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Contents Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii

1. It’s Their Loss, Too: Letting Children Grieve. . . . . 1 What is your first death memory? . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Is one loss worse than another?. . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 How much does it hurt?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 How can our own memories help our children?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Where does faith fit in?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 What’s the difference between grief and mourning?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

2.  hat Children Need to Know: Explaining W Death and Dying. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 How do we help children grasp the reality of loss? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 What does it mean when you die? . . . . . . . . . . 27 How much do children really understand? . . . 29 How can we talk with our children about death?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 How do we manage that first good-bye?. . . . . . 34 vii


3.  Shoulder to Lean On: Supporting A Our Children As They Deal with Their Emotions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 What are normal reactions to death?. . . . . . . . 50 What emotions often accompany grief?. . . . . . 52 How do children of different ages respond?. . . 58 What attitude in the parent is most helpful to the child?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64

4.  one Forever: Helping Children Adjust to G Permanent Loss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 How can we help our children adjust?. . . . . . . 78 Where do we begin?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 What are some issues that hamper adjustment?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83 How long will it take?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87

5. When the Time Is Right: Learning to Start Over 97 Can we help our children learn to live again?. . 101 How can we make our kids feel safe?. . . . . . . 103 How do we set examples of healthy behavior? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 When will our children step out of their grief? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107

viii


6.  hen the Unthinkable Happens: Guiding W Our Children through Traumatic Loss. . . . . . . . 115 Suicide: Do we have to talk about it?. . . . . . . 118 Homicide: How will our children react?. . . . . 120 Rampage killings and other tragedies: Can our children find healing after violence?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122 Miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death: Will our children understand?. . . . . . . . . . . . 129 What should we do when a child is dying?. . 131 When is it OK to cut and run?. . . . . . . . . . . . 136

7.  atch, Listen, and Learn: Respecting W Our Children’s Grief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143 What can we learn from our children’s grief? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148 What do children hear?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151 How does grief evolve?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153 Are we open or closed to our children?. . . . . 156 What do we say? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158

ix


8. S piritual Support: Managing the Role of Faith in Grieving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167

Do our children have faith?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171

Where was God? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

What is heaven?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175 How do we help a teenager’s grief?. . . . . . . . 178 What is the role of ritual and community? . . 179

9.  ays to Remember: Ritual and the W Creation of Memories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187 How young is too young?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191 How do we prepare our children before they attend a wake or funeral?. . . . . . . . . . . . 195 How can we make the funeral service a meaningful experience for our children? . . . . 198 How will attending the burial or cremation service affect the grieving process?. . . . . . . . . 199

Resources for Healing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211




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It’s Their Loss, Too: Letting Children Grieve • What is your first death memory? • Is one loss worse than another? • How much does it hurt? • How can our own memories help our children? • Where does faith fit in? • What’s the difference between grief and mourning?


It’s Their Loss, Too

When someone you care about dies, it’s very sad. There will be tears, but tears can be good. Michaelene Mundy, Sad Isn’t Bad I was only five years old when my grandfather died of a heart attack in a local bowling alley. I remember that October day like it was yesterday. I can see myself sitting in the backseat of my grandmother’s big white car as she drove up to the front of her house, only to find a priest and the next-door neighbors waiting outside on the porch. It’s a wonderfully vivid memory. Unfortunately, none of it is true. It is the creation of a child’s imagination, an imagination that was left to make its own memories when there wasn’t enough reality to explain the confusion and sadness all around. My grandfather’s death was a mystery to me. One day he was there—pushing me in my swing in the willow tree in his backyard, teasing me relentlessly as we ate lunch together, convincing me that the booming thunder that sent me running to his big, brown armchair was God bowling in the attic. The next day he was gone. No one gave me any details. No one told me what was happening. All I knew was that now when I knelt down to say my prayers before bed, I asked God to bless Grandpa in heaven, instead of plain old Grandpa. But heaven can be a pretty hard concept to grasp, especially when you’re five years old and the only loss you’ve




Parenting a Grieving Child

experienced is watching your best friend move away. I didn’t know where heaven was or what it meant that my grandfather was going there. Since I wasn’t allowed to attend his wake or funeral, I never really understood that he was gone for good. For a couple of years after his death, I expected him to show up in church on Sunday. I knew that my family had gone there to say good-bye, so it seemed only logical that he would return there eventually. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize that the big, gray stone at the cemetery, the one engraved with praying hands and my last name, was his grave. I was seven years old when it finally dawned on me that Grandpa wasn’t coming back on Sunday morning or any other day. When my own mother died of cancer twenty years later, my aunt asked me if she should allow my five-year-old cousin to attend the wake and funeral. I told her about my experience and encouraged her to let him go if that was what he wanted. The result was truly an eye-opener for me. Not only did Gregory want to go to the wake, he actually ended up being a comfort to the adults around him. I remember how he bravely walked up to the casket with my Aunt Margaret at his side. He looked at my mother and told my tearful aunt, “Don’t cry, Mommy. Aunt Irene is happy now.” It was all the proof I needed to convince me that children cannot be separated from the grieving process. They are aware of the sadness and mourning around them when someone dies, and they need to understand the reason for that sadness if they are ever going to move beyond it and begin to heal. 


It’s Their Loss, Too

Although I had put all of those family memories on the shelf for quite some time, I had always wanted to explore them more thoroughly and find a way to help parents walk their children through the rocky terrain of death, grief, and mourning. That is how this book was born.

S What is your first death memory? When was the first time you were exposed to death? Was it a friend, a relative, someone who was part of your daily life, or a distant uncle you hardly knew? For some children it is the loss of a sibling that turns life upside down. For others it is the death of an aged grandparent, an ill parent, a beloved friend, or a faithful pet. Children are deeply affected by the death of a loved one, regardless of who it is or how it happens. Although different kinds of deaths may cause different kinds of reactions, no loss is ever easy. Depending on a child’s age and the kind of relationship she had with the deceased, grief reactions can range from mild sadness to physical illness to powerful shifts toward aggressive behavior or complete withdrawal. Any loss can be a major loss to a child. Although I never said a word to my parents, as a child I secretly wondered about my grandfather’s disappearance from my life. I overheard stories that scared me and fed my imagi-nation. There were tales of relatives fainting at the 


$12.95 U.S.

Hope, help, and healing for grieving children My grandfather’s death was a mystery to me. One day he was there . . . the next day he was gone. All I knew was that now when I knelt down to say my prayers before bed, I asked God to bless Grandpa in heaven. But heaven can be a pretty hard concept to grasp, especially when you are five years old. I didn’t know where heaven was or what it meant to go there.

S “. . . a breath of fresh air in the genre of grief and grieving. This is a work that grasps the reader's attention from the get-go and never lets up.” —Ron Wooten-Green, author, When the Dying Speak “One of the most informative working tools for parents who are struggling to help their child cope with grief. I highly recommend it as a practical ‘how-to’ guide for bereaved families as well as professionals working in this field.” —Susan P. Cox, executive director, For the Love of Christi, Inc.

Mary DeTurris Poust is an award-winning freelance writer and columnist with eighteen years experience. Her writing focuses on family life issues and has been widely published in national media. She lives with her husband and children in upstate New York.

ISBN 0-8294-1527-0 00000

9

780829 415278

Parenting a Grieving Child faith, hope, and healing

In this practical, faith-based guide for parents of grieving children, DeTurris Poust seeks to help parents deal with the mystery and confusion surrounding death and grief. Through the wisdom of seasoned parents and advice from professionals, DeTurris Poust offers strategies for leading children successfully through the grieving process toward healing and happiness.

DeTURRIS POUST

Spirituality/Death & Dying


Parenting a Grieving Child  

Teaching children how to deal with death can be a difficult process, but it can be made easier by following certain guidelines. In Parenting...

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