Wear Blue for Children’s Grief Awareness Day the 3rd Thursday of November

The Children's Grief Awareness Day Hope Butterfly http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/

The Children’s Grief Awareness Day Hope Butterfly http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/

Thursday, November 20, 2014 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. (It’s held every 3rd Thursday of November, the week before Thanksgiving’s 4th Thursday.) To learn more about the event, check out http://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/.

I wear teal 364 days a year, but on Children’s Grief Awareness Day you’ll find me in blue, and I hope you’ll join me. Even professionals who work with children daily need to better understand and be aware of the unique needs of grieving children.

I’ve networked with many, many souls who have lost loved ones. I’d like to share one example of why #CGADHope is so important. I do so with permission, but with key identifying factors altered. In honor of CGAD, I’ll call this widow “Mrs. Blue.”

Mrs. Blue’s husband died early one school year. Understandably, Child Blue’s academic year held many challenges and adjustments. As the first anniversary of Daddy Blue’s death approached, Child Blue faced greater academic and emotional struggles. The fog of new grief was gone, and the real work of grieving was in full swing.

Before school began, Mrs. Blue contacted school officials, attempting to put into place strategies and awareness to help Child Blue weather that grief-strewn time of year. Sadly, the school wouldn’t allow a meeting with all necessary parties until November (ironically, near Children’s Grief Awareness Day), months after the start of the academic year and the first anniversary of Child Blue’s father’s death.

At the meeting, Dr. Clueless, one of the most necessary of the necessary parties, sat down and brusquely said, “I see Child Blue’s grades and attendance started slipping last fall. What happened?”

Mrs. Blue’s jaw dropped. She’d included the “what happened” reason and background information in all the emails and phone calls she’d made since before the school year began. Even the other necessary parties in the room stared at Dr. Clueless. One of them, Ms. Aware, finally answered, saying, “Child Blue’s father died last fall.” (Mrs. Blue still couldn’t speak.)

Without even a perfunctory “sorry-for-your-loss” or “this-must-be-difficult” acknowledgement to Child Blue (whose attendance was required for the school to finally hold the meeting), Dr. Clueless displayed even worse ignorance. Dr. Clueless responded to Ms. Aware’s statement by saying, “Yes, but that was last year. What’s Child’s problem this year?”

True story.

At a follow-up meeting, Mrs. Blue and Dr. Clueless were the only ones in the room before the others arrived. Because of Dr. Clueless’s comments at their prior encounter, Mrs. Blue asked, “Dr. Clueless, have you ever worked with any other children who’ve lost a parent?” She was stunned to learn that Dr. Clueless had, in fact, worked with many, many grieving students over a 20-year period.

How sad that in all those years, Dr. Clueless had not developed an awareness of children’s grief and grieving. How fortunate that Ms. Aware, in far less than half that time, had developed such an awareness.

For more information on ways you can help bereaved children, see my Helpful Resources page or check out last year’s post on the subject, For Grieving Children …

Another Father’s Day–DANG IT!

Father’s Day. For three weeks I’ve written, revised, and discarded post after post, trying to decide what to say. It’s the night before, and I still don’t know …

I’m blessed and grateful that my dad is still here. He lives nearby and continues to be a rock of solid reliability. I can’t remember him ever directing an unkind gesture or a loud word my way (though when he spoke my full name in a certain tone I knew I’d crossed the line).

When I was a young, naive newlywed I remember my mother once telling me she hoped I appreciated how lucky we both were to have such good, kind men in our lives. I thought at the time that I did fully appreciate it.

Looking back now, I see how clueless I was, how little I understood. Since then I’ve seen glimpses, peeks at the hardships inflicted on many women and children because of the actions (and because of the failings) of the men in their lives.

So again I acknowledge how blessed I’ve been — how blessed I am.

And yet …

It’s another Father’s Day — DANG IT! — and my husband, the father of my children, is dead. This is our fourth without him. You’d think I’d be “used to it by now.” I thought I would, too. (It took years, but eventually I got “used to” the absence of my wonderful grandfathers. Sort of.)

But I’m not used to it. Not at all. Chances are that the widows and widowers you know, the mourning parents and the bereaved children of your acquaintance, or the grieving coworkers in your office aren’t “over it by now,” either.

Here are a few things you can do to show them your support:

  • Say something. A text, a call, a private message, or a note can be brief. “I’m thinking of you today/this weekend.”
  • Take the kids of a widower shopping so they can do something special for their daddy who’s trying to do two parents’ jobs.
  • Take a small treat to a widow (and her kids) “just because” to let them know they’re thought of on a day when they’re even more aware (if that’s possible) of their loss than on other days.
  • Let them know their loved ones aren’t forgotten — and neither are they.
  • Invite and include (with sensitivity). If the kids in the troop are doing a daddy-daughter or father-son activity, TALK TO their widowed mother. ASK if she’d like a surrogate parent or relative to “step in” for the event or if she’d like to attend with her child. (The same applies to asking widowers about activities geared toward moms.)
  • Listen. Whether the death happened recently or years ago, sometimes the bereaved need to share memories of their loved ones or feelings about their loss.
  • Ask instead of assuming.
    • “Are there ways I can help you with …?”
    • “Would you like me to …?”
    • “Would you like to talk about …?”
  • Don’t dismiss or diminish their grieving.
    NEVER say:

    • “At least …” anything. (Saying “at least” literally makes it seem as if the loss isn’t that important to the speaker, so why should it be so important to the bereaved?)
    • “You should …” OR “You shouldn’t …”
      (No one has the right to tell someone else how to go about the emotions or the business of grieving.)
    • “I know what you’re going through.” (Each loss is unique.)

You can’t “fix” your friends’ grief, but you can — and should — comfort them by letting them know you support them in it.

 

Better Questions than “How Are You?” Part 3 — What to Keep Asking

After the initial shock of my loss lessened, I began adjusting to life as a widow. Far from being “over” my grief, I faced ongoing challenges.

These are questions I found particularly helpful as time went by.

  • How are you sleeping?
    Grief wreaks havoc with sleep cycles, causing some to sleep much longer than “normal” and others — like me — much, much, much less. (Would another “much” be too repetitive?) Asking won’t restore the mourner’s pre-grief sleep, but it will show you’re aware of the struggle. In grieving families with young children, ask if you can take the kids for a few hours so the parent(s) can rest.
  • Do you need help with [be specific in naming possible errands] that you’ve been afraid or reluctant to ask for?
    This is only a portion of the debris cleared away by the men from church that day. The "bushes" behind the trash bags are piled limbs hauled out to the street. (Sorry for the poor lighting!)

    This is a portion of debris cleared by the men from church that day. “Bushes” behind the yard bags are actually piles of limbs they hauled to the street. The poor photo quality reflects my scattered state of mind at the time! (photo — such as it is — by Teresa TL Bruce, TealAshes.com)

    I had trouble figuring out what I’d left undone until friends offered help with specific tasks. I needed (but too seldom sought) help transporting my daughter, remembering car maintenance, washing doggie (an ordeal requiring a minimum of five human hands), cleaning …

    One Saturday, men and boys from church gathered in my yard and hauled more than 15 Hefty bags of debris — and a huge pile of limbs — out to to the curb. I was flabbergasted. Until I saw the tremendous difference their efforts made, I hadn’t noticed the overgrown undergrowth!  (I still get teary-eyed over their labors — and the thoughtfulness behind them.)

  • What sounds appetizing? Which day can I bring you [the “appetizing” dish or another item of your suggestion], or would you rather to come to my place?
    Grief scrambles appetite as ferociously as sleep. On “bad” days, pouring cereal and milk into the same bowl felt like an accomplishment. On “good days,” removing plastic wrap from frozen pizza before heating (or not burning boxed macaroni and cheese) felt like I’d done “real” cooking again.
  • Will you come [for a walk, to the store, to the mall, to a movie, to lunch, etc.] with me [name a specific day and time]?
    Again, invitations to specific activities and times are less threatening to the bereaved than general ones.  When well-meaning friends and acquaintances invited me to “do something” in the earliest weeks after the funeral, I wasn’t ready. Overwhelmed, I asked them to check back later. (Two actually did.) I needed time and space to grieve and to focus on my daughters before I worked up courage to return to “social” activities.

Questions (and actions!) such as these acknowledge you haven’t forgotten that your friend is still grieving — “even” after months have passed.