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LOSS Program Office
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Chicago, IL 60654

Main Line: (312) 655-7283
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Featured this Month:

Our Grief and Our Children
Tuesday, September 01, 2015 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Families are little systems that respond to change on inter-related levels.    Think of suicide loss within a family as producing seismic change.  While individual elements of our lives have survived the loss, such as other loved ones, home, car and job, they may no longer seem familiar.  In fact, the world we knew before the loss may now seem meaningless, even alien.  We find ourselves searching for something to ground us, something that feels solid and comforting in the midst of shock and instability.  When our core assumptions about life, reality, safety, family and future have been annihilated by the suicide of a spouse or a child, the desperation and trauma we experience can touch our children, even with strong efforts to care for them and maintain normal routines.  

I am speaking about intuitive responses of children to their parents’ grief experience.  Beyond the necessary verbal communication we share with them about the loss, our children are reading us, searching, as we are searching for anything that will help us feel grounded.  As parents, we are transmitting complex non-verbal messages about the loss and its meaning to the surviving family.  Our young children and adolescents are watching us for signs of hope, resilience and cohesion that will support them from the moment of the initial blast of the loss through the later periods of regrowth.    Their eyes and ears are on us as they assess for cues to solve the grief problem, become mini-parents, repress their curiosity and fears about the suicide or carry some responsibility for it.  To the extent they conclude that there is no firm ground they will look for it.  Some children retreat to firm ground with friends, sports, reading, or video games.  We are aware of the vast range of sources beyond the parent-caregiver relationship where children seek stability, some that are safe islands and others that present risk. 

Children and adolescents are attuned to the states of the world as communicated by their primary caregivers.  Is a dilemma created between our needs for emotional authenticity as devastated grieving adults and the messages created by our grief responses to which are children are exposed?  It is important to make unspoken messages spoken, our unconscious behaviors more conscious.  During times of crisis, understanding the importance of protecting children in their roles as children and being verbally clear that although they are witnessing our deep response to loss, with its accompanying disorientation and periods of hopelessness, our intention is to heal and grow, to provide the best world we can create for our surviving children.  The power in this affirming message can support children in grief, to express and explore their own emotions and meanings related to the loss.  Family therapy sessions can offer opportunities to pass this statement on to our children and allow them to talk about any contradictions they may have absorbed as they witness our suffering.  Individual grief is painful and consuming, but it does not have to teach our children that our most intimate, even traumatic losses are not survivable and the family is no longer a place of solid ground.  We can identify our hopelessness as temporary, as a normal part of the early period of grief.  We can demonstrate the importance of inner work and growth as we confront loss, and this helps to balance the sense of devastation that they also notice and respond to.  These are conversations that can happen in increments with children of all ages.  This sharing is a delicate process, one of skill and positive intention, and it can draw families into greater closeness.  

The LOSS Program for Children and Youth encourages parents to participate in their children’s therapeutic services from time to time to address parent grief and its impact on children.


Archives:

Our Grief and Our Children
Tuesday, September 01, 2015 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Families are little systems that respond to change on inter-related levels.    Think of suicide loss within a family as producing seismic change.  While individual elements of our lives have survived the loss, such as other loved ones, home, car and job, they may no longer seem familiar.  In fact, the world we knew before the loss may now seem meaningless, even alien.  We find ourselves searching for something to ground us, something that feels solid and comforting in the midst of shock and instability.  When our core assumptions about life, reality, safety, family and future have been annihilated by the suicide of a spouse or a child, the desperation and trauma we experience can touch our children, even with strong efforts to care for them and maintain normal routines.  

I am speaking about intuitive responses of children to their parents’ grief experience.  Beyond the necessary verbal communication we share with them about the loss, our children are reading us, searching, as we are searching for anything that will help us feel grounded.  As parents, we are transmitting complex non-verbal messages about the loss and its meaning to the surviving family.  Our young children and adolescents are watching us for signs of hope, resilience and cohesion that will support them from the moment of the initial blast of the loss through the later periods of regrowth.    Their eyes and ears are on us as they assess for cues to solve the grief problem, become mini-parents, repress their curiosity and fears about the suicide or carry some responsibility for it.  To the extent they conclude that there is no firm ground they will look for it.  Some children retreat to firm ground with friends, sports, reading, or video games.  We are aware of the vast range of sources beyond the parent-caregiver relationship where children seek stability, some that are safe islands and others that present risk. 

Children and adolescents are attuned to the states of the world as communicated by their primary caregivers.  Is a dilemma created between our needs for emotional authenticity as devastated grieving adults and the messages created by our grief responses to which are children are exposed?  It is important to make unspoken messages spoken, our unconscious behaviors more conscious.  During times of crisis, understanding the importance of protecting children in their roles as children and being verbally clear that although they are witnessing our deep response to loss, with its accompanying disorientation and periods of hopelessness, our intention is to heal and grow, to provide the best world we can create for our surviving children.  The power in this affirming message can support children in grief, to express and explore their own emotions and meanings related to the loss.  Family therapy sessions can offer opportunities to pass this statement on to our children and allow them to talk about any contradictions they may have absorbed as they witness our suffering.  Individual grief is painful and consuming, but it does not have to teach our children that our most intimate, even traumatic losses are not survivable and the family is no longer a place of solid ground.  We can identify our hopelessness as temporary, as a normal part of the early period of grief.  We can demonstrate the importance of inner work and growth as we confront loss, and this helps to balance the sense of devastation that they also notice and respond to.  These are conversations that can happen in increments with children of all ages.  This sharing is a delicate process, one of skill and positive intention, and it can draw families into greater closeness.  

The LOSS Program for Children and Youth encourages parents to participate in their children’s therapeutic services from time to time to address parent grief and its impact on children.