Monday, October 29, 2018

When it Comes to Supporting Grieving Children, Parents Need all the Help They Can Get



When our son Jack died in an accident, our daughter Margaret, had just turned ten. I was not sure how to help her navigate her grief as I dealt with my own. Some things felt instinctual: helping her feel safe, staying close to home, and being as stable as possible even though the world seemed upside down and terrifying. I chose not to drink alcohol for several months so I could be fully present, and my husband and I tucked her little frame between us each night even though we had not been a bed sharing family before. 

Our loss left us reeling, and beyond the basics of eating, sleeping, and working, we had little energy left to figure out how to best support our daughter. Bereaved parents in our community reached out share about support meetings and books that helped them when their own devastation was fresh, but few had resources specifically for our daughter. Well-meaning friends asked us whether we were getting her therapy. We were, but it was an epic struggle, and we questioned each step we took— was this the right therapist? Should we persist when Margaret pushed back? What kind of support would be best for her?  

It never seemed fair to me that when someone is newly-diagnosed with cancer or another disease, family members and the patient himself must quickly become experts in subjects that were foreign to them just moments before diagnosis. Understanding the science, protocols, and the mysteries of insurance policies seemed to rest upon already-weary shoulders. Likewise, we found ourselves on a crash course in grief in our most depleted state. The loved ones who became our primary support after Jack’s death were grieving as well, so it was difficult for them to connect us to help.

In the years since Jack’s death, my work as a writer and speaker has introduced me to many resources available for grieving children and families. Camps like Comfort Zone Camp and Camp Erin, support groups, retreat centers and numerous grief organizations such as The National Alliance for Grieving Children do amazing work to cultivate resilience in young grievers. Often, what they do stems from needs they encountered while mourning a death in their own families.

My new children’s book, A Hug from Heaven, is something I wish we’d had for Margaret when Jack died. It’s a book for a child who has experienced the death of ANY loved one. It shows that a range of emotions is appropriate, it models healthy grieving, and it encourages memorializing and celebrating the loved one who died. What makes it unique is that it encourages kids (and adults) to look for “hugs from heaven” -- signs from their loved ones that show that even if a person dies, their LOVE does not

Your child may not be grieving, but I’m guessing you know a child who is. After all, 1 out of 5 children will experience the death of a close loved one by age 18.Perhaps you could be that person who sees a need and steps in with specific resources when it seems too overwhelming for immediate family members to figure out. Buy a book, give a ride, connect them to a local grief center, find the name of a great therapist for them—and maybe even make the call to set up the first appointment. Not everyone can do everything for a grieving child, but whatever you do will show that you care and help make a devastating time more bearable. 

To order A Hug from Heaven ($14.95), please email ahugfromheavenbook@gmail.com or purchase through Mascot Books or Amazon.



1 comment:

Jennifer Reath said...

I relate so much to this Anna and your book touches my heart. My son is 10 and lost his sister this past February days before he turned 10. I lost my father at age 9 traumatically and now our family is choosing to reach out to children who suffer these close losses. We are looking to share a smile (Hayley was always smiling) some Sunshine and offer resources and hopefully grant a wish through our charity (a work in progress) "Hayley's Sunshine". Thank you for touching on such a huge need that is often overlooked.