Get Help Now!  (312) 655-7700
 

Newsletters & Articles


LOSS Program Office
721 N. LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60654

Main Line: (312) 655-7283
Fax Line: (312) 948-3340

Featured this Month:

Child’s Mind Grief: Processing Suicide Losses with Younger Children
Tuesday, July 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
This article is inspired by the presence and thoughtfulness of your younger children, aged two to ten, who have received services in the LOSS Program for Children and Youth. At its inception, our clinicians with considerable background in child therapy could not anticipate the extent and depth to which we would witness the young as they opened themselves to the work of grief. When we consider the universality of grief, how readily do we think of it as an active mind and body process with the potential to advance development in young children? When we make space in our minds for young children to respond uninhibitedly to their experience, we do see them grow. Each child who attended individual sessions or a grief group overcame the newness and strangeness of a setting in which their grief would be heard, a setting to which you never dreamed your children would be exposed. Some of you attended the first individual sessions with your child, but eventually, you watched your child walk into a room where the door closed, and a relationship was formed in which the most innocent mind began to work through the reality of loss and change.

What we knew from the research is that children grieve intermittently. They may resist information about the irreversibility of biological death, show temporary regressive behaviors or have temporary physiological reactions. Children may feel guilt or responsibility for the death, or assume a sense of caregiving responsibility toward the surviving parent. They may tell a non-cohesive story about the loss. We certainly did see young children exhibit some of these well-known grief responses. But your children amazed us with the details of their memories and their ability to gradually take in a sense of what felt incomprehensible to you, their surviving parents. Your children’s grief responses showed greater empathy and compassion than we anticipated. They had formed impressions about the way their loved one lived life as well as the quality of their thoughts in the final hours. They engaged with wonder to make sense of their loved one’s depression and the irrationality of an act to make his or her body stop working. They remembered some of the tiniest details of their loved one’s physical body in life, and asked questions about the integrity of the body after death: A three year old child fretted about the meaning of the casket covering the lower half of the body. They wanted to know about cremation and burial: A six year old wondered why dad wanted to be cremated?” They shared their worries that the surviving parent could die, and expressed ideas about how they might go on if this happened: A seven year old worried, “I hope it won’t happen if I can’t drive a car.” They challenged the permanence of death and expressed an ego-centric faith that they could awaken their loved one, or find him or her to bring them home. Finally, your young children were able to think about the various impacts that a deceased parent’s or sibling’s absence will have on their lives as time goes on: “…not having my dad at Halloween,” “I miss my dad at my games,” “I didn’t want to move to a new school without my brother.”
The children we saw needed to build trust and take time to sift through the unique thoughts and ideas relating to their bereavement. We want to understand more of what appears to be an almost instinctual privacy that children and adolescents seem to experience that causes them to compartmentalize their grief from that of their surviving parents. Are they protecting their parents, themselves, or both? Or is grief an interior experience in which uncertainty is guarded throughout early development? They seemed to respond to the counseling room as the place to express sadness, sarcasm, embarrassment, curiosity, and to recognize that love can transcend pain. It seems that the grief experience can move even the young toward greater wisdom and maturity when they work through the pain and frustration in their troubled relationship with the loved one. Not every child remembers being cared for and safe. Children noticed when adults and older siblings were “weak,” “made mistakes,” or “acted mean” prior to their deaths. Others wondered why their loved ones seemed “the same” when they actually had a serious sickness in their brains. One child wanted to talk about her premonition that her parent would die. A ten year old wanted to learn about the spectrum of depression, and how only certain depressions lead to suicide. Some wanted to know if their own behavior influenced the suicide, or what they could have done to prevent it.

Bear in mind that these collective conceptualizations were drawn out and articulated with purely child-like capacities; with a child’s language, associations, diagrams, self-portraits and other art forms. Your children were open to voicing thoughts about what seemed strange or irrational, and willing to explore with only partially formed stories. Is it possible that the youngest minds can engage with the incomprehensibility of an absence because their minds are more flexible, more magical, having fewer preconceptions? They seemed to reveal an emotional muscle that was exercised when they opened into grief work. In individual ways, your child transcended what would appear as the limitations of childhood development to express and find meaning in the felt experience of loss and grief. Similar to their grieving parents and caregivers, your children seemed to draw from the reflections that they received from their lost loved ones, from the way their grief was heard and supported, and from the stories they told themselves about themselves and the world as they integrated a life-changing loss.



Archives:

Child’s Mind Grief: Processing Suicide Losses with Younger Children
Tuesday, July 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
This article is inspired by the presence and thoughtfulness of your younger children, aged two to ten, who have received services in the LOSS Program for Children and Youth. At its inception, our clinicians with considerable background in child therapy could not anticipate the extent and depth to which we would witness the young as they opened themselves to the work of grief. When we consider the universality of grief, how readily do we think of it as an active mind and body process with the potential to advance development in young children? When we make space in our minds for young children to respond uninhibitedly to their experience, we do see them grow. Each child who attended individual sessions or a grief group overcame the newness and strangeness of a setting in which their grief would be heard, a setting to which you never dreamed your children would be exposed. Some of you attended the first individual sessions with your child, but eventually, you watched your child walk into a room where the door closed, and a relationship was formed in which the most innocent mind began to work through the reality of loss and change.

What we knew from the research is that children grieve intermittently. They may resist information about the irreversibility of biological death, show temporary regressive behaviors or have temporary physiological reactions. Children may feel guilt or responsibility for the death, or assume a sense of caregiving responsibility toward the surviving parent. They may tell a non-cohesive story about the loss. We certainly did see young children exhibit some of these well-known grief responses. But your children amazed us with the details of their memories and their ability to gradually take in a sense of what felt incomprehensible to you, their surviving parents. Your children’s grief responses showed greater empathy and compassion than we anticipated. They had formed impressions about the way their loved one lived life as well as the quality of their thoughts in the final hours. They engaged with wonder to make sense of their loved one’s depression and the irrationality of an act to make his or her body stop working. They remembered some of the tiniest details of their loved one’s physical body in life, and asked questions about the integrity of the body after death: A three year old child fretted about the meaning of the casket covering the lower half of the body. They wanted to know about cremation and burial: A six year old wondered why dad wanted to be cremated?” They shared their worries that the surviving parent could die, and expressed ideas about how they might go on if this happened: A seven year old worried, “I hope it won’t happen if I can’t drive a car.” They challenged the permanence of death and expressed an ego-centric faith that they could awaken their loved one, or find him or her to bring them home. Finally, your young children were able to think about the various impacts that a deceased parent’s or sibling’s absence will have on their lives as time goes on: “…not having my dad at Halloween,” “I miss my dad at my games,” “I didn’t want to move to a new school without my brother.”
The children we saw needed to build trust and take time to sift through the unique thoughts and ideas relating to their bereavement. We want to understand more of what appears to be an almost instinctual privacy that children and adolescents seem to experience that causes them to compartmentalize their grief from that of their surviving parents. Are they protecting their parents, themselves, or both? Or is grief an interior experience in which uncertainty is guarded throughout early development? They seemed to respond to the counseling room as the place to express sadness, sarcasm, embarrassment, curiosity, and to recognize that love can transcend pain. It seems that the grief experience can move even the young toward greater wisdom and maturity when they work through the pain and frustration in their troubled relationship with the loved one. Not every child remembers being cared for and safe. Children noticed when adults and older siblings were “weak,” “made mistakes,” or “acted mean” prior to their deaths. Others wondered why their loved ones seemed “the same” when they actually had a serious sickness in their brains. One child wanted to talk about her premonition that her parent would die. A ten year old wanted to learn about the spectrum of depression, and how only certain depressions lead to suicide. Some wanted to know if their own behavior influenced the suicide, or what they could have done to prevent it.

Bear in mind that these collective conceptualizations were drawn out and articulated with purely child-like capacities; with a child’s language, associations, diagrams, self-portraits and other art forms. Your children were open to voicing thoughts about what seemed strange or irrational, and willing to explore with only partially formed stories. Is it possible that the youngest minds can engage with the incomprehensibility of an absence because their minds are more flexible, more magical, having fewer preconceptions? They seemed to reveal an emotional muscle that was exercised when they opened into grief work. In individual ways, your child transcended what would appear as the limitations of childhood development to express and find meaning in the felt experience of loss and grief. Similar to their grieving parents and caregivers, your children seemed to draw from the reflections that they received from their lost loved ones, from the way their grief was heard and supported, and from the stories they told themselves about themselves and the world as they integrated a life-changing loss.