Grief and loss can be one of the most difficult experiences in your life when someone you love dies. Some describe their grief as coming in waves. When you least expect it, you may be struck by the wave and carried along with it. Emotions are felt differently for everyone at different times throughout the grief process. As ordinary people, we may choose to avoid talking about death and dying. Our avoidance can take several forms, for example, we may not know what to say, or an emotional trigger or memory may prompt our silence. In today’s society, we are surrounded with stories of grief and loss: we watch a funeral procession pass by, we experience a personal loss, we listen to the radio, watch TV, or read an internet account of someone’s death, or of lives lost to community violence or natural disaster. Grief becomes part of our everyday life in some form or another.
This information may be useful at different times in your life. It is written to help you and the children you teach cope with the death of your loved one. The way you use the information may vary depending on family, cultural, and religious beliefs. The information includes contemporary models, research, guidelines, and interventions as it relates to grief and loss. This unthinkable topic continues to be reinforced by adults who have good intentions but just don’t know what to say or how to handle the emotions that are part of the deal. It is my hope to create an awareness that will bring social change. To help find ways to teach and empower adults as they help children and youth to cope with the realities of life, death, and living.
As I remember my own personal history of losses as a child, I recall when I was eleven years-old having a young cousin die that impacted my life, stayed with me throughout my adulthood, and perhaps influenced my career choice.
I had a three year-old cousin who had leukemia, named Sonia. She came to our home with my aunt and uncle to die. Sonia was a beautiful little girl who liked playing with dolls and her tea set when she wasn’t too tired. She also enjoyed when I would comb her hair or help her get dressed but I always remember being cautious around her and careful not to cause her any discomfort. It is the day that she died that has lasting memories for me now 47 years later. (see detailed story) This and in combination with the many ill children I knew who died during my career as a Child Life Specialist. In addition, to working with children who survived witnessing severe and fatal family violence. These experiences and this emotional impact in my life has brought me to this moment of being able to teach about this topic and share my journey.
My personal experiences about death started very early in life for me. It is clear that my parents had tremendous courage and willingness to deal with a very difficult situation. Their ability to take on the responsibility of Sonia and the rest of the family seemed so natural to them. I received messages in some form or another from my parents that death was not to be feared and it was a natural part of life. I had no idea that this made any impression on me until I finished my Masters Degree and wrote a master thesis on “Grief and Loss: Helping Children and Families”. My childhood messages and experiences about death remain as part of a natural process. The process of reviewing my history of losses has been difficult and has required some introspective work on my part. This has not come naturally and I have had to be open and willing to share. Going through this process has not been done alone, it has required someone to share and
listen to these painful memories. I feel that this process is ongoing and that it is a major part of my comfort level in being able to do the work I do.