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Young Child's Understanding of Death
Adults' Answers pg 2
Q:      I have to tell my grandaughter, who is ten years old that here other grandmother passed last night.  I did not tell her this morning before she went to school;  but will have to this afternoon.  She has been living with me for the past 4  years; her older brother is living with a great aunt near us and her two younger siblings live in another State.  Please help me with some words to break the news to her.  Thank you.

A:     I am sorry you have this painful task.  It sounds as though your granddaughter has been through some hard times with her family split up.

The best way to tell her is just to tell her.  Just say, "Grandma Brown died last night."  Then pause and wait for her reaction, if you get one,  and if not, go on to tell her what you know about what happened, what  funeral arrangements are made, etc. 

There is no way to make bad news feel good or even OK, so don't worry  abut it.  If you let me know how old she is, I can suggest other things  that might help and resources you might use.

Q:  As an educator, how can I help my students overcome the death of classmate involved in a serious car accident?

A:     There are many ways to help your students deal with the death of their  classmate.  You don't say what age your students are, so I will give you some general suggestions which you may wish to vary accordingly.

The first thing to do, of course, is to talk with them about the loss.  They should be encouraged to voice their  thoughts, their fears, their feelings.  By sharing your feelings, you model this.

Books and art are the next two methods that I prefer.   You can see some of these suggestions below.  With students of any age, I would recommend reading to them the books you find that are most appropriate.  You can begin your search in the GriefNet Bookstore.

Drawing and other forms of art work are very healing.  Your students might wish to make cards for the classmate's family, or they may wish to write notes to the classmate himself that can be put on his grave, if there is one, given to his family, or simply hung on a special place in your classroom. Your students are certainly luck to have such a caring
teacher in you.

Finally, please realize that your students won't "overcome" this student's death; hopefully they will learn how to live with the loss.   Grief never ends, but it can become more manageable.   Don't hesitate to write back if I can be of any further help.

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Q:  My 15 yr. old is having a very hard time w/ my father's death.  One year ago a close friend of ours that was 92 yrs old passed away now  3 weeks ago my dad died and my 15 yr old says she is afraid to go to sleep because someone else will die.  I've talked w/ her and tried to keep her active in her normal activies but she still seems depressed and sad.  She has even told my mother that if something were to happen to her (my mom) that she didn't think she (my daughter) could live.  I don't know what to do or say any more.  Could someone Please help me HELP HER.  I have worked w/ our guidance counc. here at school (but not the school my daughter attends) and she has given me several books etc to read. I'm trying but I feel I need to move FASTER.  Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

A:  I'm so sorry to learn about your daughter's pain.  It is very hard for  any of us when a loved one dies, but sounds especially difficult for your  daughter.

Since I'm not in a position to evaluate her, let me suggest a number of  things for you to consider.  She might wish to join our support group for kids, kids-to-kids.  If she continues to be this upset for a few more weeks, you might have  your family doctor look at her.  Depressive disorders can emerge any time  throughout life, and often are triggered by major loss.  These disorders  have a medical base and often that is the first course of treatment. Usually that is accompanied by therapy with counsellor, especially one  trained in bereavement.

Finally, you can check our bookstore for useful items.  We are adding to our topical listings every week.

You don't say how you are doing with the loss of your father, but you  might wish to know we have a support group here for adults who have lost  parents.  It is called adult-parents and you can find it at the same URL as kids-to-kids.

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

Q:  My son recently lost his dad to a heart attack after surgery it was very unexpected and 3 days before this my brother commited suicide and I need to know how to deal with both of these being so close together.  My son was not close to his uncle but very close to his dad and so far has not expressed very
much emotion. In the past 2 months we have had a very trying time.  My mother's uncle visited & ended up in the hospital and then my dad was in the hospital and then my son's dad was in the hostpital and my husband (stepfather to my son) had his son's mother die.  So it has been a very trying time for us all around.  I am having a hard time dealing with my own grief and dealing with all the other things so I do not know how to help my son and would appreciate some feed back.  Nights seem harder for him and it almost seems like he has not accecpted the fact that his dad is gone and therefore will not so that he is upset.  We do have a lot of friends who have talked to us and him and this has seemed to help because they all have gone through a relative that has died in the last couple of years but I need to know what to do to help his express his grief and signs to look for that tell me he is having problems.  Any suggestions would be helpful. 

A:   I am so terribly sorry to learn about all these losses just coming one after the other in your lives.  It is no wonder that your son is  overwhelmed and has not expressed much emotion.  It is very common for 
kids to hold in their grief and to only express it once in a while.  Feelings ARE harder to deal with at night.  And it makes sense that he would still be wishing his father would come back.

Whatever age your son is he could certainly join our support group, kids-to-kids.  Here he might find others to talk to who understand.  Even just reading what other kids have to say can help.

If you can tell me how old he is, I can recommend some books that might help.  I can also recommend some books that might help you help him deal with his losses. 

In all of this you don't mention how these losses affect you, but I'm sure you have very painful feelings.  We have support groups at GriefNet which can help you, as well.  Please go to our support groups page
and check out what we have to offer.  You might wish to join adult-sibs, to help you deal with your brother's suicide.  Others in your family might wish to join a group, as well.  We work to keep our support groups safe places in which people are safe to deal with overwhelming feelings.     I hope some of this is helpful. 

Q:  If you get this on time. I am a counsellor who has been asked to quickly  take on a case immediately. The children are 7 and 9 live with their mother and the father died today suddenly. I have not met the family  yet. I will go over with the social worker tomorrow. We are in a very small town in the interior of BC, very little resources. The family is on social assistance. The parents split about 3 years ago. The youngest spent more time with the father. It was not suicide. This is all I know. Do you have any suggestions as to books. or approaches. I am just going to normalize as much as I can. Kids say the darnest things. Any suggestions will help It is very late in the evening. I have never worked with kids on this particular matter. divorce, moves etc... I can draw it in, but am looking for something else.

A:   Although I might not get this message to you right away, it will not be too late to help you, because your work with this family will  not be a one-shot deal.  If you have worked with children on other issues  of loss, and if you have faced death personally or professionally, you  will be able to deal with them on this one.

The basics:
- never lie or soften and answer.  Answer straightforwardly and honestly,  even if the answer is gruesome.  Kids' imaginations are much more ghastly  than any reality ever could be.
- Don't hesitate to raise the topic, even if the child shows no interest  or response.  You need to model that this topic is one you can handle.
- Don't press them for a comment or even a show of interest.  If kids don't want to talk about something, they simply shut down that part of their consciousness.
- Remember that kids cycle fast...an upset with tears, etc., that would put a normal adult into bed for the rest of the day after strong  infusions of tea, will be over for a kid within minutes and they'll go
on to something else. 
- Children grieve much more deeply and intensely than adults.  You may not see it, but it's there.
- Children grieve more nonverbally than verbally.  Art, stories, song, dance, etc. etc. will help them work through their grief.
- Remember that just by being there and caring, you are giving them much more than their world is able to do.

We have lots of info on our site you can browse through, and links to other sites.  I'm a great believer in books, both for the kid and for the helper.  You can start HERE

To add to your networking, especially since you are in a small community, I suggest you join our group for persons working with the  bereaved in any capacity.  It is called grief-training, and you can find  it by going HERE and following the instructions there.  We ask a tiny donation to help us keep us going.    *****   Don't hesitate to write back for any further help and advice. 

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