Grief: Helping Your Child Deal With Loss (cont.)
wabe_grb_webmd: Does the way a person died affect the child's grieving process?
Dr. Corr: Yes, it can. Deaths that are off time, or occur very suddenly or quickly, or sometimes the result of long, drawn out dying process -- almost for everyone, those kinds of death are difficult to deal with. Deaths that involve personal agency, such as suicide or homicide, can be particularly difficult for survivors. So yes, the manner of death can be very important to a grieving child.
Moderator: Would you say those are instances when you shouldn't tell the child exactly how the person died?
Dr. Corr: Well, you might tell the child something about the death, but perhaps not every difficult detail. The rule here is that whatever you say should be reliable; it should be something you won't have to take back, but honesty doesn't mean you have to be candid about every detail of a death. Again, what does the child want to know, and what does the child need to know?
eelz_webmd: We just got a goldfish which my daughter loves but which I doubt will live very long (judging from my experience with having goldfish). Is there a way I can prepare her for its death?
Dr. Corr: Most animals have shorter life spans than human beings so, often, living with a pet can teach us something about its life and needs and responsibility, but also living with a pet can teach us about loss, death, sadness, and coping. I think it's good for children to have contact with pets and to deal with those issues.
melissa4418_msn: My three-year-old was there when her great-grandmother died. She brings up her death in general not the event all the time. She says "I'm sad bubby died" when she is upset for any reason, including being told no. How should I respond? I just say "I'm sad, too," at this point?
Dr. Corr: "I'm sad, too," is a good answer. It shows that we've had losses also, not just the child. But you might explore that further. You might ask, "Why are you sad," or "What about this makes you sad?" You could also say, "What is it about the present experience that makes you think of the sadness you had with your grandmother's death?" Someone once said, "We are all born with the ability to change, but we have to learn to cope with loss." So, use these opportunities as moments in which to help teach your daughter how to cope with loss.
yingeleh_webmd: How should I respond to my son's questions about his own mortality in light of his grandmother's death?
Dr. Corr: I think in two ways. First, you have to be honest. "We are mortal creatures; at some point we will all die." That can be difficult. Second, you want to speak about hope also. "We hope that will not happen for a very long time. We will try to do whatever we can to make possible a long life." So I would join honesty and hope in response.
Moderator: Is there a grieving process most children go through?
Dr. Corr: I don't believe in stage theories of grief or mourning, particularly not stage theories that were developed not from children and not from bereavement, but from dying. Now, having said that, children react to loss; that's what grief is. It would be surprising if they didn't react to an important loss in their life. Second, children try to deal with both the loss and their reactions, for example, with the loss of a grandparent and their anger that grandparent died. Dealing with is coping, or mourning. So is there a process in the sense that children experience grief?' They express and try to cope with loss of grief, yes. And they will do all of this on the basis of what has happened, what they understand about what has happened, and what they have learned about coping, and finally whatever help they get from the people around them.
Moderator: When there is more than one child involved, would you recommend encouraging the children to help each other through the process?
Dr. Corr: Yes, I think shared experiences can be the basis for lots of mutual help. Shared experience is really the basis for all the support groups in our society. So yes, I would encourage children who have experienced similar losses to try and help each other if they're willing.
eelz_webmd: How do you deal with a child's anger when she or he loses a loved one?
Dr. Corr: Anger is a perfectly normal response to loss. It says, "I've been hurt and I want to turn that outward at someone or something." The real question is not the anger, but how the anger is managed, or how we help the child cope with his or her anger. So, we might encourage them to pound a pillow rather than beat his little sister. For an adolescent, we might encourage sports activities rather than fights at school. It's not being angry, it's what we do with the anger that is important here.
chapman_2_webmd: Do you have any advice for friends of people who had parents die?
Dr. Corr: Well, we're all the children of some parents, so in a sense, all of us could be affected by the death of parent, just as to a parent, no matter how old the child is, the child is still my son or daughter. Friends could recognize the importance of a parent's death for a person at any age. That is perhaps even more significant for a younger child or an adolescent; for a younger child, because the parent is so crucial to taking care of the child, nourishing him, cleaning him or her, providing food, etc.; for an adolescent, because even though there is a normal developmental process in adolescence of separating from parents and developing one's own personal identity, still if we take away the parent, that process is complicated. So death can complicate lives in general, and it can complicate normal development in children and adolescents. Friends should try to be available for anyone who has experienced the death of a parent. Being available often means just being present and listening. Sometimes it's uncomfortable -- be there anyhow.