…

“I’m lost. I don’t know how to find my way. I’m not making much progress. I feel broken. I’ll never be whole again.”

When something evolves as clumsily and slowly as grief, it can be really hard to visualize progress.  On a day-to-day basis you don’t feel any different, “better”, or “normal” and this perceived lack of improvement can feel very frustrating and defeating. But could it be that you aren’t giving yourself enough credit for the strides you’ve made?


How you measure up, depends on how you measure.

Something we often caution grieving people to be mindful of is their perspective.  It seems like such a small thing, but the way you conceptualize yourself, the world, and others in the context of life after a loss can have a big impact on how you feel.  This is true in many instances, but particularly when thinking about personal progress in grief. Why? Because when thinking about adjustment and progress in grief, people often make the mistake of comparing themselves to their “best” or “ideal selves”.


In this instance, your “best” or “ideal self” may be based on a number of things:

1. The person you were before the loss: Even though you might intellectually know you will never be the “same”, it’s hard not to think back and idealize the person you were before your loved one died and before you felt ravaged by the effects of grief.

In your mind’s eye, the person you were “before” may seem more whole, unbroken, radiant, happy, and fulfilled. This person is such a far cry from the one you’ve become since you stopped showering and wearing real clothes, and also since you allowed that bird to build a nest in your hair.  Okay so this is a complete exaggeration, but sometimes we (as people) are truly that unkind to our self-perception.

2. How you believe you should feel based on assumptions and expectations you hold: Before experiencing grief you likely had at least a few assumptions about (1) what grief looks and feels like and (2) your ability to handle emotional distress and hardship. But as we’ve heard many people say about the experience of grief: “Nothing prepares you for it”. 

Many people find themselves blindsided by how different grief is from what they expected. It would be great if everyone responded to this unanticipated reality by saying to themselves, “Grief is harder than I thought.” Sadly though, many people continue to put stock in their expectations and instead say to themselves, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I handle this? Why am I not coping better?”

3. How people literally say you should be: Sad but true, some people may judge the speed of your grieving.  Comments and expectations from others can cause you to question yourself and can make you feel confused, ashamed, embarrassed, alienated, and many other things.  Even though grieving at your own pace is okay, regardless of whether that pace is ‘head on’ or ‘slow and steady’, pressure from others can make you question the progress you’ve made.


Needless to say, comparing yourself to your “best” or “ideal self” works against you.

Looking towards a non-existent endpoint, or staying focused on a mythical future-you, keeps only what you haven’t accomplished in view.  It’s good to have realistic goals and hopes for the future, but be careful not to compare yourself to unrealistic ideals and ignore the many gains (I’m certain) you’ve made.12-e1473171171808-1024x553

Instead, if you truly want to gauge your progress, you should compare yourself to your start point (i.e. your worst) rather than your best. This is the only way to have a proper perspective on what you’ve accomplished and to accurately see how far you’ve come. Even on days when you feel completely lost in your grief, if you look back to the beginning you will likely see that you are doing better than you were (unless some overlapping or subsequent setback has gotten in the way).

Grief is something you learn to live with day by day. Every time you push yourself to do something like getting out of bed, face something you fear, sit with a painful emotion, engage in self-care, actively cope with your loss, honour your loved one…and the list goes on…you should say to yourself “good job”.  You should feel proud of yourself for every small step you make because healing from grief isn’t the result of smoothly navigating a journey. Healing from grief is what happens when you get up each day and decide to keep walking.

 

13-e1473171227602-1024x537whatsyourgrief.com

the heart of the matter

Shared at Su’s request, words to ponder. ❤  Andrew Codling

mini red hearts wallpaper
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

After spending some time with friends, I reflected upon the values that truly mean something.
” In the end, it is how generous you were with your heart, that matters.
One day, when all your earthly possessions have no use to you, you will reflect upon the life you led.
There are many paths to happiness, and the path you choose will be filled with distractions, like wealth, adoration, greed, envy, anger, the list is varied and long.
When you meet these distractions, do not feed too heartily from their plate, for they will never satisfy you, they will offer temporary relief to you, but you will be left hungry and wanting more.
You see, the distractions that truly fill you up, are not those that feed the mind, but are those that feed the soul, like love, compassion, kindness, humility and charity.
These are the attributes that you take with you on the great journey, and when the mirror of your soul reflects these back to you, you’ll feel pride in seeing these aspects of yourself reflected back to you.
It’s not wrong to submit to the material world, it’s necessary in order to survive, but it is right to find balance, and in doing so, we can feel truly fulfilled, and then we are better placed to serve not only others, but also ourselves, and with greater purpose.
To truly give of yourself, is to grow and nurture your own spirituality, and this we can do, irrespective of our means.
Because, in the end, it is how generous you were with your heart, that matters “

When a sibling dies

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland
It has been said that “death ends a life, it does not end a relationship.

This statement is perhaps especially true when a sibling dies in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.  An untimely death whose ripple effects may continue long after the farewell at the funeral or graveside.

Sibling relationships have attributes in common with all interpersonal relationships.  They also have specific unique features that reflect a special bond.

It has been suggested that siblings are likely to spend more of their lifespans with each other than with any other family member.

Siblings may use each other as significant influences, ‘benchmarks’ in the development of self- identity and understanding of the world.  Siblings play a crucial role in the development of identity.  Their relationships help define one another.

Consequently when a sibling dies, the surviving child or adolescent loses many things…a playmate, a confidante, a role model, and a friend…even someone to argue with and someone with whom they can  ‘gang up’ against parents.

Perhaps someone to grow old with, look after aging parents together.  They lose a shared history and future, a feeling of connectedness and shared activities.

The identity of siblings is frequently so intricately connected with the death of a sibling it may feel like the death of a part of themselves.  The grief of young people may at times be minimised, overlooked or misinterpreted.

The familiar pattern of their lives as for adults is forever changed.  They may feel inexpressively lonely and lost.  They may also feel regret and guilt, as adults sometimes do, wishing they had done things differently.

Life views may be challenged, e.g. that only old people die, that adults can always make things better and keep everyone safe.  It can be very unsettling for young folk and they, like adults, need time and help to relearn their new world.

How each child or adolescent responds to the death of a sibling will be influenced by a range of factors, including their age, their gender, previous experience of loss, the reactions of adults around them, individual personality, the nature of the death and the nature of the relationship they experienced with the child who has died.

It is difficult, in the early months, to feel connected to someone who is no longer physically present.  There may be for older children and adolescents, an expressed fear of ‘forgetting’.  The permanence of a ‘heart connection’ seems less than a physical presence, a person that can be touched and loved, played with and kissed.  Children and adolescents, like adults, may like to surround themselves with photos or mementos to trigger and reinforce the strength of memories.

“Eventually and gradually, there is a growing knowledge that those who have died are, always have been, and always will be a part of who we are, that no-one can take from us what we carry within.” (Dianne McKissock)

In years past, it was thought that we need to ‘leave things/people behind’, and ‘get on with our lives’.  Nothing could be further from the natural inclinations of most bereaved people, for whom ‘leaving behind’ is a most painful concept.

Current understandings about grief and the task of readjusting to a world forever changed, place more emphasis on the natural human tendency to want to stay connected in some way, to take those who have died with us into our tomorrows, albeit in a different way.

It is now more widely accepted that maintaining an ongoing connection and relationship with the person who is died is often an integral part of a healthy and successful readjustment.

For years following the death, many siblings may report that they continue to actively miss their deceased brother or sister and often experience renewed and intense grief on occasions that would be considered significant in their lives together (e.g. graduation, births, weddings, retirement, special birthdays).  Surviving siblings continually renegotiate their ‘relationship’ with their deceased sibling as they navigate successive developmental and life stages.

The whole family is heartbroken and disrupted by the death of a child.  The family, as individuals and as a unit, must restructure and readjust.  How parents model managing their grief will influence how surviving children manage.

Open communication, a sense of togetherness and parental support is crucial as is the help received from extended family and friends.

The impact of a child’s death is pervasive.  As with adults, not all children and adolescents react in the same way.

Some points to consider:

  • Children are less likely to be able to describe their emotions and/or reactions.  They show their hurt in other ways, e.g. crying, withdrawing, seeking attention, misbehaving, complaining of aches and pains, picking fights, arguing, having nightmares.
  • Age and development significantly influence a young person’s ability to understand death.  Adults with all their life experience and complete development will frequently feel overwhelmed by the enormity and finality of death.  It, therefore, can become puzzling and confusing for children.
  • A sense of normalcy is lost.  Bereaved children may feel very different from their peers:  the family may feel different.
  • At times children may feel that the child who has died was the preferred or favourite child, mainly as they observe parents become preoccupied or all consumed by their grief.
  • Sometimes the child who dies is idealised, their admirable qualities emphasised and surviving siblings may feel inadequate in comparison.
  • Often the rest of the world asks how the parents are doing, not recognising or validating the grief of surviving children.  Siblings work through their pain in bits and pieces.  Play, school and continuing normal activities are powerful tools that help children and adolescents manage by moderating their grief, allowing them a chance ‘to be normal’.
  • Children and adolescents will reprocess the death and its impact over time as they mature and develop.
  • Some siblings are not verbal in expressing their thoughts and feelings.  They may choose not to talk much about their sibling who has died.  Sometimes, protectively, they may choose not to talk to parents and may turn to others instead.
  • Life for adults, ‘sibling’ memories may be triggered by places, objects and songs.  It is important to prepare siblings for these experiences and let them know this is normal.  It may even be useful to share your own parental triggers.
  • Many children report thinking about their sibling at special family times.  It may be helpful to anticipate this beforehand and talk about these important life events and the absence everyone feels.
  • Children may be encouraged to carry their sibling’s photograph or other small link that brings a touch of comfort.
  • Many children continue to talk to their sibling quietly internally.
  • Some prefer to start journals.

There are no right or wrong, “set’ ways to foster a sense of connectedness.  Rather an atmosphere of tolerance, encouragement and open communication are most likely to enable bereaved siblings to find personal and special ways to stay connected to their brother or sisters.

It is important to note that as this is a process that changes and evolves over a lifetime as do the needs of the grieving child.

A child who dies remains an integral part of an individual’s and a family’s past and present.  The bond in future will of course be different with change and the challenge for survivors is how to be and act in a world without those we love by our side in the physical.

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Thanks to my good friend and colleague Vera Russell.

Complicated Grief

What is Complicated Grief?
April 29, 2018 By Rev. Terri Daniel, MA, CT

The term “complicated grief” is greatly misunderstood by the bereaved, in large part because the word “complicated” has recently become a pop culture buzzword. Many people have said to me, “ALL grief is complicated,” which is evidence of this misunderstanding. Because all grief is NOT complicated. The majority of people move toward restoration and healing in an expected, healthy — non-complicated — manner. So what does complicated mean in this context?
Think of it this way… you’ve heard of medical procedures that have “complications” when something doesn’t go as expected; something interferes with the expected trajectory of healing. In bereavement, a person is supposed to adapt and adjust to their new reality over time. But if the person feels/functions exactly the same way three years after the loss as he/she did three weeks after the loss, there is a complication.
Complicated grief is also known as “prolonged mourning disorder” or PGD, which I think is a much better way to describe it.
It is normal and expected that we will grieve and feel deep pain when we have a loss, but it is also normal to eventually find peace again. The process of healing depends on many factors, including:
. The relationship with the deceased (spouse, child, etc)
. The type of loss (violent, traumatic, illness, expected vs. unexpected, etc)
. The innate psychological make-up of the griever
. The quality of one’s family and community support
. Whether the death is socially acceptable
. Belief systems that can undermine healing

These are very brief descriptions and broad generalizations (for the sake of brevity).
You can learn more by reading this article from Psychology Today. If you’re interested in a more in-depth academic analysis, take a look at my 2018 essay on complicated grief.
In the last 40 years there has been a wave of new academic and medical research on grief, and we’ve also learned a lot from looking at how other cultures work with grief (thanks to mass media and the internet). Based on this information, we know that although the grief experience is different for everybody, there is a more or less normative trajectory for regaining equilibrium after a loss. When a person does not follow that trajectory, there are “complications,” and that is when help — such as counseling — is needed.
Important to note… grief counseling is a very specialized field, and most therapists and counselors are not specifically trained in that area. If you are considering counseling, please make sure the provider has specific training and experience with grief and trauma.

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Terri has very kindly given me permission to reprint her post.  She can be contacted through the following address.

Rev. Terri Daniel, MA, CT
http://www.AfterlifeConference.com

The psychology Today article can be found here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-hardy/201309/about-complicated-bereavement-disorder-0

Please also refer to Repair and Reattachment Grief Therapy at this url:  https://www.rochellewright.com/

 

 

 

worth saying again…

This piece of writing about grief that circulates from time to time is worth repeating if only for those who have not seen it, or who have found their circumstances irrevocably changed.

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Please don’t ask me if I am over it yet.

I’ll never get over it.

Please don’t tell me she (he) is in a better place.

She’s (He’s) not here with me.

Please don’t say she (he) isn’t suffering anymore.

I haven’t come to terms with why she (he) had to suffer at all.

Please don’t tell me how you feel.

Unless you’ve lost someone in the same way.

Please don’t ask me if I feel better.

Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.

Please don’t tell me at least you had her (him) for so many years.

What year would you like your loved one to die?

Please don’t tell me God never gives us more than we can bear.

Please just say you are sorry.

Please just say you remember my loved one if you do.

Please mention my loved one’s name.

Please be patient with me when I am sad.

Please just let me be free to be my changing self.

Please just let me cry.

 

These words, I think, illustrate two very important features of bereavement.

First, that it is not something that people recover from.  Rather it is a process of becoming.  Becoming more familiar with a world that has profoundly changed and my moving to a place where the heart-ache is carried more easily and in a way that permits enjoyment of life again.

Secondly, it describes the fact that while people die and are physically absent…our relationship to them does not die.  Children who have died continue to be a part of their families in ways that continue to evolve over our lifetime.   They remain loved ones that families want to talk about, whose stories they will continue to want to share with others and with whom they will maintain a deep and abiding eternal connection.

 

Time and Grief

Most bereaved people are on the receiving end, at some time or other, of comments that suggest that ‘time will heal all wounds’ or encouragement such as, ‘you’ll be fine in a while ‘ or ‘just give it time’.

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Equally, they are frequently on the receiving end of misunderstandings about how long it may take to become familiar with a world profoundly and forever altered and not of their own choosing.

The suggestion that time heals, in my view, does an enormous disservice to the hard work and sometimes overwhelming effort that bereaved people make to adapt to their changed circumstances after the death of a loved one.   It gives time some kind of active participation in the process and makes bereaved people appear to be the passive recipients of time’s healing efforts.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Time is simply something that is measured by clocks and calendars.

It is a convention to measure existence.  Our perception of time is a fluid thing.  Time can go slowly or quickly even seem to ‘stand still.’  We talk about things being timeless.  We can recall things in our past and they can feel as fresh as yesterday or a very long time ago.

However we may understand time, I would suggest it is not an entity that can ‘do’ things.  To suggest that it works on human heartache in a positive healing way is to deny the very active nature of grieving and rebuilding our lives after a death.

The old saying “time heals all wounds” is simply not true.

Parents do not ‘get over’ the death of their child.  There is no amount of time that can pass that will alter the fact that their child has died and that they must continue to live with this unchanging reality.  Time does not stop the ache in hearts nor does it erase the missing of those we love.

Notions of time do however play a part in the grieving process.

Initially for many time will stand still…the rest of the world seems to be getting on with things while the life of the bereaved seems to have stopped.    People often comment on how their sense of time seems distorted.  It can feel like yesterday or forever ago since they did a particular thing.  The death can seem incredibly fresh and yet it can be years since it occurred.

I suspect that this may be because the intensity of grief in the early weeks, with its capacity to fill every available bit of one’s being, carries with it an inability to connect to calendar time – the passage of hours, days, weeks and months seem completely irrelevant.

Once time stops standing still, so to speak, bereaved people may not think much beyond the present day and the recent past.  It is too overwhelming to think about days beyond because that would mean thinking about a future that does not include their child.

Thinking about the recent past generally involves thinking about all that led up to the death as well as focusing on memories so as not to forget.  It is exquisitely painful to think about the many years ahead.  For quite a long time it is simply not possible to think too far ahead.

However, gradually and with tiny baby steps, those who are heartbroken do start to function again.  It becomes possible again to do the shopping, cook meals, go out, take care of surviving children etc.  Time does not do this…YOU DO and frequently with an enormously huge effort.

However, time does provide a different vantage point that enables people to look back and acknowledge the ways in which they have moved from how they were in the beginning, how they may be different in terms of thinking, feeling and doing.  This awareness may boost confidence about survivability and may herald the beginning of regaining a sense of mastery and control over overwhelming thoughts and feelings.

Many of us recognise that after a while, the time in between moments of overwhelming sorrow becomes longer and the time spent feeling overwhelmed becoming shorter.

I would suggest that it is not the passage of time that does this but your own greater familiarity with your grief, your own better ability to ensure breaks from pain and your own greater ability to re-engage with life within your broader social world.  Such capacities usually occur against a background of learning to live with the experience and discovering ways to build a life around the pain of loss.

All of these abilities are actively engaged in by those bereaved, not always consciously, but nevertheless by the bereaved.

I, as a professional Social Worker, Psychotherapist and bereaved mother of an only child am privy to the painstaking struggle that families make to reconnect with life and rebuild their lives.  Time alone does not do this!!!  To think that it does is to take away acknowledgement of all the hard work and frequently painful work done by individuals and families.

As families engage in the tough task of rebuilding, they are further subjected to time constraints placed on them by the outside world.

Most of us have had experiences where others clearly underestimate the amount of time it takes to rebuild and in particular, the time that people continue to feel sad.

We allow more time for people to adapt to workplace change or moving house than we do for grieving people becoming accustomed to a profoundly changed world.

Family and friends, perhaps especially after the death of a child, are often very attentive and caring in the beginning.

For many, such support tends to diminish before the bereaved stop needing it.  Friends and families may think and some directly say it, that it’s time to move on, that you need to get over it, that you have the rest of your lives to think about, other children to pay attention to etc etc

Others may give various forms of “hurry-up” messages.  They want the bereaved person get back to normal and to do so fairly quickly.  Our broader society supports and encourages this notion of a speedy return to pre-existing normalcy as if that were possible.

Bereaved people very simply need to be allowed more TIME to adapt and regenerate.  Time is not the prime ‘doer’…..it is the context within which all grieving and mourning and rebuilding take place.

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with thanks to my colleague Vera Russell