June 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm #3747
I do think that creating grief rituals is especially important for children, as they process their thoughts and feelings about a death. In my experience, it is adults who struggle the most with rituals and children often take their cues from the adults in their life. It is important to honor both the personhood of the child, as well as of the deceased person. While these may be young people, it is condescending for us to think that they are not experiencing the full force of grief and loss. Perhaps what is really happening is that facing a child’s grief adds unbearably to the grief and strain experienced by some adults, and so to reduce their own anxiety and pain, they try to shield a child (when really they are shielding themselves!).
Organized, church rituals might not create a lot of space for young children. I like the suggestions offered in the article about letting a child pick a poem to be read or a song, or contribute in some way. From my own experience, asking my daughter to participate in the planning of the actual service was very stress inducing and wasn’t a particularly healing thing for her. Giving her the chance to create her own informal rituals and ways to honor her grandmother was very important – she wrote a letter, sang a song just to me, and slipped a tube of chapstick in the coffin during visitation. She just wanted to be led during the formal church rituals, because they felt familiar and she didn’t feel stressed. Every situation is so unique, which is why this is such an important part of ministry.
I love the description of the funeral home with the swing on the porch – what a great way to reduce stress and fear for a child, and to let them do what they can, decide how much and how long to participate in a funeral service. I think kids are often intimidated in walking out – I know my son hates to feel like everyone is looking at him, but this funeral home seems to have found a way to normalize that choice and process. The only way that works is if adults and ministers prepare a child for the service and what to expect, giving that child explicit permission to feel and do what they need to do. Also, I think it is important to validate for a child that everyone processes grief differently, and that it is okay to feel whatever you feel during the ritual, e.g. you don’t have to cry. Again, I think children feel a lot of pressure and it is important to talk openly and honestly with them, not only about what things will be like in a memorial service but specifically giving them permission to process their emotions their own way – validation and normalization. Rituals are a great way of structuring these conversations, both before and after the actual ritual.
June 29, 2018 at 5:26 pm #3750
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I agree with all that you have said here. I think rituals are huge in enabling kids and others to process grief.
In a recent funeral for a mother of a friend, during the time of sharing, her 8-year-old great granddaughter lead in the singing of one of the songs. The great-granddaughter had sung this song to the great-grandmother the night before she died.
My 11 grandson and 8-year-old granddaughter asked to visit the cemetery where my 98-year-old father in law is buried. They both listened, watched and asked many questions during his funeral. The visit to the cemetery afforded them the opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts and feelings about the loss.
Ironically, my father in law had a sister die when she was 8 and he was 4 years old. Up until the last year of his life, he would talk about the experience of the embalming, wake, and funeral that was held in his home. When asked about the experience, the theme for him was that nobody explained or talked or listened to him what was going on.
I have facilitated a Family in Transition Program required to attend by family court for all divorcing couples who have children between 5 – 17. The parents meet separately and the kids meet in age groups with facilitators. Grief is one of the first topics discussed. Parents agree that divorce causes much grief for all involved. When asked what the ritual for this kind of grief, there is no response. I suggest that participating in four hours of small group discussion for the kids normalizes experiences, and gives them permission to share feelings and to not feel alone.
Another issue where rituals are important is in the death of beloved pets. We created a small pet cemetery in the back year and planted nice shrubs over it. We had very meaningful burials and sharing at the death of several much-beloved pets. Through the years, the kids could be seen from time to time sitting on the bench next to the memorial plot.
I loved the quote in the article that essentially said, kids need time to pause, reflect, and remember loved ones…
July 2, 2018 at 8:49 pm #3790
Rick, thanks for sharing. We often act as if death is the only source of grief, but as you have shared, there are so many losses we experience that cause us to grieve, and children especially need support in processing them. Giving them support and the opportunity to pause, reflect and remember is important in dealing with a child’s different grief experiences, but often we don’t take the time because we discount their losses.
I was a lawyer in my past life, and I while I haven’t been involved in a formal program like the Family in Transition Program, I definitely saw occasions when that type of program would have made a huge difference for children and families. Normalizing children’s experiences is so important, especially during those awkward tween and teen years when it is easy for a kid to feel like an outsider looking in anyway, as if your life experiences are totally different from the “norm.” And sharing feelings – my teenage son would rather eat Brussel sprouts than be emotionally vulnerable with other kids or people he doesn’t know – how important to create a safe space and give these children a chance to be vulnerable and share with one another.
July 2, 2018 at 10:20 pm #3791
Lori Casey BSN MDiv., BCC-PCHACParticipant@lcasey
Hi Rick and Carolyn,
July 5, 2018 at 10:32 am #3797
I enjoyed the creative ideas presented in the article, especially the honoring of the stump! The idea of a swing at a funeral home as a safe escape is a wonderful thought. When my father died my nephew, who was 12 at the time, had to leave during the viewing because he actually got nauseated seeing my dad in the coffin. How nice it would have been to sit close by in a swing… I often tell adults when a patient dies that they are the models for the children around them of how to grieve, it is important that children see us cry and that we can help them create a ritual that is meaningful. My father did that for me when my grandfather died. I was 8 years old and my grandfather was actually laid out for viewing in his home. (I grew up in rural Ohio) I went outside and picked wild flowers for him because the house was full of flower arrangements. My father found a vase and then placed them in the casket with my grandfather. It meant so much to me. Talk about making a ritual meaningful! When my mom was dying last year I encouraged my daughter to travel to see her to say goodbye. She took her flute so she could play for her. Her grandmother always went to her concerts and football games and I was touched by her thinking of this last ritual of sharing together. I do think ritual is important for children as a way to process, grieve, and cope with loss.
July 5, 2018 at 10:42 am #3798
Dierdre, it is nice to hear from you.
I also enjoyed the creative idea of honoring the stump. One thing I have noticed with many of my hospice families is that they feel as if somehow they aren’t allowed to be creative, as if they are only supposed to do certain things. I have found that giving them permission to create their own rituals and to think creatively has led to some very meaningful experiences for family members, especially children. I love the story of your daughter taking her flute to play for your mother because it shows how powerful and simple a ritual can be – the important thing is that it was organic to their relationship. Again with my hospice families, I saw well-meaning people trying to force rituals that had no meaning to the family involved. One size doesn’t fit all, especially for kids.
July 8, 2018 at 3:06 pm #3809
Lori Casey BSN MDiv., BCC-PCHACParticipant@lcasey
Thank you Carolyn for sharing the story of your daughter and her preferences in the funeral/time of grief. You are right, each child is unique and discerning what will make them most comfortable is essential. I loved what you wrote concerning rituals, “One size does not fit all.” Dierdre, what a lovely gift your daughter gave to your mother in playing her flute- as well as the movement it provided towards saying the final goodbye. I am so glad you created the safe place for children/teens to interact in the face of divorce. Dierdre, seeing loved ones in the coffin is overwhelming for many people. I have seen people faint and/or became physically affected at the visitation if the coffin is open. And I too agree, what a lovely and wise accommodation to have that swing available. When my own grandmother died, I remember walking into the funeral home and wandering into several rooms looking for her. Although no one in the coffins looked like her, I was assured by the funeral director that the body in one of the rooms was, indeed, my grandmother. Terrible make up and of course she had dwindled- but I remember feeling shock and nausea. For people with no faith tradition and limited funds, their resources for helping their children and themselves through grief may be minimal. I know that many Hospices offer counselors/counseling specifically for children, but I’m unsure about any community financial aid (?) for a licensed children’s counselor.
July 10, 2018 at 1:02 pm #3810
In Dallas, there is an organization (Griefworks) that offers a free grief support program for children 5-18 and their adult family members. My understanding is that this includes individual and group work. My particular hospice didn’t offer ongoing counseling for children, but it hosts a weekend retreat for children and families that is focused on grief support.
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