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

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Is my Child Grieving?
Monday, July 01, 2013 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
I often talk with new LOSS members who are parents with children at home. They are clearly reaching out for direction and support, still shell-shocked perhaps months later, but responding to a sense that they need to make sure their kids are okay. I may hear, “She doesn’t seem to be grieving. How can I tell?” These parents have no problem recognizing their own grief. Clearly, attending to each day is an effort. They struggle with emotional absence where their children are concerned. They are able to talk about the new imbalance in their physical and emotional systems. They describe “waves” of grief, in which they feel overwhelmed with grief and sadness. Their children and teens, on the other hand, appear to have shown only initial sadness, but life still engages them. They play video games, watch TV, do homework, see friends, yet the parent senses that their child has also been changed by the loss. So parents wonder if it is normal when their child appears unchanged.
Imagine a grieving ten year old child trying to understand the suicide of a family member. Sometimes, this conversation is necessary with a child as young as seven. When we recall the complexity of an adult’s reach to comprehend a loved one’s death as a result of mental illness, we may appreciate the ways in which a child is emotionally and cognitively undeveloped to approach this subject. Yet, children’s grief experts encourage honesty with children about a suicide death. In the LOSS Program for Children and Youth, we suggest a conversation about suicide when the child is at a developmental level that grasps an understanding that death is biological and irreversible. The child is included in this special grief process at an age that allows them to incrementally process the loss with those they love and trust. Over time, we can prepare our children to advocate for themselves and the person who died with courage and compassion.