Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Inviting Children to Grieve

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Inviting Children to Grieve

Article excerpt

Children in the United States today do not have the experiences with death to which children were exposed years ago. Contrasted with the past when death and illness were dealt with in the home by the family, experiences with death are very much removed from contemporary, everyday life. The elderly and terminally ill are sent to live in long-term care facilities or live far away from the family's young people. When death occurs, the body is sent immediately to a funeral home to be taken care of by specialists. These factors, combined with the idea that our society is fearful of death and avoids the subject whenever possible, lead to the conclusion that direct death experiences are no longer a normal part of a child's life (Despelder & Strickland, 1983).

In addition, adults try to shield children from the realities of death. Many people think little children won't understand death and will just become confused and upset. They want to protect children and think talking realistically about death with them will cause the children to suffer unnecessary pain or make them "grow up too fast." Some people often believe that because children may not have a realistic understanding of the concept of death, they don't grieve or become upset when a death or loss occurs (Wass, 1991).

No matter how hard society tries, it is a futile endeavor to hide death from children. Death often occurs in a child's life although he or she does not usually directly experience or witness the dying process. Any child who has the capacity to feel emotions can experience grief-related pain. When people do not talk to children about death, children become confused and distressed. While it is impossible to protect children from the hardships of death-grief, mourning, and bereavement-it is possible for adults to create an inviting environment in which children can express feelings and ask questions about death and loss.

Children will benefit from understanding and will then proceed more effectively through the grieving process (Wolfelt, 1983). Definitions and

Clarification of Terms

To define and distinguish the terms that are related to loss experiences is necessary, as these terms are often confused and misused. Bereavement is the state of being that is caused by a loss (Wolfelt, 1983). When speaking of bereavement, people often assume that it is related to death. However, losses for children pertain to other experiences such as divorce, moving away from home, and a parent's termination from a job (White, 1993). For the purposes of this article, bereavement is discussed as loss due to death.

Grief is defined as the "emotional suffering caused by a death or bereavement" (Wolfelt, 1983, 26). Grief can be conceptualized as a process that involves a constellation of different emotions and manners of expression. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) describes grief as involving these stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A bereaved person does not progress through these stages in an orderly fashion; instead, a person may feel all of these at one time, some of these, or none of these things. Grief is an individual experience and is, therefore, experienced in unique ways.

Mourning is often described as "grief gone public" (Wolfelt, 1983, 27). This process refers to the actions people take following the death of a significant person in their lives. Mourning involves societal rites such as funerals and memorial services. Different cultures have many various customs and traditions for mourning.

Finally, grief work constitutes the activities that are involved in working through a loss (Wolfelt, 1983). There are tasks a grieving person must complete in order to continue their lives in a healthy fashion. There are four main tasks in grief work:

* Accepting the reality of the loss

* Experiencing the emotions associated with the loss

* Adjusting to the environment in which the significant person is no longer there or change has occurred

* Withdrawing the energy used dealing with the loss so it can be reinvested in new relationships and life events (Worden, 1991)

Just like adults, bereaved children need to conduct their grief work in an inviting environment that is understanding of this need. …

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