Tools That Equip Children to Handle Loss

Loss is the price we pay for loving. Given the benefits of loving others, we are typically willing to risk loss to love someone. We do not anticipate loss when we begin to love someone, but in this life, loss is inevitable.

Several years ago a longevity study was conducted, and the only common link that could be found to explain why people live as long as they do was how the people handled loss. If children do not experience consequences and are not allowed to feel loss if it occurs, they may not develop the depth of character that could best serve them in life.


  1. Believe that children grieve losses

  2. Adults often have the urge to protect children from the pain of loss, and this can translate to a child’s feeling that he or she is not being heard or validated. I heard a dear man pray once to “protect these children from pain” when a child had been killed, and his friends were hurting because he was not in school or in the neighborhood to play. The truth is that these children needed to acutely feel their pain. They had loved this child, and they felt bad that he had died. Feeling bad is appropriate after the death of someone we love.

    More appropriately, his prayer may have been, “help these children bear the pain they feel because someone they loved has gone and will not return to them.” In that prayer is the validation that love hurts when there is loss associated with it.


    • When a child expresses feelings related to a loss, listen without judging or trying to change the child’s mind.
    • Tell childred it is okay to feel bad or sad when something bad or sad happens, rather than trying to move them quickly to feeling better.
    • Be honest about a loss. Trying to keep information from children is more harmful than giving them information at a level they can understand.
    • Allow children to ask any question they desire related to matters happening in their life. “I don’t know” is an appropriate answer to some questions.
    • Remember children know more than you think they do about what is going on around them.
  3. Acknowledge loss in a child’s life

  4. The death of a pet, a move, a friend moving away, a divorce, and other losses cause a child to grieve. If a child is companioned through his/her grief, he/she will learn how to mourn losses.

    Jennifer’s gerbil died, and her mother participated in the funeral service for the gerbil that her daughter planned. There were hymns, eulogies, and sharing of good memories about this really good gerbil that had been a part of their family. Jennifer was not discouraged in her need to say goodbye to her pet with ritual.

    John James and Russell Friedman suggest when there is a move from one house to another, the family has a ritual to say goodbye to the old house. Frequently, adults expect children to be excited about a move when the children feel the loss of familiar surroundings, the loss of their neighborhood friend, etc. By going room to room and remembering times spent there, a family can help each member to deal with the emotions of leaving a place they love.


    • Don’t assume you know how your children feel.
    • Take time to discuss events in your children’s lives and ask them to teach you how they view this event.
    • Don’t rush your children to some happy conclusion.
    • Give your children opportunity for ritual goodbyes.
  5. Model appropriate expression of feelings

  6. I often hear adults say that they hide from their children when they cry so that the children will think the adults are “okay.” Children often tell me they know their parents are crying. Children are remarkably astute when it comes to knowing what is going on in a situation of loss.

    A parent told a grief group coordinator not to tell her child that his father had committed suicide. She had told him that the father died in a car accident. The child told his grief group that his mother believed that his father had died in a car accident, but he really had committed suicide. It was a great relief to this child to be able to be truthful and express his honest feelings of grief.

    Other parents will turn to professionals for help getting their child to express emotions. When asked if they show their emotions to the child, the parents admit they shield the child from their own expressions of grief. Children need reassurance that expressing sadness and other feelings is normal and should hear “we’re going to be okay even though we are sad.”


    • When loss occurs in the family, express your feelings in front of your children, while assuring them you and they are going to be okay.
    • Use language that will teach children healthy expression of feelings.
    • Be honest about what has occurred so that you don’t have to change your story, ever.
    • Get support or treatment for yourself if necessary.
  7. Encourage ritual

  8. Our society does not have a great deal of ritual. In Victorian times, there were strict rituals observed by grieving people. They wore black for a year and avoided any social engagements. Anyone could recognize that a person was grieving. Today, no such rituals dictate to us.

    We believe that children benefit from participating in funeral and memorial rituals. They often tell of feeling angry when they are left out of these important times that mark the life of the person they loved. Children can be asked to what degree they would like to be included in the funeral or memorial of a loved one. They can be included in passing out memorial programs, speaking, reading, etc.


    • Understand that ritual is important.
    • Believe that it is good for children to participate in rituals, such as funerals and memorials, whatever their age. They need opportunity to say goodbye, too.
    • Allow older children to help plan rituals, including holidays.
    • Increase the number of rituals, ceremonies and celebrations in your family.

by Vicki Straughan, LMSW

Learn more about GriefWorks, our support groups for children and teens, or our adult grief support group Love Never Dies by calling 972-960-9981 or filling out our contact form.

5 Grief Principles

  1. Grief is the normal response to loss.

  2. Grief and its pain are the results of the love or emotional investment you have in the person who died. If you did not love them and they did not make a difference in your life, you would not miss them or hurt like you do now. Grief is the price we pay for loving people who are important to us.

    Often mourners try to avoid grief and its accompanying emotions because they are overwhelming and just too painful. Since grief emotions are the result of loving the person who died, the only way to avoid the pain would be to avoid or stop loving them. Think of grief as another expression of the love you have for the person. You don’t want to stop loving them. So you wouldn’t want to stop expressing that love in the normal, natural process of grief.

  3. Emotions experienced during grief are neither good nor bad. They just are.

  4. Although grief emotions are painful and uncomfortable, they are part of the grief process. Grief is a transition from life with the person to life without the person. The painful, emotional process helps us to heal the emotional wounds of our loss. In grief you cannot always choose or control what you feel. Emotions in grief seem to just happen to you. Although you don’t choose what grief emotions you experience, you can choose how you express those emotions in your behavior (mourning). You can choose to express those emotions in either healthy or unhealthy ways.

  5. Grief emotions will be dealt with…either now or later.

  6. The emotions of grief will not be ignored or avoided. They demand that you as a mourner acknowledge and express them in some way. The best outcome is when the mourner acknowledges the emotion(s), expresses the feelings and seeks the help and support of sympathetic, non-judgmental listeners.

    If grief emotions go unexpressed over a period of time, two things can happen to the mourner – he or she will either explode or implode. In an explosion of withheld emotions, the mourner can go out of control with a reaction that harms or destroys lives, friendships, marriages, families and peoples’ spiritual well-being. An implosion caused by withheld emotions can bring about emotional meltdowns or what used to be called “nervous breakdowns” for the mourner (including results such as chronic depression and severe mental/emotional disorders).

  7. Grief is an individualized experience. Everyone does not grieve in the same predictable way.

  8. No two people grieve exactly alike. That is because each person’s grief is shaped by the unique, one-of-a-kind in all the universe relationship that they had with the person who died. Although there may be common feelings or experiences that many mourners experience and express, every mourner’s grief is special to him or her.

    Grief is not a set of predictable phases, steps or tasks that must be completed in a specific order and by a prescribed timetable. Grief takes as long as it takes. To some degree, you will mourn the loss the rest of your life. The difficult, exhaustive work of grief is to review the loss, to assess the impact the loss has had on your life and to decide how best to live your life without that person.

    Living without the person does not mean “detaching” from them or “letting go” of the relationship. In life after loss, you still have a relationship with your loved one. It is just not the same any more in that the physical aspect of the relationship in this life has ended. You can still keep a relationship with your loved one alive on a spiritual and emotional level. You don’t have to leave your loved one in the past and move on. You can take your loved one with you into the future as long as you accept that the relationship continues but the nature of the relationship has changed.

  9. Grief will not always be like it is in the beginning. As time passes the grief experience changes.

  10. Time does not heal all wounds, but in grief time can allow space for the emotional wounds of loss to heal and for the heart to find hope. In the beginning, grief is all-consuming and overwhelming. Everything is a memory of your loved one and a reminder of your loss. But time allows you to have hope for and healing in your future. As you take on the task of grief work and you progress through grief, the bad emotional days happen less and less and farther and farther apart. In the future your grief will not be like it is right now. You will still grieve, but your grief will be different. Maybe not better, just different than it is right now. There can be hope and healing in your grief journey with healthy decisions.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT

To be successful in your grief process, now is the time to make some important decisions that will help you to mourn in a healthy way. If you would like to talk with a Christian counselor to plan a healthy journey into grief, call CounselingWorks at 972-960-9981 or fill out our contact form. Individual grief counseling and adult grief support groups are available.

If you have children ages 5-18 who are sharing this grief journey with you, consider enrolling your family in GriefWorks, a children’s grief support group program that meets two evenings a month. Your children will be in age-specific groups with other children who have suffered losses. There your children will find a safe, confidential and healthy place to express themselves and their grief. For more information, call GriefWorks at 972-960-9981 or fill out our contact form.

Children, Grief, You and the Holidays

A young mother whose son was killed in a fire started by outdoor Christmas lights expressed her fear of the upcoming first Christmas following his death. She did not have the energy to carry on as usual, and she was getting messages from the family that they expected her to do just that. Through grief support, she was able to adapt her holidays to fit her and her surviving child’s needs. She needed permission to change the routine because she felt the old routine would be too painful. She chose to go away for the holidays and reported a surprising success of getting through them. She also gained hope that one day she might be able to enjoy the holidays again because she felt empowered to be in control of how she celebrated, if she celebrated.

Following the death of a loved one, there are many firsts. One of the most difficult firsts can be the holidays. The following are some thoughts on how to help your family cope through the holiday season.

Caring For Grieving Children

  • Prepare children for changes in routine. It is perfectly acceptable to make changes in holiday routines, perhaps even preferable, but remember to prepare children well in advance for changes to holiday traditions.
  • Include children and teens in planning. A family meeting to decide what changes will be appropriate for celebrating the holidays can alleviate a child’s feeling of being left out.
  • If a child appears to need extra reassurance during the holidays, remember they may have feelings of sadness, guilt, etc. that they are struggling with.
  • Children may “regress” (find comfort in earlier behaviors) during the stress of the holidays.
  • Children need opportunities to express their feelings and fears. Plan a ritual for remembering your loved one around the holiday season.
  • Plan some extra time to spend one on one with your children during the holidays.
  • Don’t let the world dictate your schedule.

Caring For Yourself

  • You are the best person to know what you need to care for yourself. Be kinder to yourself than you have ever been during the holiday season.
  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve OR to spend the holidays. Choose activities or solitude based on your needs.
  • Watch out for over-commitment during the holidays. Say “no.”
  • Treat yourself.
  • Give yourself credit for accomplishing the “firsts” as they come along.
  • Be with people you want to spend time with. Say “no” to those you feel would need more energy than you have to give.

Remember Your Loved One

  • Buy a gift for your loved one. Give it to someone who needs it. You will receive twice the pleasure. (This may be too difficult for someone whose loss is recent.)
  • Donate money to a special cause in your loved one’s name or volunteer your time and/or talents.
  • Contribute a poinsettia to your church sanctuary (or to a local nursing home or school) in your loved one’s name.
  • Talk about the deceased with those you are comfortable sharing.
  • Plan a time for remembering. Set a place for them at the table, hang a stocking, retell stories of them.

Anniversary Dates

  • An anniversary of the death of a loved one can cause anxiety and stress, which are normal grief reactions.
  • Give yourself permission to feel your own feelings about the day and plan how you want to spend your time.
  • Remember that anticipation is sometimes worse than going through the actual day.
  • Don’t allow others to dictate the extent to which you observe the day.

GriefWorks is a free grief support group program for children ages five to eighteen that have experienced the death of someone close to them. Love Never Dies is a faith-based support group for adults who are grieving.

8 Steps to Companioning

The following was presented at the Greenville Avenue Church of Christ Bible Teachers Workshop, in the session Ministering with Compassion. The philosophy of companioning is the work of Alan Wolfelt Ph.D. and has been adapted from Dr. Wolfelt’s writings by Greg Yoder, MC, LPC, CT. Slight adaptations of Mr. Yoder’s work was done by Vicki Straughan, LMSW, for the purposes of adapting the tenets to a ministry setting.

Honor all parts of a human being, the nonphysical (the emotion, personality, spirituality, intellect) as evidenced by love of or passion for any aspect of life.

  1. Companioning is not about focusing on intellect

    • Faith, a spiritual walk, religion, philosophy
    • Love of people, relationships and work
    • Devotion to service, dedication to family
    • Sense of humor and playfulness
    • Creative gifts and interests
    • Reverence for nature
    • A hunger for learning
  2. Companioning is more about curiosity; it is less about our expertise

    • Those we support are the experts on their experience
    • Being too attached to our expertise may estrange us from those we wish to serve
    • “Teach me…”
    • Earn the right to offer advice, guidance or direction
  3. Companioning is about walking alongside; Less about leading or being led

    • Key is to “invite” others to take a step toward what might be important
    • No judgment
    • No expectation
    • No pushing or pulling to some prescribed outcome for the convenience of others
  4. Companioning is about being still; Not always about urgent movement forward

    • Finding a place of stillness inside ourselves
    • Stillness means heightened awareness, not dormancy
    • Holding the moment in anticipation that something important is developing
    • Far more important to be in relationship than to make something happen
  5. Companioning is discovering the gifts of sacred silence; not filling up every moment with talk

    • Show up without urgency or expectation
    • Practice silence in dialogue. Delay your responses on purpose.
    • Chatter may disrupt one from formulating important thoughts
    • Pay attention and be curious about your own personal discomfort with silence.
    • Watch others for signs of wanted response.
  6. Companioning is about being present to another’s emotional and spiritual pain; not taking away or fixing it

    • Challenge old definitions of “helping”
    • Emotional and spiritual pain must be allowed to flourish before it can subside
    • We stop people from grieving at our discomfort level
    • Spiritual and emotional pain is a necessary part of healing…albeit, in its most distressing guise
  7. Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; not imposing order and logic

    • Is life so orderly?
    • Companions can provide a point of grounding for others to tether themselves to
    • Know where to turn for help
    • Understand that some coping and healing has a chaotic look to it
    • Reality check with your support; restore your own energy
  8. Companioning is about going into the wilderness of the soul with another; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding a way out

    • Willingness to walk into regions of mystery with no answers or even clear direction
    • Willingness to sift through ashes for meaning while possibly not offering your own opinion
    • Willingness to accept whatever state of reconciliation another is able to find with their loss

How to Help a Grieving Child

Understanding the basic concepts of grief can prepare us to help a child who has experienced a death of a family member or friend.

A child in Massachusetts went to school one day and told her teacher that her mother had died. The teacher’s response was, “You shouldn’t say things like that.” The child took her seat, and the teacher went on with class. School officials later found out that the child’s mother had indeed died in the apartment alone with the child. The child may have been helped immeasurably had the teacher said, “Tell me more.”

Six Basic Concepts of Grief

From Helping the Grieving Student: A Guide for Teachers from The Dougy Center, the national center for grieving children and families in Portland, Oregon.

  1. Grief is a natural reaction to loss.
  2. Each student’s grief experience is unique.
  3. There are no “right” and “wrong” ways to grieve.
  4. Every death is different and will be experienced by your students in differing ways.
  5. The grieving process is influenced by a multitude of factors.
  6. Grieving does not end. Loss is not something a child will “get over.”

Grieving is hard work and influences all areas of a person’s life. Some students will be able to express grief through words, but others will only be able to express grief through their behavior and play. How someone will grieve cannot be predicted, only that he/she will grieve.

Students may focus on their grief first and school work second. Teachers and administrators who allow students time and support for healing provide a gift to the student. Teachers and administrators who give a message of “get over it” or “you have been grieving long enough” can contribute to or create problems.

How Teachers Can Help

  • Tell the truth, using accurate words such as died, killed, suicide.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Say something that acknowledges you know about the death and care: “I am sorry.” “I would like to help in some way.”
  • Talk about the person who died, using their name and sharing a memory.
  • Provide structure and routine, but be flexible when needed.
  • Seize special moments that may arise in class to teach about grief.
  • Know that you cannot take away the pain, fear, loneliness or feeling of being different. Your role is to be a safe person to whom feelings can be expressed.
  • Comprehend that the student’s life has changed forever and that it will never be the same.
  • Allow for grief, sorrow, anger or other feelings.
  • Know where you can refer students and families for support.
  • Children think concretely and will need your explanations of death to be concrete.

Common Mistakes

  • Do not suggest that someone has grieved long enough.
  • Do not indicate that someone should get over it and move on.
  • Do not expect someone to complete all assignments on a timely basis.
  • Do not act as if nothing has happened.
  • Do not say things like: “It could be worse, you still have one brother.” “I know how you feel.” “You’ll be stronger because of this.”

Teachers, counselors, and school administrators can provide comfort to children who are grieving, but sometimes families need more support. Let GriefWorks help when there is a need. Sometimes it does “take a village.” We can help by working with children and families who have experienced loss, consulting with teachers and counselors regarding grief issues, and providing teacher training about grief and loss.

Learn more about GriefWorks, a free grief support group program for children ages five to eighteen that have experienced the death of someone close to them.

The Purpose and Meaning of Ritual in the Life of a Bereaved Child

By Vicki Straughan, LMSW

Donna Schuurman, in her book Never the Same: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Parent, states that rituals are ceremonies that help us mark significant events. Rituals of remembrance give meaning to the life that was, as well as the lives that are. Pausing to mourn and remember a loved one gives meaning to the life he or she lived, and the mourners vicariously learn their own lives have meaning.

The way we treat children regarding the rituals following a death sends a message. The message is either: “My relationship was not significant enough to merit saying goodbye, so my life isn’t as significant as others,” or “My relationship is significant enough to merit saying goodbye with others, so my life and relationships are significant.” Ritual is, therefore, for the living…of all ages.

Four issues need to be clarified for young children (Christ, Healing Children’s Grief):

  • The body stops functioning when a person dies.
  • Death is irreversible; the parent or person will not come back.
  • Death is different from what happens on television; dead people do not come back again in reruns.
  • Death has an emotional context: The people who loved the dead person not only feel sad but also angry or afraid.

Including children in rituals such as funerals and memorials gives the children an opportunity to address these issues, perhaps in repetitive questioning. They also have concrete images of disposition of a dead body (unless there is no body as in a memorial service). Without a body, the child still gets to experience the goodbye.

John Bowlby, who developed attachment theory, proposed that even a young child could mourn a dead parent under favorable conditions. They are:

  • A reasonably secure relationship with both parents before the loss.
  • Prompt receipt of accurate information about what had happened (regarding the loss).
  • Encouragement to ask relevant questions.
  • The opportunity to participate in funeral rites (bold mine).
  • And the comforting presence of the surviving parent (and other trusted adults). (Christ, Healing Children’s Grief)

Since mourning is the externalization of grief, it is important to allow children to participate in funeral rituals. Through these ceremonies they can begin to find expression for the internal feelings of grief they are experiencing. Adults are often reluctant to allow children to participate in rituals because they wish to protect children from pain. Children are going to experience pain when a loved one dies, and children would be better served to be prepared for and included in rituals.

Grace Christ found that the “funeral and burial rites provide children with great solace and support if they are prepared in advance and able to participate.” One of the reconciliation needs of mourning is to move toward the pain of the loss. Participation in funeral rituals provides an opportunity for children to move toward the pain they feel. It also allows them to experience it with other loved ones, rather than be isolated from adult support during that time.

The Preschool Child

Children do not actually expect a parent to die even if they are prepared in advance. Participating in the funeral rituals, supervised by a supportive relative or friend, can actually help the child gain a more concrete understanding of the death. They will still ask, “When is Daddy coming home?” They are trying to understand concepts of dead, eternity, etc., with these repeated questions. Grieving adults in the child’s life may interpret these questions as annoying or an expression of the child’s neediness. It is helpful to reassure the adult that the child is trying to make sense of the death.

Giving children a possession of the dead loved one is comforting to them and provides a link to the dead person. Remembering things the child did with the loved one is also a comfort. Some children begin to question if other adults will die, or if they might die. They may develop somatic complaints. Some children regress to a safer time, resulting in changes in sleeping, eating and toilet training.

Older Children

Older children seem to be helped by attending funeral/memorial rituals and observing a large number of people in attendance who cared for their family and the person who died. They report being glad they participated and find pleasure in their reminiscences of the funeral.

Children this age may be encouraged to place an object in the casket. Letters, pictures, teddy bears, drawings, poetry, stones, or baseball cards are just some items that may make their way into a loved one’s casket. Other ways to include children include allowing them to hand out a program or making them honorary pallbearers.

Children six through eight may think the loved one watches over them from heaven, and they will likely talk to the dead loved one. They are likely to ask direct questions and be outspoken. Children this age may express a wish to die themselves. These are expressions of longing and distress, rather than suicidal ideation. These children may want to sleep with a surviving parent because of an increase in separation anxiety.

Children nine through eleven need more time to prepare for a parent’s death than younger children. They need to be kept in the communication loop. These children are old enough to have a role in funeral/memorial rituals. Children this age may resent being overlooked during this time.

Roles these children can take are reading scripture or poetry, acting as a pallbearer, saying a prayer, greeting guests. Some children in this age group may also work hard to appear brave and cover sad feelings. They seem more interested in their own participation in rituals, rather than needing to interact with peers.


Early adolescents (12-14) want to participate in the rituals and then return to their normal schedule as soon as possible. They sometimes feel oppressed by the crowds and having to share family members with visitors. They seem not to want to cry at funerals/memorials and prefer to cry alone in the comfort of their own rooms.

This age group wants to place objects in the caskets of their loved ones, but the objects chosen reflect the personality and interests of the person who died. Some other family members may resent how successful these children are at avoiding or concealing their grief.

Older adolescents (15-17) feel a responsibility to honor the life of their loved one, as well as responsibility for other family members. They want to and do participate in the funeral rituals, including making decisions regarding the funeral/memorial.

The mourning of this age group reflects a similar process to adult mourning. There is a period of numbness before the intense feelings begin. This age group does not seem to place transitional objects in the casket, nor are they as interested in having possessions of the loved one. If it is a parent who has died, this age group mourns what the parent meant to them, as well as what the absence of the parent will mean to them in the future. They have the task of integrating the loss across past, present and future.

Death in the 21st Century

In past decades children were aware of the cycle of life through observations of life and death on farms, or where bodies were brought into the home to await burial. But today’s children can be far removed from death, dying and grief issues. Because of the prolonged life expectancy and reduced child mortality, a person may only experience the death of a family member once every 20 years (Wolfelt, Healing the Bereaved Child). In addition, illnesses and deaths may occur in hospitals or nursing homes, which reduces the likelihood of children witnessing the aging and dying of a loved one.

Our culture is of one of grief-defying, deritualization and mourning avoiding. This attitude can prevent children from developing healthy ways of mourning. Participation in ritual encourages children to move into their grief journeys. The needs of grieving children are to:

  • Acknowledge the reality of the death
  • Move toward the pain of the loss, while being nurtured physically, emotionally, and spiritually
  • Convert the relationship with the person who died from one of presence to one of memory
  • Develop a new self-identity based on a life without the person who died
  • Relate the experience of the death to a context of meaning
  • Experience a continued supportive adult presence in the future

All of the above needs can begin to be addressed through a child’s participation in ritual. Caring adults will understand that this is just the beginning of the child’s grief journey and will work to be present for the child as he/she makes his/her way into the future.

GriefWorks is a free grief support group program for children ages five to eighteen that have experienced the death of someone close to them. We believe restoring a child’s hope after experiencing a death will allow them to have healthy future relationships. At GriefWorks, we provide a safe and loving environment where children and teens can share their stories of loss and explore their grief openly.

The Unique Complications of Grief After Suicide

The Unique Complications of Grief After a Suicide

Every grief has its own unique complications. Whatever the mourner struggles with most emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually is that mourner’s grief complicators. But, for the thousands of mourners affected by the estimated 32,000 suicides a year in the U.S., the grief of suicide is uniquely complicated. For survivors, grief can be overwhelming and the healing process particularly challenging. While grief can lack a predictable pattern or timetable, there are elements that are often shared by survivors as they work through the trauma of loss by suicide.


Often survivors’ initial reaction is shock and disbelief. Denial allows the mourner to accept the reality of the loss that they can at that time. Gradually, recognition and acceptance of the reality sets in, though for some, shock is experienced repeatedly as the survivor bounces back and forth from recognition to denial.


Many survivors feel angry at the loved one who has committed suicide for leaving them and inflicting emotional pain. This anger is understandable. Anger is simply not liking how things are, and this feeling is justifiable in the case of survivors. Moving toward forgiveness is an important step in the healing process.


Guilt can be one of the most difficult emotions associated with suicide loss. Survivors often blame themselves for not recognizing warning signs, not providing the person with the help and support they needed or not having taken steps to prevent the suicide.

The extent of guilt is often dependent on the nature of the relationship the bereaved had with the victim prior to the suicide. Experts stress that it is important to recognize that you are not responsible for the person’s actions.


Intense sadness and depression often follow the death of a loved one. The stigma and misconceptions associated with suicide can prevent the survivor from seeking needed support. Studies have shown survivors to be more prone to depression than those not affected by a suicide, which places them at greater risk of complicated grief and suicide themselves.

Finding meaning or purpose in the life of the loved one and the grieving process can help survivors make sense of the trauma and work through depression.

Feelings that are common in survivors of suicide:

  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Guilt and/or regrets
  • Rejection or abandonment
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • A lack of support and dealing with the stigma of suicide
  • Dealing with severe trauma

Remember that survivors of suicide have a greater risk than many other losses to death of the following:

  • Major depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Suicidal ideation and/or behavior
  • Prolonged complicated grief

At ChristianWorks for Children our mission is to represent the goodness of God to children and their families by continuing Jesus Christ’s example of service. Click here to learn more about our programs and support groups. Our adult grief support group Love Never Dies offers support to anyone over the age of 18 who is experiencing grief and loss.

Talking to Children about Death

When a Death Occurs in the Life of a Child

 If you are a parent or loved one who must tell a child the news of someone’s death:

  1. Tell the child in terms that he or she can understand that the person has died using age appropriate language. “Susie was very sick, and her body couldn’t go on working, so she died.” “Your mom was in a car accident, and her body was so hurt that her heart stopped working, and she died.” “Your dad’s heart became very sick suddenly, and he died.”
  2. Allow the child to ask any question and/or express any feeling. If a child says, “I HATE that doctor for letting mommy die!” an appropriate response is, “I wish mommy hadn’t died, too.” This is not an appropriate time to correct the child about saying hate. If a child says, “When will mommy come back?” say, “Mommy can’t come back since she died. Died means her spirit has gone to heaven to be with God” (or an explanation that is appropriate in your value system). Allowing a child to express feelings will keep communication open. Correcting the child or shaming them for expressing a feeling will shut them down and prevent further discussion about the death.

If you are a staff member at a school:

  1. Always tell news of this sort in person. To deliver this news over an intercom is inappropriate.
  2. Be sure a child who has received bad news is companioned until a parent or loved one gets there to be with him/her.
  3. Be honest about what has happened. “Susie has died.” “Brent’s mother has died.” Use language that leaves no need for interpretation, rather than using euphemisms. Say the words dead, dying, death, died, instead of “passed away,” “we lost him,” etc. Children need the clarity.
  4. Put out a public notice in the form of a letter to parents informing them of what has occurred. Provide suggestions for how to talk to their children about what has happened.
  5. Allow the child to talk about what has occurred, remember the person who has died, and/or ask questions. “I don’t know” is an appropriate answer to children’s questions. Be prepared for younger children to ask questions, such as, “When will Susie come back to school?” since younger children do not understand the permanence of death.

Include children in funeral/memorial rituals:

  1. Participation in ritual is helpful to a child. Allow children to participate in funeral/memorial rituals to the degree they have the ability. Allow even young children to attend a funeral/memorial. Prepare them in advance for what the service will be like:
    • There will be lots of people who knew Grandpa there and some will be crying because they are sad that Grandpa has died.
    • Someone will speak about Grandpa, and what is said may make you sad, which is okay, and it is okay to cry.
    • There will be a box called a casket at the front, and it has Grandpa’s body in it. His body no longer has Grandpa’s spirit in it, so we will bury his body at the cemetery, but his spirit lives on in our memory, is in heaven, etc.
    • There will be a picture of Grandpa at the front of the room to remind us how much we loved him. We are going to put some of his favorite things on the table with his picture. Can you think of something you would like to see on the table with his picture that reminds you of Grandpa?
  2. Allow older children to help plan the service and participate if they choose.
  3. If a friend or family member expresses an opinion of how children should be treated during this time, and it is contrary to your opinion, simply state that you have considered what is in the best interest of the child and ask the friend or family member please not to second guess your decision to include the child in the rituals. Children like to be included and are hurt when they excluded from the goodbye rituals. Participation in ritual allows the child to grieve with other members of the family.
  4. Even if a child plays during a viewing or the funeral, do not assume the child is not absorbing what is going on around him or is not grieving. Children grieve through play because they lack the language to express their feelings verbally.
  5. Following a funeral/memorial include children in visits to the cemetery. Older children may choose not to go a second time, but they should be given an opportunity to go if they choose.

Receiving ongoing support:

Society limits grieving time to three working days it seems. Grief lasts much longer. Just ask anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one. Ongoing support can be found in grief support groups for adults if the grieving person is an adult. Children can find grief support through programs such as:

GriefWorks, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas

Journey of Hope, Plano, Collin County, Texas

The Warm Place, Ft. Worth, Tarrant County, Texas

Two to three months following the death is an appropriate time to seek ongoing support for children. Participation in a program too early may result in a family’s inability to bear their own pain, and hearing the stories of other grieving families may further burden a family. Two to three months gives a family time to begin healing with the natural help of shock and numbness.

Also, many family members and friends are present immediately after the death, then loved ones return to their own routines. Children benefit from all the resources available to them when they are grieving the loss of someone they loved. In addition, adult family members need support in order to heal their own grief and may not have the ability to be as present for a child as they would like because of their own grief.

Having ongoing support gives a family opportunity to have help as they journey through grief. Grieving people will not endure seemingly unbearable pain indefinitely. They will return to the business of living and find good in life again in time. Ongoing support helps them on their journey and also helps them see down the road to a time of healing and hope.

Masculine Vs Feminine Responses to Grief Pt. 2

By Deborah Mitchell

Tom Golden, LCSW, internationally known grief counselor and author of Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing.

Healing Through Therapy

The biggest problem with therapy, says Golden, is that it is “shaped to be effective with women.” Talking and expressing emotions are difficult for most men because it is not in their nature to seek help. “Only when men reach crisis do they come for help,” says Dr. Williams. “If you really want to help men talk,” says Golden, “get them involved in an activity.” One hospice invites all the recent widowers to an all-day fishing trip. This activity allows the men to process their grief while they fish together. This approach works with boys as well. Boys won’t open up one on one, but they will talk while playing basketball.

When men do seek counseling, Dr. Williams asks them to tell their story: “Tell me what the last day with your wife was like.” While a woman will almost always cry, men generally do not, at least initially. “Men tell stories about their feelings instead of expressing them; women are more likely to express them [directly],” he says.

Once men do start to talk, they are more willing to express anger than are women.

“Many times they’re also expressing a greater degree of guilt—they should have been able to do something about the situation,” says Williams. The idea that they should have been able to control the circumstances is typical of men, while women usually believe they can’t, so they are more open to help.

Ritual and Symbolism

A ritual is a routine activity that helps people move from one state of mind to another. It is often a critical part of a man’s healing process. For Rick, it was restoring the old Chevy. “The ritual activity is intended to connect you with your pain and grief and allows you to move out of ordinary awareness and into the experience of grief, in a safe way, for a period of time,” explains Golden.

Sometimes men express their grief symbolically. When pro golfer Payne Stewart died in a plane crash several days before the Tournament of Champions, many of his peers wore knickers (Payne’s trademark) during the event. “That was their way of showing they were feeling something they couldn’t express inside,” says Dr. Williams. Other symbolic actions can include dedicating a game during a sporting event or building a memorial

Mixed Signals

Men often get mixed signals when it comes to expressing grief. The message they receive growing up is to take loss “like a man.” When they reach adulthood, though, the messages become contradictory. Golden sees grieving families in which the wife and children are crying, but the husband is not. The family is worried because dad isn’t crying. Yet if he does, they get upset. Although a wife may be relieved that her partner is able to grieve, she may fear that his tears somehow lessen him as the stalwart of strength she holds him to be. Thus, men are criticized when they don’t grieve, and their masculinity is questioned when they do.

Physical Differences

Biological differences also offer some insight into why men grieve the way they do. Compared with women, men have less prolactin, a hormone excreted by the pituitary gland, which is associated with emotional tears. Boys and girls have equal amounts until about age 12, then the level in boys plummets as testosterone levels rise. Despite the talk about men “getting in touch” with their feelings, “We are still in the throes of six million years of evolution and hormones,” says Golden. “It’s amazing that we’re changing as fast as we are. What’s changed is that men are expected to be more sensitive, yet strong and masculine.”

Once both men and women understand that a mixture of their masculine and feminine sides are at work in the grieving process, perhaps they will be more willing to allow the people in their lives to grieve in their own ways

* Deborah Mitchell is a freelance writer specializing in health and earth-friendly issues. She has had more than a dozen books published and also writes for several professional and consumer publications.


Masculine Vs Feminine Responses to Grief

By Deborah Mitchell

Months after Rick’s father died, Rick’s wife Cathy began to worry about her husband. “Rick has never cried or talked about his father’s death,” she says. “Now he spends all of his free time working on an old ’58 Chevy he and his dad had bought right before he died. I’m worried that he’s not handling his dad’s death in a healthy way.”

Generally, men and women don’t respond to grief in the same ways.

“It’s a normal life event that throws us into instability,” say Tom Golden, LCSW, internationally known grief counselor and author of Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing.

Here’s why men grieve about death, divorce, and other losses the way they do.

What Cathy perceives as an unhealthy response is, in fact, a healthy one. Rick’s behavior is typical of the masculine side: he is expressing his grief privately, and by restoring the Chevy, he is honoring his father’s memory. Cathy, however, grieves from the feminine side: by crying and talking with family and friends.

“It’s not a matter of men and women grieving differently,” explains Golden. “Everyone has a masculine and feminine side. Generally, men tend to use more of the masculine side and women the feminine.”

While women typically express and share their grief and look to the past, most men won’t verbalize their pain and often deny they are sad. They are also more likely to take action, such as setting up a trust fund or creating a memorial.

“The important thing is that the activity connects you with the pain,” says Golden. “If it does, then it’s a healing process.”

Men are taught to hide their tears, and to replace their sadness with anger. During therapy, Golden says at first men get very angry, then the tears come. With women, the situation is reversed: first come the tears, then the anger. “Women have been shamed out of their anger,” explains Golden, “so they use the strength of tears; men use their strength of anger to move into their tears.”

Sometimes the anger is unhealthy. One man tore the sink out of his estranged wife’s kitchen, says Frank Williams, PhD, director of the Family Counseling Agency in Tucson, Arizona. Another man, whose wife died of cancer, ransacked the church because he was angry at God. Men who experience deep grief are more likely to successfully commit suicide, while women tend to attempt it but fail. Studies also show that more men than women act out by abusing drugs or alcohol.

Once both men and women understand that a mixture of their masculine and feminine sides are at work in the grieving process, perhaps they will be more willing to allow the people in their lives to grieve in their own ways

* Deborah Mitchell is a freelance writer specializing in health and earth-friendly issues. She has had more than a dozen books published and also writes for several professional and consumer publications.

At ChristianWorks for Children our mission is to represent the goodness of God to children and their families by continuing Jesus Christ’s example of service. Click here to learn more about our programs and support groups. Our adult grief support group Love Never Dies offers support to anyone over the age of 18 who is experiencing grief and loss.