Lessons in grief: The process differs with each child, support is available

March 2016 Posted in Community, Your Health
The Dougy Center
The Dougy Center is a nonprofit
organization dedicated to assisting
grieving children and their families.

It is free. There is information on
its website: dougy.org, click on
Grief Resources.

The Dougy Center Canby office
252 NW 4th St.

For information about peer support at
The Dougy Center, call 503-775-5683;
or email help@dougy.org

By Kristine Thomas

Too often, people believe grief is much like the common cold. It happens, you feel horrible, it will go away after ahile and everything returns to normal.

Both Aimee Troyer with the Silver Falls School District, and Dr. Donna Schuurman with The Dougy Center, want to dispel the idea grief can be “cured” or it goes away with time.

A behavior specialist, Troyer said it’s critical to remember grief is a process, not an event.

“Grief can come and go in waves with different levels of intensity,” Troyer said.

Grief is an experience a person is living, Troyer added, and it is important to allow the person to feel sorrow, pain and even distress, and support them along the way.

“We don’t need to approach a child who is grieving with the thought of ‘fixing it,’” Troyer said. “Children often will grieve long after a person has died.”

Troyer said children who are grieving need the compassion, support and presence of their parents not only in the days and weeks after the death, but sometimes months and years to come.When someone dies, it often reopens wounds for those who have already lost a loved one, said Schuurman, who is the senior director of advocacy and training and executive director emeritus of the Dougy Center.

A nonprofit organization, The Dougy Center provides free support in a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families to grieve and share their experiences.

In separate interviews, both Troyer and Schuurman said there are many resources and people to help a person who is grieving.

At The Dougy Center, children and teens have a safe place to share their thoughts and feelings with peers who have also lost a loved one. Having a support group helps the child not to feel alone, Schuurman said.

“The loss of a family member or a friend can cause a child to feel different,” she said.

Schuurman encourages adults to provide young people with healthy activities to express their grief, including drawing pictures, sharing memories, looking at photographs or videos, writing about the person or holding a memorial.

Activities help a child remember the person who died, Troyer said. Parents can help start a conversation, she said, by saying “I was thinking about… and I remember….”

“Let them know it’s OK to laugh again and remember the fun times as well as cry,” Troyer said.

One frequent mistake is to not talk about the person who died, Schuurman said. People are frequently afraid by doing so that they will upset the family or friends of the person who died.

“We don’t do a good job of grieving in our society,” Schuurman said. “We think if we bring a tuna casserole, go to the service and then go on like nothing ever happened, then everything will be OK. There is no magic finish line when it comes to grief. Grief really starts hitting those most impacted by the person’s death days after the services. They still want people to talk about the person and mention his name.”

Both Troyer and Schuurman said everyone reacts differently to death, adding it’s important not to compare children. One child may be quiet, another may cry. Some may want to stay home, while others seek the companionship of their friends.

“It’s important for parents to respect the grieving process for each child, and recognize these differences in children are normal, and support each child where they are,” Troyer said.

Troyer and Schuurman encourage parents and other adults to watch for signs a child or teen is having difficulty coping with the person’s death.

Schuurman said parents should look for changes in their student’s behavior, including not eating or sleeping, a change in grades, having nightmares, not wanting to go to school or being afraid.

She also advises parents to be watchful of their child’s social media because information being exchanged can be cruel, mean or inaccurate.

Because people mourn differently, Schuurman said, adults are often aware of the kids who visiabably show their grief. She advises adults not to make assumptions of who is and who isn’t grieving. A teen who acts like he is doing OK may be the kid who needs assistance learning how to handle his grief, she said.

“The biggest mistake made is bury what happened under the carpet,” Schuurman said. “Students need to know they can talk about their feelings and mourn openly, not just the week following the death but the months and years following.”

Troyer encourages parents to seek assistance if they have concerns about their child and need assistance knowing how to support them in their grief.

“Please talk to your school counselor, principal, or even your child’s teacher and they can either directly help you, or connect you with other services or appropriate personnel for more support,” Troyer said.

Schuurman said The Dougy Center has many free resources and sessions available.

Most importantly, both stressed the importance of allowing a person to grieve.

Troyer said parents need to remember there is no way to rush grief and eliminate it. Adults need to allow children the time to mourn.

“Allow your child to talk about their feelings and listen without judgment,” Troyer said.

“Don’t deny what they say, or have them rush through it. Allow them to cry and hold them as long, as hard, and as often as they need. Also allow them to be quiet, and sit with them in the stillness letting them know you are there.

“Grieving is complicated and children need to be approached with honesty and caring,” Troyer said.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.