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

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

Your Children’s Grief Services: How Long?
Sunday, May 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Because each bereaved child and each bereaved family is different, it’s challenging to make prescriptive comments about how much professional support to arrange for children and adolescents, and how long that commitment should last.  Time seems to be the currency for grief.  We start thinking about it as soon as the loss begins.  As adults, we commonly doubt that we can manage without something big and well-informed to support us for this formidable journey.  So when the LOSS Program for Children and Youth began our initial thoughts about a normal course of grief support for children were similar to the configuration we were accustomed to for adults.  We liked the idea of ongoing comprehensive individual and group offerings, but soon realized that children need parent transportation and accompaniment; they need dinner at a normal time and they usually have homework.  Add to this sports and after-school activities. Add to this the normal fatigue experienced by bereaved parents and sometimes, strained resources.  We initially envisioned longer courses of individual counseling because suicide loss can be devastating and attachment disruption can have developmental implications.  We envisioned that teenagers could address individuation issues through a generous grief process and younger children could heal through a gradual building of a cohesive narrative around the loss.  Because trauma is often treated this way in therapeutic settings, we saw its application for traumatic loss in an intimate, long term clinical setting.  But based on observations of many children and teens engaging in grief services, we are adjusting our thinking, and recognizing variability in the time factor young people need for this work.

The rapid development of children and teens does seem to require a different lens for looking at their grief processes and the supports that are necessary, and maybe not as much time commitment as we had originally thought.  But we want to cover what is necessary.  We want to provide the most emotionally safe and intimate settings for children to understand suicide loss, to assist the growing sense of self to integrate the loss while minimizing a sense of abandonment and discouraging absorption of  the despair they may have sensed in the person who died.  We still want to support and guide skilled conversations between parents and children that keep them connected to their deceased loved one.  We still want to assess and monitor children and teens for healthy grief with minimal impact on academic, social and emotional development.  But we also observe that the most vital messages, comforts and supports regarding the loss are influenced over time by the caregiver at home.  The bereaved caregiver’s survivor mentality and evolving ability to be present to the child’s needs and experiences are powerful positives, and a mode for responding to each child as an individual.

A specialized grief program for children serves important needs at the outset of a loss.  Parents and caregivers call the LOSS Program for Children and Youth because meeting the grief associated with this type of loss is a milestone for young people in itself, and because suicide can be unfamiliar territory.  Parents are overwhelmed and disoriented with their own grief and may have little idea how to talk to their children about the suicide.  They may wonder if their children’s behavior is normal, whether they should be crying, staying close to their parents, seeking comfort at home, rather than with friends, etc.  It can be difficult to ascertain the scope of your child’s grief response because of the child’s need to appear strong, to self-censor, to distract from the pain or to take care of the grieving parent.   We always recommend that parents consider an assessment and some initial individual or group sessions within months of the loss. This allows a pair of experienced eyes and ears to provide an opinion regarding how your child can benefit from the guidance and support of a children’s grief program.  Because the nature of modern western society no longer guarantees the community support, the ritual and time needed to address grief, the needs of contemporary bereaved individuals are being met with grief counselors.  And the stigma and shock associated with suicide present another dimension of need for professional help.  It is best that we listen carefully to the story that children tell themselves about the suicide because the story has the potential to harm or to help.

So how do bereaved parents come to know how best to balance intuitive care for their children with professional intervention?  General advice is to start with a grief program for children and teens with expertise in suicide loss.  The clinician will attend to the psychoeducational aspect of suicide loss and attempt to find out what the child is telling herself about the suicide.  How does the child make sense of the suicide, and how does she understand her relationship with the deceased loved one?  This is part of the cohesive narrative that becomes the grief story, a story that may evolve over time.  Is the child stuck on feelings of responsibility, anger or a sense of abandonment?  Does the child blame someone else for the suicide?  If so, it is best if these issues are processed and worked through with professional services.  It makes sense to reassess every child’s adjustment to loss based on the parent’s perceptions and the therapist’s feedback.  After about six months, do you see a trend in which your child is returning to normal functioning?  Is there a comfortable flow of conversation and comments regarding the loved one?  Can your child tell you about feelings other than sadness, such as anger or fear or embarrassment?  Our children’s program looks for each child’s opportunities for privacy and shared communication regarding feelings that can be heard and accepted by the parent or caregiver.  We also look at the individual child’s trend toward social re-engagement at a level that fits the child’s personality.  You may be ready to deal with your loss within your support system when you notice the following signs:  your child is feeling fairly open about sharing comments related to the loss; she has had opportunities to ask questions and has been exposed to the perspective that suicide is the result of an illness that may have been difficult to identify, and is not about the deceased’s relationship with family members; you  feel confident that your child is in the process of re-entry and able to find comfort in family and friends. , Only understand that grief is revisited as children enter different developmental stages, and consultation or services may become helpful again at a later time.

The LOSS Program for Children and Youth understands that services can be experienced as both welcome supports, but may also feel burdensome.  After any respite from service we will always invite our clients to return, and our parents to seek consultation as needs and questions arise.  When bereaved families are fairly supportive to begin with, healing can often be found in the intuitive, caring interactions that happen between parents and siblings.  Families don’t have to be perfect for this to happen.  There can still be fatigue, adjustments and uncertainty about the future, but security can be nurtured in the communication we promote and the compassion we show for ourselves and those we care for.  When you find yourself thinking about the benefits of independence from grief therapy for your children, we invite you to trust your instincts, consider the growth your family has made on the grief journey and consult, if necessary, as you make this hopeful transition.



Archives:

Your Children’s Grief Services: How Long?
Sunday, May 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Because each bereaved child and each bereaved family is different, it’s challenging to make prescriptive comments about how much professional support to arrange for children and adolescents, and how long that commitment should last.  Time seems to be the currency for grief.  We start thinking about it as soon as the loss begins.  As adults, we commonly doubt that we can manage without something big and well-informed to support us for this formidable journey.  So when the LOSS Program for Children and Youth began our initial thoughts about a normal course of grief support for children were similar to the configuration we were accustomed to for adults.  We liked the idea of ongoing comprehensive individual and group offerings, but soon realized that children need parent transportation and accompaniment; they need dinner at a normal time and they usually have homework.  Add to this sports and after-school activities. Add to this the normal fatigue experienced by bereaved parents and sometimes, strained resources.  We initially envisioned longer courses of individual counseling because suicide loss can be devastating and attachment disruption can have developmental implications.  We envisioned that teenagers could address individuation issues through a generous grief process and younger children could heal through a gradual building of a cohesive narrative around the loss.  Because trauma is often treated this way in therapeutic settings, we saw its application for traumatic loss in an intimate, long term clinical setting.  But based on observations of many children and teens engaging in grief services, we are adjusting our thinking, and recognizing variability in the time factor young people need for this work.

The rapid development of children and teens does seem to require a different lens for looking at their grief processes and the supports that are necessary, and maybe not as much time commitment as we had originally thought.  But we want to cover what is necessary.  We want to provide the most emotionally safe and intimate settings for children to understand suicide loss, to assist the growing sense of self to integrate the loss while minimizing a sense of abandonment and discouraging absorption of  the despair they may have sensed in the person who died.  We still want to support and guide skilled conversations between parents and children that keep them connected to their deceased loved one.  We still want to assess and monitor children and teens for healthy grief with minimal impact on academic, social and emotional development.  But we also observe that the most vital messages, comforts and supports regarding the loss are influenced over time by the caregiver at home.  The bereaved caregiver’s survivor mentality and evolving ability to be present to the child’s needs and experiences are powerful positives, and a mode for responding to each child as an individual.

A specialized grief program for children serves important needs at the outset of a loss.  Parents and caregivers call the LOSS Program for Children and Youth because meeting the grief associated with this type of loss is a milestone for young people in itself, and because suicide can be unfamiliar territory.  Parents are overwhelmed and disoriented with their own grief and may have little idea how to talk to their children about the suicide.  They may wonder if their children’s behavior is normal, whether they should be crying, staying close to their parents, seeking comfort at home, rather than with friends, etc.  It can be difficult to ascertain the scope of your child’s grief response because of the child’s need to appear strong, to self-censor, to distract from the pain or to take care of the grieving parent.   We always recommend that parents consider an assessment and some initial individual or group sessions within months of the loss. This allows a pair of experienced eyes and ears to provide an opinion regarding how your child can benefit from the guidance and support of a children’s grief program.  Because the nature of modern western society no longer guarantees the community support, the ritual and time needed to address grief, the needs of contemporary bereaved individuals are being met with grief counselors.  And the stigma and shock associated with suicide present another dimension of need for professional help.  It is best that we listen carefully to the story that children tell themselves about the suicide because the story has the potential to harm or to help.

So how do bereaved parents come to know how best to balance intuitive care for their children with professional intervention?  General advice is to start with a grief program for children and teens with expertise in suicide loss.  The clinician will attend to the psychoeducational aspect of suicide loss and attempt to find out what the child is telling herself about the suicide.  How does the child make sense of the suicide, and how does she understand her relationship with the deceased loved one?  This is part of the cohesive narrative that becomes the grief story, a story that may evolve over time.  Is the child stuck on feelings of responsibility, anger or a sense of abandonment?  Does the child blame someone else for the suicide?  If so, it is best if these issues are processed and worked through with professional services.  It makes sense to reassess every child’s adjustment to loss based on the parent’s perceptions and the therapist’s feedback.  After about six months, do you see a trend in which your child is returning to normal functioning?  Is there a comfortable flow of conversation and comments regarding the loved one?  Can your child tell you about feelings other than sadness, such as anger or fear or embarrassment?  Our children’s program looks for each child’s opportunities for privacy and shared communication regarding feelings that can be heard and accepted by the parent or caregiver.  We also look at the individual child’s trend toward social re-engagement at a level that fits the child’s personality.  You may be ready to deal with your loss within your support system when you notice the following signs:  your child is feeling fairly open about sharing comments related to the loss; she has had opportunities to ask questions and has been exposed to the perspective that suicide is the result of an illness that may have been difficult to identify, and is not about the deceased’s relationship with family members; you  feel confident that your child is in the process of re-entry and able to find comfort in family and friends. , Only understand that grief is revisited as children enter different developmental stages, and consultation or services may become helpful again at a later time.

The LOSS Program for Children and Youth understands that services can be experienced as both welcome supports, but may also feel burdensome.  After any respite from service we will always invite our clients to return, and our parents to seek consultation as needs and questions arise.  When bereaved families are fairly supportive to begin with, healing can often be found in the intuitive, caring interactions that happen between parents and siblings.  Families don’t have to be perfect for this to happen.  There can still be fatigue, adjustments and uncertainty about the future, but security can be nurtured in the communication we promote and the compassion we show for ourselves and those we care for.  When you find yourself thinking about the benefits of independence from grief therapy for your children, we invite you to trust your instincts, consider the growth your family has made on the grief journey and consult, if necessary, as you make this hopeful transition.