Answers for Adults

Q:  I am an elementary school teacher and have recently had a student who lost his father.  Can you give me suggestions how best to help this student at school, and how to prepare the rest of my students for their classmate's return to school.

A:   Talk about it.  That's the first, last, and most important thing to do.  Bring up the subject at a time when the kids are attentive, and deal with it however the kids can.

What I do is to sit on the floor and ask them to sit near me.  I start  with "Do you all know X's father died?"  Regardless of their answers, I go ahead and tell the story as I know it: how he died, when he died, and how X must feel.  Meanwhile I've been passing out drawing paper and crayons and suggest that as we're talking about this sad subject, kids might wish to make X a card or letter or picture telling them they're sorry his dad died.

I also have a handy, dandy stack of books near me.  If the kids aren't talking much, I read one of the books to them.  A short one.  I'll attach a bibliography  (I'm just now working one up for our bookstore, which you can find HERE) and so what you will find there is incomplete.  But I'll bet your library has some of these books on hand. 

I also model for the children by talking about losses I've suffered: "My mother died.  I was very sad."  I often go into pets, as many kids have lost pets.  That's also a good way to get into body disposal questions (burial, cremation, and with fish, flushing them down the toilet!  I prefer burial for ALL pets, but many kids have had fish flushed.....)

When X comes back to school, he can be given the cards by the children.  Maybe do something like have punch and cookies to make it a positive event.  But I wouldn't push talking about death unless X feels like it.

Let us know how this goes and if we can be of further help.   With great caring....

Q:  I am a 39 year old mother of a Ben 16. and Rose and Charlotte twins, aged 10. I have had breast cancer for 6 years and I have been told this week that I have less than a year to live. My children have always been kept informed of my illness and though sad have coped with me in my poorly times and seen me keep going to work and and manage our family in the better times.

My dilemma is now, how do I move this forward to help them start the grieving process whilst I am well enough to support them. I don't know what to say. I know that my husband and very supportive family and friends will be there for them but the pain of my grieving my loss of them and the emotional pain it will cause are making it difficult for me to see the best way to help them.

I know I need to be honest and that I can do, but how can I help them?

I would appreciate and advice that can help us move through this together.

Thank you

I am so terribly sorry to learn about your illness and about your being told that you have less than a year to live. My best friend died of breast cancer when she was not much older than you. She, like you, looked to the future of her loved ones and did many things to help us deal with her leaving us.

First of all, are you in a support group for yourself? We have a support group on GriefNet (our parent site) for those with life-threatening illnesses. It is called grief-coping and you can find it at

Talking to your children regularly and frequently about your death and what their lives might be like afterwards is so important. If you all can be sad together now, then your presence will be with them after you've gone and they are sad.

Create memories. Gather old photos and videotapes and watch them together when it is appropriate. And begin to create a memory book with them that they can continue after you're gone. Perhaps one book for each child and one for the whole family. Thoughts, poems, photos, mementoes that will fit - put them all together. My grandmother packed and sent me over the years little boxes with family treasures in them. I still open them from time to time, and feel the crocheted place-mats and anti-macassars and re-read her instructions on how to wash them. I find the silver dollars she set aside from the last century. I read some of her personal letters that she wrote to an aunt when she was a teenager. She developed Alzheimer's before I was really old enough to appreciate her, but these items make me remember her in "her right mind."

You might want to write or to videotape messages to your children for the upcoming anniversaries when they will miss you so greatly: the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without you, religious holidays, birthdays, graduations, marriages, the births of their children. I would suggest letting them know that you are doing this, so they don't have total shock when the first occasion arrives. One of my friends helped her best friend do this last autumn when she was dying. This spring my friend received one of those cards, and even though she knew that these were being put aside to be sent at future dates, it still was quite a shock to her to receive it. You will know best how to arrange these future messages for your children.

Talk with your husband a lot about how the children grieve and try to foresee what they will be missing in the ways that you comfort your children now. You can explore ways that they can receive help from others in the family and in your caring community.

Whatever your beliefs are about life after death, talk about them now. Find out what your children's beliefs are. Help them think about how those beliefs might or might not change after you're gone. Talk with them about funeral or memorial arrangements. The more of that you can plan now, the easier it will be on all of your family and friends.

Your kids might wish to join our support group for kids, k2k. is the place to go. There are several children in that group who are anticipating the death of a parent. The kids in the group are extremely supportive of each other.

I am a great believer in books. You might want to browse your public library and our Bookstore here [] for books that might help them.

Expect your children to regress to earlier behaviors, both now and after you are gone. It is normal for children to retreat to an earlier time, when their worlds were safer.

Finally, do not hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

Q:  I am the stepmother of a lovely little 8 year old girl whose mother may  well be dying.

 Over the past five years, she has visited her mother approximately every  six weeks and for only a couple of hours at a time.  There is a  complicated history.  The mother has advancing  symptoms of MS and has also been hospitalized for mental illness for 18 months, just having been released one year ago.

Her mother's family contacted her father and nearly three months ago.  At that time they feared the end was near so we made the decision to  take her to visit at the hospital.  We tried to prepare her for what she  may see however it was very shocking.  Her mother was totally dibilitated ... blind, bedridden, and wailing.

This child is very quiet by nature and not very expressive.  She cried a  couple of times after the visit but that is it.  She goes through bouts of being quiet and withdrawn but will not speak of her feelings even when coaxed.She has told me that she thinks her mother is dying.

What type of ongoing grieving process might we expect?  She doesn't want  to visit her mother again or any of her relatives.   We have given her a journal to write her thoughts in and she has a couple of times.  How can we help her get her feelings out?

A:  What a tragic and horrible situation.  How dreadful for all of you.  But the wonderful news is that this sweet child has someone, you, who is looking out for her emoitnal needs.

Indeed, we can offer many things to help.  First is KIDSAID, our newly opened wing of GriefNet designed especially for and run by kids.  You can find it by clicking on our front page or by going to  There you may find much that she, in particular, will enjoy.

If she's a reader and writer, she might wish to join our support group for kids, called kids-2-kids.  We check with each kid to learn whether there is an adult who is aware of what they are doing.  Adults may lurk but may not participate.

Thirdly you might wish to check out our Bookstore.    The other one we are adding to our store.  The book is caled *My Mom is Dying* and it's by Jill Westberg McNamara.  I cannot imagine a better book for this age. 

Furthermore, there is some wonderful music out for children.  The best is *Together We Can Heal* and you can find it in GriefNet's Bookstore under Music.  It was written for kids and much of the performance is kids.  It's very professional and has lyrics kids will listen to and draw from.

And what about help for the stepmother?  Our support group, grief-coping,  might be a place where you can find a number of supporters.  The issues that the families of seriously ill people have are pretty much similar. You'd be amazed at how many people will truly care and also have some useful ideas. 

Don't hesitate to write back for any further help.  Our deepest caring to you all.

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Q:  What about having a message board specifically for kids who have lost a parent unexpectantly to a sudden accident or illness?

A:  Focusing on this type of loss is a great idea.  Sudden loss is very different than an anticipated loss. 

We don't use message boards at GriefNet because we have found they are  unsafe.  Sometimes people post nasty or hurtful things and we do not find  them before they cause some damage.  What we do instead is have support  groups.  Our group, kids-to-kids, is for any kid with a major loss.   Right now this group is kind of small, but when it grows bigger, we could easily start a second group, or a 3rd and 4th, for kids who want to talk  to other kids about a specific type of loss.            Thanks so much for the suggestion!


Q: Hi. My son has a friend who is 12 and lost his father to cancer about 3 months ago. The boy never talks about it. How can we help him or should we do anything/nothing?

A: What an excellent question this is. So many people want to know just how to respond to someone who has had a major loss.

We think that you should definitely tell him, at an appropriate moment, that you are very sorry his father died and know that he must miss him a lot. Your son's friend may not want to talk about it right then, or even say anything other than a mumble, but his heart will hear your caring.

Generally people who are bereaved don't bring the subject up because they have already run into many people who don't want to talk about it or who say hurtful things. By mentioning it you let him know that you are not afraid to talk about it. By saying you're sorry, you let him know you care. By saying nothing more and letting him respond as and when he will, you let him know you are not going to force the issue on him.

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Q: Which group could I write on advice on how to help my 7 yr old deal with the death of his grampa 1 yr ago. He was being counseled in school last year. He is still having a problem I think. I can't get him to talk to me about it. Thanks.

A: There are several email-based support groups at GriefNet (KIDSAID parent organization) that would be helpful to you in dealing with your son. One would be kids-to-kids. Parents and friends of kids may write to the list with questions, though only kids can chat in general. If your son is computer literate, this might be a good place for him to come, too. The other would be for you to join grief-training, which is a place for anyone working with the bereaved, whether professional or lay. There are over 100 people in that group who would be happy to give advice. 

I often find that reading books works better with children his age. Kids do not usually articulate their grief. They often deal with it through reading, art, or play. I can suggest a few books for you, or him or both:  "Bimmi Finds a Cat", "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf", and "Helping Children Cope with Loss"   All three of these books are available through GriefNet's Bookstore. They may also be available locally at your library or bookstore. 

Finally, if he was getting counselling last year, perhaps you might speak with his counsellor and get some further advice.

I hope some of this helps. Please let us know. 

 Q:   Have a Question?


My 19 year old son committed suicide three weeks ago. I have six other children, ages 18 to 5 year old twins. Five boys and one girl. I have been hearing that my family is now at an increased risk for suicide. What are the factors that make this so and are there ways to prevent the other children from being at risk? I would appreciate any resources you can recommend. We are also going to start family counseling in a couple of weeks.

I am so terribly sorry to learn that your son ended his life. What an overwhelming tragedy for you and your family.

Although I am a psychologist, I am not a suicidologist and so cannot comment on whether your family is at increased risk. But I can point you to a number of resources to help you. You can begin with our suicide page at our parent site, GriefNet: There are links there to resources around the world.

You might wish to join our support group for parents whose children have taken their own lives. It is called griefparents-suicide and you can join it by going to Your children may wish to join our support group for kids here at KIDSAID. They can do so by going to There are a number of children in that group who have experienced loss due to suicide, and they are extremely supportive of and caring for one another.

I hope that your family counselling helps you all in dealing with your loss and that it makes you stronger as a family. I applaud your wisdom of seeking help for you all.

Finally, I send you the very deepest sympathy of all of us here at KIDSAID and GriefNet. Do not hesitate to contact us for further help as you travel down this long hard road of bereavement.

My husband was killed in a car accident on 12/19/98. I have two girls, 8 and 4. They were close to their dad and have missed him very much and have had times of sadness but seem to be dealing with their grief well. I have tried to follow any suggestions from reading material that I have found in helping children deal with grief and tried to keep their routine as uninterrupted as I can. I guess my question is is it normal for them to seem uneffected by their father's death? It is not that I want them to have problems but as any mother, I worry. I worry that they are holding their feelings in. The counselor I have spoke to indicated warning signs of a problem, all of which they do not have.

I am so sorry to learn that your husband was killed. This is a terrible loss for all three of you. Your daughters are fortunate to have a mother who is concerned about their feelings and their healing.

It is quite normal for children to appear, at times, unaffected by a loss. Children's grief is not constant, as an adult's is, but comes and goes. There are times when they appear not to be grieving at all. But they are. Take a look at the Dougy Center page We got permission to re-publish it here because it describes kids' grief so well.

We have other resources for you through our bookstore. The Dougy Center has a publication, Helping Children Cope with Death, which you can find on [] We also recommend Helping Children Cope With Loss []

Then there are many books for children about death and loss. Check both our bookstore and your local library. I find that reading these books to a child allows for discussion and caring, as well as letting the children know that grief is normal.

Finally, make sure you are getting the support you need. You might want to consider joining our support group for people who have lost their partners, run through our parent site, GriefNet. It is called grief-widowed and you can find it at

Don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help.

My nephew, now 19 years old, lost his father nearly 18 months ago. I thought he'd been coping with it but recently found out that he has neither come to terms with it nor has he spoken about it to anyone. He opened up to me and has said things like every moment he is not occupied, he thinks about his dad and all the things they used to do. He is clearly depressed. His father was a very good father and lived for his kids. I am willing to do everything I can to help him but not quite sure where to start. I care about him a lot and he knows it. He's intelligent and will hopefully be starting university in September but that depends on his exam results. I think first I need to help him with his depression then take it from there. Rather than be his uncle, I have told him that he's like a younger brother to me. I am 31 years old. Is there any advice you can offer me to help him?

Your nephew's grief about his father is in fact very normal. Coming to
terms with a loss such as this one, of a parent while one is still
young, does not happen easily nor quickly. Thinking about his father
when he is not otherwise occupied is quite understandable. Eighteen
months is not a long time, considering that he'd had his father all his

You say he is clearly depressed. By this do you mean he is sad, as
you've described, or clinically depressed? A clinical depression has
specific features which may include changes in appetite, sleep, libido,
metabolism. It may also include the inability to be happy about
anything, a desire to vegetate or to super-achieve. It is a specific
biochemical disorder that can, fortunately, be treated by a physician.
His regular doctor should be able to evaluate and treat him if you think
this is the case. If you're not sure and want to discuss it further,
just write back.

If he is on line, I urge you to have him join our support group for
adults who have lost a parent. There are, in fact, many younger people
in that group, and it is a more appropriate place for people his age
than our group at KIDSAID for kids. Just point him to and he can easily join.

Whether uncle or older brother, your nephew is very lucky to have you to
care about him. Few of us, of any age, have someone who cares so deeply
about one's feelings. Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any
further help, now or in the future.

My mother and grandmother passed away three years ago, within two months of each other, my son who was only six at the time was very close to both of them. My mother suffered a couple of strokes which really affected her not only physically but mentally. I was her main caregiver and it was a very difficult time and he saw everything that went on and of course he did not understand a lot of what grandma did and said and it really affected him. My grandmother had a broken heart I know that sounds crazy but I really believe she grieved herself to death. My grandfather died a few years before she did and she was never the same. (they had been together for sixty some years) Both really loved my son and called him thier little man he was there sunshine you could see it in thier faces. It has been three years since they passed away and he will just all of a sudden get very upset and start crying and telling me how much he misses his grandmas. Then it will escalate to he is mad at God for taking his Grandma why can't he just let him see her for just a few minutes at this point he is usually sobbing and I just don't know what to say anymore to help him out. Can you offer any help or suggestions? It breaks my heart to see him go through this and I know his heart is broke too

I'm so sorry to learn of your loss of both your mother and grandmother. It is hard at any age to lose such special people.

Your son's reactions are both normal and deserving of more attention. Children grieve in a cyclical way - as they age, they re-work their grief from this new perspective. We adults do that as well, but the cycles are usually triggered by events, rather than growth or the passage of time. However, sometimes a birthday will set it off.

The best thing you can do with your son during these upsets is to listen and to comfort. Sometimes we just have to be with them while they get their feelings out. If you can do this, be sympathetic and understanding without trying to change his feelings, that may be sufficient. You don't say, however, how you are dealing with your own grief, and this could affect your son. If you are at peace, then he can find that peace by being with you.

If you are not, which would certainly be understandable, you might wish to do some things to help you deal with your own grief. One might be to join a grief support group. Our parent site, GriefNet, has a support group called adult-parents, where adults grieve the loss of their parents, grandparents, and parent figures. You can join it by going to If you son likes computers, he might like to join our support group for kids, k2k. He can do it by going to

Take a look at our page from the Dougy Center, How Children Grieve,
That is certainly a good thumbnail of children's grieving. You might also want to look in the Bookstore of GriefNet,

These suggestions may help you get started, but don't hesitate to write back if we can be of further help.

My 45yo husband died 2wks ago from a malignant brain tumor. My older son and I held vigil until he died. My concern is for my 14yo son who did not want to stay at the hospital. He has shared his feelings, somewhat, with 2 of his closest friends. He refuses to talk about his Dad's death to his brother or me. What are your suggestions for helping him through this? Is his reaction normal? He and his father were not always on the best of terms, and there was limited interaction between the two when my husband died.

I'm so sorry to learn about your husband's death. What a tragic loss, both for him being so young and for you losing a young husband. This is very hard for all of you.

Your younger son's reactions are both normal and he may also need some extra help. As it's only been two weeks, it's still early to evaluate his reactions. Those two weeks probably seem both like a year and like only a minute. Just letting more time pass may give you a better idea of how he is doing.

If your son and your husband did not get along well, then his grief is going to be harder for him to manage. This seems always to be the case when we lose someone about whom we had strong but mixed feelings. This alone may be enough for you to consider counselling for him. A therapist who deals with adolescent grief might be appropriate.

We have a support group here for kids: k2k. Your son can join it by going to There are kids there of all ages, both sexes, with many different types of loss. Your son would be very welcome there, indeed.

Finally, don't forget to consider yourself. You are not only widowed, you have become a single parent. How well you deal with your grief will greatly determine how well your children deal with theirs. You might wish to consider joining our support group for widowed people at our parent site, GriefNet. Just go to and look for grief-widowed.

On GriefNet you also might wish to check our bookstore, at Our topical index should help you find resources for both yourself and your children.

Don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help to you.

My kid has this mental disease that when she's hurting she cuts herself. I don't understand why. The other day she was talking about killing herself. I know she is going to end her life. I work most of the time and I'm not there. I'm worryed about her, I love her to much to lose her. What can I do to keep her alive?

I am so very sorry to learn your child has this particular form of
illness. You need to do two things right away. The first is to make
sure she is in a safe environment ALL the time and the second is to get
her professional help. It is undoubtedly difficult for you to arrange
both of these things, but the risk of not doing so is way too high.

If you must work, are there friends, family, neighbors who can be with
her? Explore EVERY alternative.

For professional help, start with your family doctor. Ask for a
referral to a child psychiatrist. You can also call your local
community mental health association for referrals. There are people who
are expert in helping children with this disorder. It may take many
phone calls, but persist.

I strongly recommend you suggest she join our support group for kids,
K2K. She can do so by going to The kids in this group
are extremely supportive of each other. They seem to have the knack of
pulling each other back from the brink.

These are some suggestions to start with. Don't hesitate to write me
back for more advice and support.

My 18 yr old son lost his girlfirend in a pedestrian accident last Fri. They had gone together a long time and were thought to have the real thing He experienced the loss as well as the trauma. At the same time he is making lifetime decisions since college decisions must be in this week. Should we encourage him to stay in town and go away later, or should we encourage him to change locations. I don't want him to think hwe are saying just move on but i want what is best for him down the road. Much can change in 4 months. What do you suggest?

First of all my apologies for not replying sooner to your message. It arrived here shortly after the Littleton massacre, and we are still trying to answer everything.

I'm so very sorry to learn of your son's loss. It is tragic for all of you, and the loss for him not only of his girlfriend, but also for many of his dreams about the future.

My advice now is the same as it would have been had I been able to answer sooner. It is that it is not possible to know what would be the best thing to do. There are pros and cons for staying in town and for going away. And it is really not possible to know right now which would be best.

You are correct that much can change in four months. Try to remember that all decisions are made on the basis of insufficient data, meaning that hindsight is always better than foresight. Your son will probably go through many changes due to this loss. My concern would be to get him the support and comfort that he needs to deal with it now, and to let some of the decisions wait. It will undoubtedly be easier for him to change schools down the road than to deal with the loss of his girlfriend right now.

Please let him know about the resources both here at KIDSAID and at our parent site, GriefNet. He would be welcome either in K2K or in our "widowed" support group for adults. He's at that in-between age, and we have both had older kids in KIDSAID and younger adults in grief-widowed. Have him write to me directly if he wishes.

Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

My husband died last year leaving me with 2 boys, who are now 6 and 2. It was a terrible time and through lots of counseling, we are all doing quite well. My concern is this: My late husband's parents have nothing to do with my sons even though we live within walking distance. I have tried to maintain contact, but so far to no avail. My oldest is starting to think his grandparents don't like him now that Daddy is dead. I have told him that they love him very much but beyond that, I am at a loss as to explain why they don't see him. How can I explain his grandparents grief in a way he'll understand?

I'm so very sorry to learn of your husband's death. How difficult for you all to deal with this loss and the complete re-structuring of your family. I am so glad to learn that you found dounselling and that you are now doing well.

Your in-laws' absence from your lives is a very painful one for your son. From what you say it seems as though they are not dealing with the loss of their son very well, if seeing their grandson is so painful that they avoid him. My intuition would be to tell your son what you think the reason really is, even if it is that they don't "know how to be sad." You can point out to your son that counselling helped you but that his grandparents haven't had that help. Or, if it is the case, you can tell your son that you just don't know why.

Reassure your son that their feelings are not the result of anything that he has or has not done. Their feelings do, indeed, come as a result of his father's death. And while their behavior is tragic, it is unfortunately not uncommon. Tell him that sometimes people do this: they get so sad that they can't feel their love anymore. But let him know that this will not happen with you; that you have learned how to be sad and still feel your love for him.

My 21 year old son was killed April 12, from a gunshot wound to the head. He has a 7 year old sister and 9 year old brother who did not ask many questions or talk much about his murder. Within the last week both of their teachers have said they have been terrible and out of control in class. In fact on one occassion both of them were sent to the principals office at the same time. This is not normal behavior for them. I talk to them and ask them what is wrong or if there is anything they want to talk about. They always respond with no nothings wrong. I don't want to punish them right now because I feel their actions could be in response to their brothers death. I also do not know how to get through to them or what I should do at this point. Do you have any suggestions?

I am so terribly sorry to learn of your son's death. What a tragedy for you as well as your younger children. I am sure you all devastated.

Your children's behavior most likely does result from their brother's death. This is quite normal and is also an indicator that they need more attention. Children often do not express their feelings directly, and often will say nothing is wrong as a way of pushing themselves further away from painful feelings. Please take a look at our page from The Dougy Center which explains children's grief so well:

Punishment is never my first choice for finding out why children are mis-behaving, especially with the little ones. It is true, though, that they often won't tell their parents what is wrong, even when they know. In the case of such a horrific loss, I would seek professional help for them. Places to seek such help would be through local hospices, funeral homes, or community mental health centers. If you hit a dead end, write back here.

If you kids are computer literate, they may wish to join our on-line support group for kids, k2k. The kids there are incredibly helpful and supportive of each other, young and old. And kids almost always feel more reassured by other kids than they do by us.

Another resource to try is books to read to them. Check your public library and you can also look in the kids section of ourbookstore

Although I write this last, the first and most important thing to do is to take care of yourself. Children follow their parents' models. This tragic loss of your son must surely be taking its toll on you, as well. Please check our support groups for adults for a place to get help for yourself. We have numerous groups for bereaved parents and for those who have lost loved ones due to violence. Just go to

Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

My sister died at the age of 29, last month. It was an accidental overdose, she was manic depressive/bipolar. My family is trying very hard to deal with it. My question is relating to my 13 year old daughter. She and Karly were very close, more like sisters than an aunt niece relationship. Anyhow Katie is scared now. She is scared that Karly will come back at night. She is afraid of the dark, afraid of going in her room alone. She has spoken to the minister, but she didn't say too much. She made me take the mirror out of her room. I tried to find a bereavement support group, but she doesn't fit the categories as a niece. WHat can I do?

I am so terribly sorry to learn about your sister's death. What a tragic way for her to have died, especially since we are now able to treat manic depressive illnesses with medication.

This is of course especially awful for Katie, given how close they were. Her fears are perfectly normal after such a shock. Many of us have such fears after a death, even when we are adults. My best advice would be to give her the comfort of contact, going into her room with her and leaving a light on at night. I'm glad you took the mirror out, as she asked. As you allow her to experience her fears, her feelings will begin to emerge. But first she needs to feel safe.

You might also reassure her that if her aunt does come to her, it would not be in a scary way. It sounds as though she is reacting to the myths and beliefs about death that children her age become fascinated with. I remember when my daughter had to hold her breath when we drove past a graveyard until we passed a white house, and when she thought "ghosts" were in her room at night. Reassurance and time got her through.

To learn more about how children grieve, go to our page from the Dougy Center. You will also find some resources in our Bookstore at GriefNet

I think you will also be pleased to know that here we have a support group in which she would be welcome, called k2k. The kids in that group are of ages 8-18 and have experienced many different types of loss. She can join it by going to

 Check GriefNet for all kinds of resources for dealing with loss.
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