Supporting Children Through Grief

On Saturday, June 2nd, the AJC published an article by family psychologist John Rosemond in response to a concerned mother’s inquiry about how to support her 11 year old son grieving the death of his father.   http://www.seniorcorrespondent.com/articles/2012/05/30/guiding-children-through-grief.415334  
Kate’s Club feels it is extremely important to offer a public response to the mom who drafted the question, and to all parents and guardians who are supporting their grieving children. We will send the following response written by Kate’s Club founder and author of A Healing Place, Kate Atwood, to the AJC as a Letter to the Editor.

When my mother died, I was just 12 years old. This life event punctured my innocence and shifted my future forever, thrusting me into a world that was completely foreign to me: one hijacked by grief.  That’s how it felt. My childhood suddenly became a journey to plan my escape from grief.  This escape would never come, and now as an adult, having worked with thousands of other grieving kids, I know that escaping grief is not possible. As the adults who support kids facing any adversity, we should not lead them down a path that encourages avoidance or escape.  Grief changes us, but how we take on that change shapes our lives.  
Through my own grief journey and by founding Kate’s Club, a non-profit organization in Atlanta that empowers children facing life after the death of a parent or sibling, I have come to know these three things to be true:
          Grief is relational. It is not transactional. To put any timeline or schedule to the grieving process is absurd and harmful to a child learning about relationships- those we gain and those we lose.
          No child should have to grieve alone.  As a young girl who didn’t have the support that organizations like Kate’s Club provide, I often struggled with loneliness and anxiety; I was at-risk for depression and self-destructive behavior that would shape my relationships for years to come.  Surviving parents, teachers, coaches, must create an environment where emotions are healthy and normal. Our kids deserve a world in which it is ok to grieve; to feel confident in the expression of ALL emotions and to know they are not alone.  
          Communication is key. Expression of grief comes in multitude ways, and often we don’t have words in the dictionary that can explain how we are feeling – to put any parameters around this expression and communication is detrimental to a child.  At Kate’s Club we see kids express their grief through art, music, play, with honest and open communication.  We encourage our families to embrace their kids who talk about their loved ones when at home – we advocate that this a sign of wellness.  Scheduling time to talk about your loved one and insisting that they only speak about new things brings shame to a child who only has memories to stay connected to mom or dad.
Today, at 33, I still talk about my mom. The times of sadness are less frequent and I am able to celebrate her in a healthy and happy way because I have learned along the way the importance of sharing and being open about my grief.  Every child facing life after the death of a parent or sibling should be comforted, encouraged and empowered to express their grief.  The goal of a parent supporting a child must include a balanced life of learning to live with the pain of loss.   I have no doubt that this boy, whose caring mother reached out for guidance, will find a healthy, hopeful and happy path in life, with the many colors of grief, not the darkness of grief, surrounding him.  The mom of this young boy grieving his father might say: “Don’t hold back. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to laugh. And most importantly, it’s ok to talk about him any time you want.  I am here to listen.  I am here to remember with you.”
Would you like to share your story? Please contact us at griefawarenesday@gmail.com