Unfortunately, grief does not end with the funeral. For many, grief continues for weeks, months, even years after a loved one passes away.
It is our sincerest desire that these articles and links will help as you journey down the difficult path of grief.
The Grieving Process
Since there’s very little grief training in our culture, people are often surprised by how hard their grief hits them. We usually don’t know what to expect until we experience a major loss and begin to suffer the consequences.
It’s important to understand that grief is a pervasive experience that impacts the whole person–physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s also important not to be afraid to experience grief symptoms–many people try to put their grief aside and “get over it,” but this only delays the healing process. As you go through the grieving process, you’ll probably experience three distinct phases of grief.
Shock and Denial
Most people experience this as their initial reaction–shock, a feeling of numbness or unreality, and possibly even denial that the loved one is gone. In this initial phase, our minds begin to adjust to the loss of our loved one.
Because this is such a difficult time, thinking about or experiencing grief constantly is too painful, so we go back and forth between believing the loss has happened and a sense of denial or unreality. It’s critical to give yourself time to adjust to the loss and to come to terms with it. This stage can last as long as several weeks.
This is a time of chaos for individuals experiencing grief at the loss of a loved one as they try to adjust to the world without the person in it. During this phase, we are intensely aware of the reality of our loss, but will try almost anything to escape it.
This is a period of exhaustion and intense emotion, and the grieving person will often experience mood swings, sometimes dramatic ones. Normal emotions at this stage include anger, extreme sadness, depression, despair, and extreme jealousy of others who haven’t suffered the same loss.
During this stage, people begin to understand all the implications of the loss and begin to rebuild their life. This stage can last a year or more.
This stage is also known as acceptance or reorganization. The disrupted stage people go through comes to an end as they find a new balance. People in mourning become aware that the physical signs of their grief are beginning to fade and that they are less exhausted than they once were.
The pain of the loss remains, but the unbearable intensity of it recedes, and people begin to experience hope again. Life begins to seem possible again.
Helping Others Experiencing Grief
There are many ways to be supportive of a person experiencing the grieving process.
Listening to grieving people is the most important thing you can do. Listen in a non-judging way, and allow them to tell the story or stories over and over if they need to. Repetition is often a key part of the healing process.
Share your memories of the loved one, too. Reflect on the feelings they are experiencing–but as you share, be careful not to start one-upping their feelings, or comparing your loss to theirs. And don’t say “I know exactly how you feel.” It’s usually much more helpful to say something along the lines of “I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now,” because most grieving people feel like no one else could know what they’re experiencing.
It’s also important not to tell people that time heals all wounds, or that their loved one is in a better place. While that may be true (depending on your belief system–and theirs) they’re not in a place to hear that at this point.
Each person recovers from grief at his or her own pace. Some can recover quickly, while others can take a full year or more (this will also depend on the severity of the loss). Be careful not to impose a time limit or tell people to get over it and move on–feeling that they’ve grieved too long can cause people to suppress their feelings, and slow or stop the healing process.
Understand that grieving people are very likely to have emotional setbacks, even after a long period of healing and outward “improvement.” Something could spark a memory that causes them to spiral downwards–dates that were important in the loved one’s life, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, are often triggers for setbacks.
Be there for the grieving person as long as (s)he needs you.
Remember that there’s no definitive way to experience grieving, and that everyone experiences a unique set of feelings or physical symptoms. Understand that the grieving person will always feel the loss, but that he or she will learn to live with it over time.
It may sound strange to talk about celebrating, but it can help grieving people heal. Help them celebrate the life of the loved one they’ve lost. Help them develop rituals they need to get through the difficult early stages of the grieving process.
Sometimes grieving people can go to extremes–if you notice signs of suicidal behavior or fear they may harm themselves or others, it’s your moral, legal, and ethical duty to refer them to a mental health professional.
Coping On Holidays
Coping Through the Holidays After Losing a Loved One
Halloween barely passes before stores stock their shelves with holiday decorations. Christmas carols echo through shopping malls, and the first of the holiday commercials hits the airwaves. If you’ve lost a loved one, these can be stark reminders that the holidays won’t be the same.
Whether your loved one died recently or decades ago, the holidays bring forth powerful memories that may trigger your grief. If the person died on or near a holiday, the two events are forever linked and may be particularly painful, especially if you have unresolved feelings about the lost relationship.
When trying to cope with grief, it’s important to understand that grief is cumulative. We don’t experience a loss, move through predetermined emotional stages, then emerge on the other side.
This holiday season, if the first Christmas card you open or the first “Happy Hanukkah!” you hear starts to bring on sadness, use that opportunity to work through your feelings. Don’t just ignore those feelings. Here are some tips to help you cope.
- Expect to have some pain. When the feelings come, let them.
- Accept a few invitations to be with close family or friends. Choose the ones that sound most appealing at the time and avoid the ones that feel more like obligation.
- Talk about your feelings. Let people know if you’re having a tough day.
- Incorporate your loved one into the holidays:
- Share your favorite stories over dinner.
- Make a toast or light a candle in remembrance.
- Make a donation in his or her name.
- Help others:
- Take a meal to a homebound couple.
- Volunteer in a shelter or soup kitchen.
- “Adopt” a family to buy presents or food for.
- Modify or make new traditions if it feels right. Just remember to include others who are grieving, especially children, in the decision.
- If the idea of holiday shopping overwhelms you, buy gifts online or through catalogs.
- Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Prepare yourself for January. Sometimes the aftermath of the holidays can bring more sadness than the holidays themselves.
- Don’t hide your feelings from children in an effort to be strong for them or protect them. You’ll only be teaching them to deny their own feelings.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Although you may not feel much like celebrating, accept a few invitations.
- Don’t accept every invitation or throw yourself into work in an effort to keep busy. It may only add more stress.
- Don’t expect to go through defined stages of grief. Every person is different and every relationship is unique.
- Don’t act as if your loved one never lived.
- Don’t be afraid to cry. Crying is like the valve on a pressure cooker. It lets the steam out.
If someone you know is grieving:
- Encourage him or her to talk about their feelings. Listen to them. 98 percent of people who have recently lost someone want to talk about the person who died.
- Let them cry.
- Don’t pretend their loved one didn’t die – it’s okay to say the deceased’s name.
- Don’t say things like:
- “At least he’s not suffering anymore”
- “She’s in a better place.”
- “I know you’ll miss him.”
- “I know how you feel.”
Grief Recovery Institute®
Holiday Hotline: (800) 445-4808
National Funeral Directors Association
(800) 228-6332 or (262) 789-1880
- “The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce and Other Losses” by John W. James and Russell Friedman
- “I’m Grieving As Fast As I Can: How Young Widows and Widowers Can Cope and Heal” by Linda Sones Feinberg
- “Gone but Not Lost: Grieving the Death of a Child” by David W. Wiersbe
- “Remembering With Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year of Grieving and Beyond” by Elizabeth Levang, Sherokee Ilse
- “Life Is Goodbye, Life Is Hello: Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss” by Alla Renee Bozarth, et al.
- “When Your Friend Is Grieving: Building a Bridge of Love” by Paula D’Arcy
- “How Can I Help?: How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving” by June Cerza Kolf
- “Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
- “Helping Your Grieving Heart for Teens” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
- “The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends” by Helen Fitzgerald
- “When Children Grieve” by John W. James and Russell Friedman with Dr. Leslie Landon Matthews
- “The Grieving Child: A Parent’s Guide” by Helen Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
- “35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child” by The Dougy Center for Grieving Children
- “Nobody’s Child Anymore: Grieving, Caring and Comforting When Parents Die” by Barbara Bartocci
Losing Your Spouse
Losing Your Spouse, Losing the Present
How can one possibly absorb the shock of the death of a mate? No matter how many years you have shared, memories of courtship, lifelong plans, and your marriage are most difficult to bear. Not to mention what has been left behind: children and grandchildren; dreams yet to be fulfilled. These memories are part of your past and the death of your spouse is something you must deal with today. The thought of which is painful at the very least.
Reactions to Death
If your spouse has died, you will probably experience some of the common symptoms of grief. You will very likely go into shock and denial. You may experience feelings similar to what an amputee goes through, where they actually “feel” pain in the missing limb. In the case of a lost loved one, you’ll “see” them sitting in their favorite chair or coming through the front door. This “phantom” pain may manifest itself in hearing their voice calling from another room. Their cologne or perfume lingers in closets and throughout the home you shared, evoking powerful feelings.
You may feel “numb,” like a spectator watching events unfold. This is nature’s way of protecting you from what is happening while your life is in transition.
You may also find yourself filled with anger. You may feel angry at the doctors or nurses who couldn’t save your spouse, or maybe even with God. You may feel anger toward your spouse for leaving you, and then feel guilty for this anger.
In fact, guilt can be one of the toughest feelings to overcome in your grief recovery. It is common, in transition, to feel guilty simply for being alive when someone else has died. You may believe you somehow could have prevented the death, or should have been present to say good-bye.
Because relationships are never perfect, you undoubtedly had unresolved issues at the time of death. These can be very difficult to overcome, and many choose to seek counseling to help bring about closure.
Powerful reactions to grief are most often unexpected by the bereaved. The effects are physical as well as mental. The feeling of being alone causes your mind to race. You cannot sleep. You cannot think clearly. Your muscles are tense and your body aches.
It is not unusual to experience nausea, dizziness, rashes, weight loss, in addition to difficulty in sleeping. You may become irritable or listless, feel fatigued, or short of breath. Grief has even been known to cause hair loss.
As the Shock Wears Off
The acceptance of your spouse’s death will slowly become a reality. You may think “My life will never be the same again.” “I cannot change what has happened to me.” “Oh God, what am I going to do now?” A course of grief recovery depends partly on your age and mostly on your individual situation.
A surviving spouse from a younger, two-income family may end up in a tight financial situation; not to mention any children to consider, as the transition to a single-parent household is made.
Profound loneliness occurs when future plans include having children and the opportunity is lost by the death of a spouse. This is especially true if the bereaved feels a child would have been a living part of the mate who died.
“Empty-nesters” feel the effects of a spouse’s death in other ways. The fact that the house is completely empty now, precipitates an entirely different level of loneliness. This is especially true in marriages that have lasted many years, where plans for a long and enjoyable retirement were disrupted by a spouse’s death.
Losing your life companion can leave you feeling confused and panicky at any age. For this reason, you should delay making any major decisions. Try to postpone them until you can think more clearly and have a better idea of how your life is going to change. Antoine de Saint-Exup’ery wrote, “… you cannot plant an acorn in the morning and expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.”
You have grown accustomed to living a certain life-style and engaging in favorite activities with your spouse. You are used to being the object of your spouse’s love. For example, a woman who becomes a widow didn’t just lose her husband. She lost her best friend, her confidant, her “knight in shining armor.”
The death of your spouse can also change the relationship you had with mutual friends. Those same friends you socialized with as a couple, may have a difficult time interacting with you as an individual. You may begin to feel like the “fifth wheel.” Life without your spouse may steer you in the direction of a new circle of friends. Many times, lasting friendships develop between people who met in grief support groups. Your loss is a common bond.
How can you overcome the problems you face after your spouse has died? First, you must recognize that grief is necessary; it is something you must work through. There are no shortcuts.
It is important to express your feelings. Take time to cry. Don’t be afraid to share your tears with others. Express your anger when you feel the need. Talk openly with family members and friends; this is a time to lean on them. Some of your friends may feel awkward for awhile because they don’t know how to talk to you about your loss. You can help them by simply telling them what your needs are. Don’t try to protect your children or other family members by hiding your sadness.
If you normally have a pressing schedule, try to lighten it. Remember, grief is mentally taxing; you do not need the added strain of too much to do. Set aside some quiet time for yourself, time when you can think about your spouse’s death and put things into perspective.
If you are worried that you are not coping well with your grief, consider talking to a counselor. You may be relieved to discover that you are reacting normally. If you believe you need help, ask your clergy, doctor, or funeral director to suggest a counselor who will help you through your transition.
Many bereaved spouses find adjusting to life without a partner becomes easier if they talk to others in the same situation. You might want to consider joining a local support group. Ask us for information regarding local groups specifically for those who have lost a spouse.
After some time and effort, you will adjust to your new life and your grief will diminish. This does not mean you must forget your loved one; it means you have accepted the death and can begin to live each day in the present, savoring the memories as part of your new life. In fact, many agree the best way to honor a loved one who died, is to live a life full of friendship and even new love.
Dealing properly with your grief can make it all possible.
Helping Parents Cope With Losing a Spouse
What can you do to help your parent through his or her grief when a spouse dies? This is one of the major losses in life, but there are things you can do to help.
Acceptance–Be accepting and supportive of the new person your parent becomes in the wake of this devastating loss. Support him or her in new ventures and new friendships. Your parent must find a new way to live, and build a new life for himself or herself.
Decisions–Let your parent decide when and how to dispose of the deceased’s clothing and personal items. Some may not be ready to do this right away. Others may want to get it over with almost as soon as they get home from the funeral.
Family Traditions–Let your family traditions change and evolve to fit your family’s new structure. Don’t force things that don’t work without the deceased, or that are exceptionally painful without him or her.
Independence–Help your parent be independent. Teach him or her something new that the deceased used to do rather than taking it on yourself. This could be anything from balancing the checkbook to maintaining the car to cooking.
Major Decisions–Encourage your parent to delay making major decisions, such as selling a home or moving to a new part of the country–for at least one year after the death. Discourage other major financial decisions as well.
Money–Your parent may be tempted to loan money to family or friends. Help them resist this urge, at least until they have a better understanding of their new financial circumstances, whether it’s for better or worse.
New Life–Encourage your parent to make a new life for himself or herself. Encourage him or her to make new friends, take up new activities, and find new focus in life.
Talking–Talk about the deceased parent. Tell stories, and bring up his or her name often. Talking about the person keeps the memories alive and helps the healing process.
Telephone–Call your parent frequently, and make sure they feel comfortable calling you more often. A surviving parent may become very dependent on his or her children for communication and companionship, at least in the short term.
How Children Cope With Grief
Infants Through Adolescents
How Children Cope With Grief
The cognitive and emotional levels of development from infant through adolescent cover a wide span of grief. The age of a child/adolescent and a child’s/adolescent’s perception of death must be understood before the caregiver or facilitator starts interacting with the child.
A grieving child at each different level of development will need assistance in building coping skills and finding a sense of closure to his/her loss. Children at all developmental stages experience grief on different chronological and emotional levels.
Infants and Toddlers
Children younger than four can sense that something is wrong as they experience the grief of their primary caretaker. The absence of the mother may cause a clear biological reaction. Anger, crying, searching, lack of appetite, and finally quiet resignation are the ways in which a child will grieve for the loss of the mother/primary caretaker.
The child should not be passed from caretaker to caretaker.
What one does is far more important to the child this young than what one says. Generally, a grieving infant or toddler needs large doses of tender, loving care–holding, cuddling, and stroking.
Four- to Six-Year Olds
Bereaved children between four and six have a limited and literal understanding of death. For a child in this age range, death may be explained in physical terms. Because thinking is very literal and bodily oriented, death may be best explained as follows:
His/her heart stopped beating and no one can make it start again. Therefore, we won’t be seeing him/her move or talk anymore. We will bury the body in the ground, because (identify the person, using their name) is not able to do or say anything anymore.
Children will often note the discrepancy between burial of the body and the description of “going away” or “going to Heaven.” While the young child probably can’t grasp the concept, one might address the distinction as the part that we love–the part that smiled and laughed and loves us-is the part that has gone to heaven. The old, broken body is now what is in the ground.
Caretakers can facilitate therapeutic role-play by sitting with the child as he or she plays with dolls, stuffed animals, puppets, toy cars, and doll houses. Look for aggression in play and explore where the anger is focused.
Seven- to Eleven-Year Olds
Children ages seven to eleven are still primarily oriented to the family, and although they’ve begun to relate to and gain self-identity through their peers, play is still a mode of self-expression. Children this age also express themselves quite well orally, especially the primary feelings of mad, glad, and sad.
They have begun to grasp more abstract concepts such as truth, time, space, and death, although magical thinking still plays a role. Most commonly, seven-or eight-year-olds become fearful of death because they realize for the first time it’s real.
No matter who dies, they may feel devastated at the thought of losing a parent. Obviously, the death of a parent is extremely traumatic at this age. Some of their questions may indicate fears of their own death. Death is seen as an attacker who takes life.
Free expression of grief must be encouraged, and children must be told over and over that they didn’t cause the death and that the dead person did not choose to die. A child of this age may also fear that death is a punishment for improper behavior. They may fear that their naughty behavior has brought about the death of a loved one, and they are being punished for it. They may also believe that they or another loved one will be the next to die.
A more adult concept of life and death develops roughly between the ages of nine and eleven. At this developmental level, the children have learned that only people, plants, and animals live and die. Children of this age are not only sensitive to their own feelings, but can now enter into the feelings of others.
As a result, they are more understanding of what the loss may mean to others, and they are able to show empathy. Children in the upper end of this range not only need support and comfort, but also can be a source of support and comfort for others. Opportunities to be helpful to others
during the crisis can actually help children deal with their own feelings.
To the emotionally healthy adolescent, death is foreign; it’s something they simply do not want to think about. Sometimes their self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse or playing chicken in an automobile are means of saying “I’m not afraid of death; it’s a game–I’m making a plaything of it.”
However, the real meaning beneath the behavior is that they’re trying to control their fear and insecurity by making it a game. Moving fast and keeping the music loud can be an escape from having to face their fears.
When met with the loss of an important relationship, the adolescent’s self-centered values may cause them great fear, guilt, anxiety, and anger. Adolescents have the capacity for empathy with other grieving family members or friends, so their pain is doubled.
Because an adolescent forms more intimate relationships with peers than with parents, it’s advisable that networks or groups be make available for adolescents who have experienced the death of a loved one.
The adolescent may respond well to another adult who is willing to listen and assume a surrogate parent role with them. While reluctant to participate in their own family grief or support groups, they may respond well to a pastor, school counselor, or another adolescent who “understands.”
Caretakers of a grieving adolescent should not be discouraged if their teen reaches to someone other than family. That’s normal at this stage of development.
Authored by Yvonne Butler Clark, author, It’s Okay to Cry
Helping Children Understand Death
by Karen Nilsen
STAR Class Founder for Funeralplan.com
The days surrounding a death can be a confusing and disorienting time for young children. Altered daily routines and unfamiliar sights and sounds can be difficult for them to understand and cope with. Children notice even the most subtle changes in their routines and surroundings. We must validate their feelings and encourage them to share their thoughts, fears, and observations of the events taking place around them.
Most important, I believe, is to first find out what your child already knows about death, then what they think they know, and then provide the facts in simple, honest, terms.
Explaining death to children is similar to talking to kids about sex, except that many parents find death a more difficult topic. We often use euphemisms such as “passed away” “Grandpa is sleeping,” or “we lost Grandma” instead of the words “dead” and “died.” These softened explanations can cause fears in a young child that they too may get lost or go down for a nap and never wake up. Or worse yet, as 4-year-old Clayton asked, “What if I go to sleep and wake up in a casket like my Grandpa?”
Children see the evidence that livings things die in many areas of their lives. They see and hear about it on the television, in movies–even cartoons, and on an ordinary walk in the park or to school, e.g., : a dead bird, a squirrel, or other small animal. They notice the change of the seasons as plants and trees appear to wither and die.
They may have experienced the death of a pet. It’s hard not to notice the difference between a live goldfish and one floating motionless on the top of the fish bowl. Death causes changes in a living thing. Very young children may not be able to fully comprehend the complexities, but they are aware that death looks and feels different.
If possible, begin a dialogue with your child about how all living things on this earth will die someday. Death is a reality; we can’t hide it from our children. It is the circle of life. If the situation arises where a plant, pet or animal dies, allow the child to investigate it, see it, touch it, even smell it.
With an accepting adult standing close by or holding a child while he/she discovers death on the sidewalk, children often adopt the attitude and the emotion of the adult. Talk about feelings. Share your feelings with your child. Tell him that when someone or something dies, we might feel sad, mad, or confused. And sometimes we might even cry–and that’s okay.
Explain the difference between an “alive” bird and a dead one. When the bird was alive, he could fly, and sing, and eat worms, but now, his body has died. It doesn’t work anymore. He cannot see, or hear, or move. His body is dead. You may even hold a “funeral ceremony” for the animal. Explain that a funeral is a time to say good-bye. It is a Special Time to Always Remember.
Another readily available example in a child’s world is a simple flower. You can show the child a living flower. Point out its qualities of life–e.g., vibrant color, soft velvety petals, strong sturdy stem and enjoyable fragrance. If you want, you may even discuss the flower’s purpose here on earth. It brings us joy, brightens a room, provides food for insects and bees, etc. Then show the child a flower that has died. Compare its qualities to the living flower. The flower has changed. Allow the child to
touch and smell the flower.
When talking to a child about the death of a family member or friend, remind them that like the flower, or bird, or pet, the body of their loved one has changed. It cannot see, or hear, or move. Look through photo albums, talk about special memories and their relationship with the deceased.
Read books available for children. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Reassure them that sad and mad feelings are normal and okay. Allow them to attend the funeral or memorial service for their special person. Encourage them to write a letter or draw a picture that can be placed in the casket or displayed near the urn
You may want to talk about your family’s faith tradition. Heaven is another concept which is a life long learning process.
Death IS a frightening concept for all of us. But, with loving explanations, acceptance of feelings and an opportunity to express those feelings, a child can begin to understand that death is a part of life.
Losing a Child
Losing a Child… Losing Your Future?
It has been said that parents who lose a child also lose the hopes, dreams, and expectations they had for that child. They lose a part of themselves. They lose their future because their child represents their sense of ongoing life. Psychologists believe, because of these reasons, the death of a child is possibly the most difficult loss of all to accept.
People who have children often feel that parenting is life’s most important role, regardless of the child’s age. Therefore, the death of a child can be a tremendous assault on a parent’s very identity.
What to Expect
If your child has died, you will most likely experience several common reactions of bereavement. However, your grief can be more acute than normal. You may go into periods of shock and denial. You will likely become depressed. If you are normally a committed, caring person, you could find that you do not care about anything or anyone. You may find yourself preoccupied with the circumstances of your child’s death, recreating them over and over again in your mind. You may think you see or hear your child. You might have dreams and nightmares about them.
The intense grief caused by your child’s death can take a physical toll as well. You may lose weight, have difficulty sleeping, become irritable or listless, or feel short of breath. Grief has even been known to cause hair loss.
Anger and Guilt
Perhaps the most acute feelings you will experience are anger and guilt. Because the death of a child does not follow the normal order of nature, there is a strong urge to place the blame on someone or something. You may be angry at the doctors or nurses who could not cure your child’s illness, or at God for “letting” your child die. If your child died because of a traumatic accident, you may be angry at whomever you believe caused it. If your child’s actions partly caused the death, you may be angry at him or her and then feel guilty about your anger toward your child.
Parents often feel terribly guilty for simply living. If you had an argument with your child or had to discipline him or her shortly before the death, you may feel guilty for those actions.
You may feel the most guilt because you believe you should have prevented your child’s death. You may find yourself consumed by thoughts of “if only.”
A father tends to suffer guilt over failing to prevent a child’s death. While both parents feel responsible for their child’s safety, men have often been taught that protecting the family is their primary role.
The Grief Experience
While bereaved parents know they will experience intense grief, their child’s death can have another effect they did not anticipate. The death could alter their feelings toward each other. Almost always, the marriage will never be the same. The change could be for the better or for the worse. However, the relationship rarely stays the same.
Parents think their grief will be similar because they have lost the same child. This similar type of mourning rarely happens. The relationship the father mourns is different from the relationship the mother mourns because each parent shared a different relationship with the child.
Fathers may have a more difficult time expressing their grief, believing on some level that “big boys don’t cry,” or that they need to be strong for their surviving family. Unfortunately, this may keep fathers from working through their grief and resolving it. It may become necessary to seek counseling or spiritual help.
Couples may experience difficulty in communicating after the death of their child. The intensity of grief comes at different times for each parent. One parent may use work as an escape while the other finds solace in photo albums and home videos. Dad may feel the need to box up and store the child’s personal belongings while Mom cannot bear to look at them. A physical resemblance to the dead child can also cause difficulties between the parents.
A child’s death may cause sexual problems within a marriage as well. Time, patience, and communication are key elements to resolving these problems. It is not uncommon for these effects to last up to two years or more following the child’s death.
Answering the Questions of Your Other Children
Your other children will look to you to explain the death to them. A child’s questions will depend on their age, but your answers should always be honest. Guard against telling children that their brother or sister is “sleeping,” or that “God wanted their brother or sister.” These may simply cause other fears in your children that may be more difficult to resolve than a more direct answer. Be direct, without offering more information than necessary.
Young children sometimes fantasize that they caused the death by being mean to the deceased sibling or by fighting with them. In this case, it is important to assure your child that he/she had nothing to do with their brother’s or sister’s death.
Remember, your other children need to resolve their grief. They will take their cues from you, so support them in their grief by being open in showing yours. You will not do them any favors by protecting them from the grieving process; in fact, there is no way you can.
Dealing with Grief
It may not be possible to work through your grief alone. We can recommend support groups, counselors, books, and videos which deal specifically with child bereavement. Ask us to recommend a specific book, or visit your local library.
It is important for parents to realize that severe grief can make them feel like they’re going crazy. If you are afraid your grief is out of control, you might consider asking your clergy, doctor, or funeral director to suggest a counselor. You may be relieved to find that your problems, in this situation, are normal.
Finally, remember that other people will likely feel very awkward around you because they will not know what to say. You can help bridge the gap by simply telling them what you need and letting them know if it is all right to mention your deceased child.
Explaining Cremation to Children
Explaining Cremation to a Child
When a deceased family member or friend is cremated or already has been cremated, your child may want to know what cremation is. In answering your child’s questions about cremation, keep your explanation of what cremation involves simple and easy to understand.
In explaining cremation to your child, avoid using words that may have a frightening connotation such as “fire” and “burn.” Instead, in a straightforward manner, tell your child that the deceased body, enclosed in a casket or container, is taken to a place called a crematory where it goes through a special process that reduces it to small particles resembling fine gray or white sand. Be sure to point out that a dead body feels no pain.
Let your child know that these cremated remains are placed in a container called an urn and returned to the family. If cremation has already taken place and the container picked up, you may want to show it to the child. Because children are curious, your child may want to look at the contents.
If your child makes such a request, look at them yourself first so that you can describe what they look like. Share this with your child. Then let the child decide whether to proceed further.
If possible, arrange for a time when you and your child can be with the body before cremation is carried out. If handled correctly, this time can be a positive experience for the child. It can provide an opportunity for the child to say “good-bye” and accept the reality of death. However, the viewing of the body should not be forced. Use your best judgment on whether or not this should be done.
Depending on the age of your child, you may wish to include him or her in the planning of what will be done with the cremated remains. Before you do this, familiarize yourself with the many types of cremation memorials available. Some of the many options to consider include burying the remains in a family burial plot, interring them in an urn garden that many cemeteries have, or placing the urn in a columbarium niche.
Defined as a recessed compartment, the niche may be an open front protected by glass or a closed front faced with bronze, marble, or granite. (An arrangement of niches is called a columbarium, which may be an entire building, a room, a bank along a corridor, or a series of special indoor alcoves. It also may be part of an outdoor setting such as a garden wall.)
Although your child may not completely understand these or other options for memorialization, being involved in the planning helps establish a sense of comfort and understanding that life goes on even though someone loved has died.
If you incur any difficulties in explaining death or cremation to your child, you may wish to consult a child guidance counselor who specializes in these areas.
Mourning the Death of Your Pet
Mourning the Death of Your Pet
Having a beloved pet die is traumatic and painful, and the most natural thing in the world is to have intense feelings of grief and sadness. Our pets give us unconditional love, are always there to patiently listen to us when we need to talk, and are often our best friend.
Even though psychologists have long maintained the grief that pet owners experience after the death of their pet is comparable to the grief suffered after the death of a family member, society doesn’t offer a grieving pet owner much sympathy or compassion. Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated in their grief, and are without the support they so desperately need.
When a person dies, friends and relatives show their support by attending the funeral or memorial service. Even in weeks following the funeral, people usually continue to provide comfort to the bereaved person in a number of different ways. Usually when a pet dies there is no funeral, no memorial service; often friends and family members don’t understand the depth of the loss that is felt.
Stages of Grief
The emotions that you may experience after the death of a pet often go through various stages, such as denial, anger, depression, and finally, acceptance. Don’t be surprised at the overwhelming grief that you feel; when you love profoundly, you will mourn profoundly. The intensity and length of the grieving process depends on many factors, but a lack of support prolongs your feelings of anguish. You may want to seek the help of a counselor or a pet loss support group, which are often sponsored by local Humane Societies and/or veterinarians. As time passes, your pain will subside as you focus more on the good times and wonderful memories of your pet, and not on the death. Even though the grief and pain may be intense right now, don’t rule out someday having another pet. A new pet could never replace your dearly loved companion, but will fulfill your need to nurture and care for a pet — once again providing you with that treasured unconditional love.
Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Pet
Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods of time, they can be as initially devastated as an adult can by the death of a pet, if not more so. Although each will react differently, some things can prove helpful to a child:
- Encourage your child to talk openly about their pet. Include your child in all family discussions and talk about death and dying honestly. If you can be honest and open about your own grief, your child won’t be as likely to hold back their emotions or feel alone.
- Give your child plenty of comfort and hugs.
- Make sure to inform their teacher about the death of their pet.
- Never tell your child that the pet was “put to sleep,” or that “God took your pet.” Your child may start to have fears that God will “take” them, their siblings, or you; and your child also may become frightened of going to sleep.
- Encourage your child to cherish the happy memories of their pet, and help them say good-bye in whatever way they choose.
Can Other Family Pets Grieve?
Animals can become very attached to each other when they coexist in the same household, and can display intense symptoms of stress when they are separated. They may become depressed, nervous, or restless, or they may begin having disturbances in their sleeping and eating patterns. They may also wander around, seeking their companion, or they may become more needy and desire undivided attention from you. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, the following guide may be helpful:
- Don’t overdo when it comes to giving your pet extra attention; it may lead to problems with separation anxiety.
- Don’t let your pet’s normal routine be interrupted; continue all the regular activities you usually do with him/her.
- Do be flexible and patient. If your pet doesn’t seem to have an appetite, don’t try changing food or feeding times. Allow your pet to go at their own pace; however, consult your veterinarian if there is a drastic change in eating patterns for any extended period of time.
- Don’t get a new pet immediately. Give your surviving pet (and yourself) time to mourn.
Helping the Healing Process
As time passes, healing will occur, but there are several things you can do for yourself in the meantime:
- Give yourself permission to mourn, and consider avoiding others who don’t understand.
- Take time to heal. Don’t let anyone tell you how long a “normal” grieving period should be.
- Lean on friends and family. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; you may want to take advantage of support groups for grieving pet owners.
- Remember to get plenty of rest, eat sensibly and exercise.
- Memorialize your pet in whatever way you feel comfortable. You will find closure and, at the same time, pay meaningful tribute to your beloved pet.
Grief is more than likely the most difficult emotion a person can experience, especially when someone is mourning the death of their precious pet. However, more and more resources are becoming available to help us recognize that feelings of grief are completely natural, and above all, that we are not alone.
Remember Me: Poem
To Remember Me
a poem by Robert N. Test
Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’s face, or love in the eyes of a woman.
Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain.
Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play.
Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week.
Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled child walk.
If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses, and all prejudice against my fellow man.
Give my sins to the devil.
Give my soul to God.
If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you
If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.
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