Helping your child cope with bereavement

death of a loved one, however old or however expected an event, is always a
blow for close family.

children, the passing of someone they’ve had a personal bond with can be
particularly traumatic.

issue, though not addressed directly at a palliative care conference held by
Cayman HospiceCare on 4 and 5 June, lies at the heart of how death affects
multi-generational families.

Virginia Hobday is the medical director of the Cayman Islands’ only respite
care facility and organised the conference.

family doctor and mother-of-two said: “Children need to be talked to very
sensitively but also honestly. Using vague terms, like ‘granny has gone to
sleep forever,’ creates confusion and unnecessary fears.

Hobday said children are usually very visual and pragmatic and the unseen or
unspoken can be worse than the reality.

of death as a natural part of the life cycle and including them in making
memory boxes and remembering their loved one are very important,” she said.

also noted that children are as individual as adults and that no one grieves in
the same way. They, too, usually go through the same stages of denial, anger,
depression and acceptance.

I believe, especially in the case of a first-degree relative, benefit from
receiving specialist bereavement counselling. There are also an enormous number
of resources available and hospice staff can provide books and leaflets which
are age appropriate.”

to Taylor Burrowes, a licensed mental health counsellor and a qualified family
therapist at the Wellness Centre, children’s understanding of death comes

than five years

of five and younger tend to have little abstract sense of time or distance, so
final and forever mean nothing. Dead to them means less than alive, asleep or a
journey, and life and death to them can be interchangeable.

to eight years

this age group, death is final and, with their growing awareness of the world
around them, they can display an intense interest in the rituals surrounding

around nine years

is the perceptible end of bodily life and is inevitable, final and universal.

children cope with loss will depend to some extent on their personalities, but
mostly in the way their parents or carers have guided them. Research now shows
that children do grieve for the death of a significant person in their lives,
experiencing similar feelings to bereaved adults. Babies and toddlers may not understand
about death but will react to those around them.

and teens

Ms Burrowes’ experience: “Older children may experience similar feelings to
adults, such as shock, confusion, anger and guilt.

of this age may not show their feelings openly, leading parents and others to
believe that they aren’t affected by the death. Any altered behaviour may
indicate that they too are suffering and need support and acknowledgement of
their pain.”

counsellor said that behaviour changes may include “becoming withdrawn,
bed-wetting, lack of concentration, clinging, bullying, telling lies and being
aggressive, all of which may indicate their upset state.”

has found that, like adults, children may suffer from stress headaches, sleep
difficulties and eating disturbances.

experts suggested it is important that parents:

the child of the death soon after it’s occurred, using touch to comfort and console.

a child’s questions truthfully and as often as they’re asked, and admit to not
knowing the answer to a question if necessary.

open and honest communication, allowing themselves and the child to cry, which
shows the child how much the dead person meant to you.

not rush to get rid of the possessions of the person who has died, especially
if they were a sibling. Remember that your child might want to keep something
as a keepsake.

your child’s school of the death and ask for the support of teachers, if

the child as a bereaved person and don’t push them aside.

time to remember

is a tendency to shield children from painful truths. A funeral marks the end
of someone’s life and gives a child an opportunity to be involved with an
important ritual. If they wish to attend, tell them what form the service will
take, and honour their right to pay their last respects. They too may want to
say goodbye, place a favourite toy or flowers in the coffin, or write a letter
of farewell.

the person who has died can also be important.

the day as a family, pore over pictures, listen to their favourite music and
share recollections of happy memories of that person.

the days and weeks after the death, its important to understand that children
cope better if they see adults around them coping well with grief. So, keep
yourself active, avoid using alcohol as a crutch and look after your health and
your appearance.

Grief support

are a number of counselling services listed in the Yellow Pages.

Angels Foundation set up the Full Circle Grief Recovery Group which meets, with
support from a trained counsellor, Wednesdays, 6pm, at The Conch Shell House,
492 North Sound Road. Call 946-2183/926-HEAL

Gomez, pastoral counsellor – 916-6581

McVicar-Johnson, Christian bereavement counsellor – 546-7014/928-7745

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