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

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

Featured this Month:

Children’s Autonomy During Grief
Saturday, October 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
The LOSS Program has welcomed many members who have openly shared their grief.  Over the years a culture has developed to create a rhythm and ritual for intentional grieving in the lives of adult survivors who attend groups or individual counseling.  Additionally, the Obelisk goes out monthly to promote healthy perspectives and allow narratives of loss and remembrance to be shared. Many of our survivors embrace the loving, supportive, genuine culture of grief.  They learn how to do the grief and   it becomes a strong value. Grief is, after all, an organic response that we cultivate as a practice when we seek healing for our wounded souls.

With the age range of children seen in our LOSS Program for Children and Youth, most are brought in by their concerned parents.  Grief is hard work, and I sometimes think about how little power the bereaved young ones have. One 5-year-old recently said that he comes to see me “about dying.” Yes, I felt bad when he said that.  I know that he wants to play with the dominoes and enjoy a pretend game of baseball.  It is very important that we play and talk about living too, and we do. I take cues from him as he moves through his five-year-old world as a veteran of loss.

When children struggle with the death of a fundamental attachment figure, the grief is in their bodies. The loss informs the way they see the world.  They also undertake strategies for coping and identifying with everything that mirrors their sense of self, even if that reflection is cynical and hard-edged, it is their autonomous claim on how to live after a sudden, profound loss. Older children and teens struggle with the meaning of suicide and sometimes must reconcile a sense of confusion and abandonment.  This does require inquiry, vulnerability and sadness.  But some young people disown this process for a while.  They throw themselves into activities.  With sideways glances, they observe the changes in surviving parents and plunge into the ceaseless flow of their developmental tasks. The grief voice is present, but it is blunted.  Some want to move away from a feeling of pressure associated with the loss in their home, but they don’t always have a way to do this without feeling some guilt. Grief sometimes becomes complicated.

Surviving parents often wonder if their child is grieving at all.   I would venture to say that if the child lost a sibling or primary attachment figure to suicide, they are indeed grieving. It is an organic process, and the body-mind knows what to do.  Grief looks different in children and teens than it does in adults. We only need to support that process for them. The challenge of suicide survival is the relational piece.  Even children have the capacity to observe suicide loss in terms of their relationship with the deceased.  However, they may not have the cognitive ability to formulate the questions that might lead to a productive inquiry.  Teens might have the ability, but wish to evade the vulnerable feelings that accompany inquiry. The sense of self can be deeply wounded by the suicide loss of a loved one, especially at a time when identity and autonomy are major developmental tasks.  And ego development in children and teens is so demanding; it is understandable that grief may become an approach-avoidance process. 

After seeing many children and teens in the LOSS Program for Children and Youth, I have appreciated the entirely unique expressions and needs present in each one.  I’ve developed an eye for their grief, whether subtle or overt.  I see the defenses, the compensations, the attempts at order, the emotional dysregulation, the longing for normalcy, the anxiety, and often, the wish to address loss as a rite of passage. We must allow them to shape themselves through grief.  We can offer them opportunities for expression while we also respect their need to protect their sense of self as they survive loss.  I do not mean to imply a totally “hands off” response to their grief, but rather an attentive presence that honors their process while also standing ready to intervene in those moments when intervention is called for.  Children and adolescents are likely to respond with growth when parents and caregivers allow them compassionate space, and honor their “fire walk” through major bereavement. This is their intentional culture of grief, different from yours as an adult.  Yes, they will be shaped by loss.  We support that shaping with compassion, and by providing a reflection to our children of their uniqueness, their autonomy through survival.


Archives:

Children’s Autonomy During Grief
Saturday, October 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
The LOSS Program has welcomed many members who have openly shared their grief.  Over the years a culture has developed to create a rhythm and ritual for intentional grieving in the lives of adult survivors who attend groups or individual counseling.  Additionally, the Obelisk goes out monthly to promote healthy perspectives and allow narratives of loss and remembrance to be shared. Many of our survivors embrace the loving, supportive, genuine culture of grief.  They learn how to do the grief and   it becomes a strong value. Grief is, after all, an organic response that we cultivate as a practice when we seek healing for our wounded souls.

With the age range of children seen in our LOSS Program for Children and Youth, most are brought in by their concerned parents.  Grief is hard work, and I sometimes think about how little power the bereaved young ones have. One 5-year-old recently said that he comes to see me “about dying.” Yes, I felt bad when he said that.  I know that he wants to play with the dominoes and enjoy a pretend game of baseball.  It is very important that we play and talk about living too, and we do. I take cues from him as he moves through his five-year-old world as a veteran of loss.

When children struggle with the death of a fundamental attachment figure, the grief is in their bodies. The loss informs the way they see the world.  They also undertake strategies for coping and identifying with everything that mirrors their sense of self, even if that reflection is cynical and hard-edged, it is their autonomous claim on how to live after a sudden, profound loss. Older children and teens struggle with the meaning of suicide and sometimes must reconcile a sense of confusion and abandonment.  This does require inquiry, vulnerability and sadness.  But some young people disown this process for a while.  They throw themselves into activities.  With sideways glances, they observe the changes in surviving parents and plunge into the ceaseless flow of their developmental tasks. The grief voice is present, but it is blunted.  Some want to move away from a feeling of pressure associated with the loss in their home, but they don’t always have a way to do this without feeling some guilt. Grief sometimes becomes complicated.

Surviving parents often wonder if their child is grieving at all.   I would venture to say that if the child lost a sibling or primary attachment figure to suicide, they are indeed grieving. It is an organic process, and the body-mind knows what to do.  Grief looks different in children and teens than it does in adults. We only need to support that process for them. The challenge of suicide survival is the relational piece.  Even children have the capacity to observe suicide loss in terms of their relationship with the deceased.  However, they may not have the cognitive ability to formulate the questions that might lead to a productive inquiry.  Teens might have the ability, but wish to evade the vulnerable feelings that accompany inquiry. The sense of self can be deeply wounded by the suicide loss of a loved one, especially at a time when identity and autonomy are major developmental tasks.  And ego development in children and teens is so demanding; it is understandable that grief may become an approach-avoidance process. 

After seeing many children and teens in the LOSS Program for Children and Youth, I have appreciated the entirely unique expressions and needs present in each one.  I’ve developed an eye for their grief, whether subtle or overt.  I see the defenses, the compensations, the attempts at order, the emotional dysregulation, the longing for normalcy, the anxiety, and often, the wish to address loss as a rite of passage. We must allow them to shape themselves through grief.  We can offer them opportunities for expression while we also respect their need to protect their sense of self as they survive loss.  I do not mean to imply a totally “hands off” response to their grief, but rather an attentive presence that honors their process while also standing ready to intervene in those moments when intervention is called for.  Children and adolescents are likely to respond with growth when parents and caregivers allow them compassionate space, and honor their “fire walk” through major bereavement. This is their intentional culture of grief, different from yours as an adult.  Yes, they will be shaped by loss.  We support that shaping with compassion, and by providing a reflection to our children of their uniqueness, their autonomy through survival.