Childhood Grief: How to Help Throughout the Years

Grief is an incredibly unique experience. It depends entirely on the person, the loved one they lost, and countless other elements in their life. One of the most impactful elements is their age. Each year brings new awareness, skills, and developmental milestones. Therefore, it stands to reason that age plays a large factor in how we grieve, as the coping mechanisms that might have helped us at infants surely will not be as helpful as we reach adulthood! While there will never be set “rules” when it comes to grief, there are some guidelines you can follow when trying to help the children in your life who are grieving. Keep reading to learn more.

Babies

While many people may feel that babies aren’t aware enough to experience grief, the opposite is true. While they may not be able to express or fully comprehend their emotions, they can sense if someone they’re close to is no longer present. Some commons signs of grief among babies include crying (more than usual), separation anxiety, being jumpy or irritable, or becoming extremely passive.

How to help…

The best thing you can do for babies is keep to your routine. The comfort and stability helps enable feelings of safety and security. Remember that children so young rely heavily on their senses, so surrounding them with cozy blankets, giving lots of hugs, speaking in soothing tones, and smiling are all helpful. Babies are also able to pick up on the tone and mood of their parents, so keeping a calm and loving attitude is important.

Toddlers

Toddlers may exhibit similar signs of grief to babies, but as they grow older their responses may develop to be more complex as well. Older toddlers may grow aggressive or anxious and throw tantrums more often. They may also complain of being ill (having a stomachache or headache). Finally, toddlers may revert to younger behaviors, such as having trouble with toilet training, beginning to crawl again, or asking for bottle.

How to help…

Toddlers are still very driven by their senses, so the coping techniques used for infants could also be used for toddlers. However, at this age it’s also a good idea to help them express how they’re feeling. Simply saying “I am feeling sad” and asking them to identify that emotion is incredibly healthy for them. Verbal reassurances can also help, such as reminding them they are safe and protected. Children this age are just starting to grasp the idea of life and death. If you feel your toddler is ready, you may explain how death works as part of nature, such as leaves falling from the trees. This can introduce them to the idea of death in a gentle way. The key to having these conversations is letting the child lead. Let them ask the questions. Your job is to answer their questions honestly, while providing an age-appropriate explanation.

Elementary Years  

When children reach school-age, they start to gain a better understanding of what death is. They may revert to signs of grief seen in younger age groups, though they may also exhibit more developed grief reactions. Common reactions at this age include being very preoccupied with the safety of others, or with the situation surrounding their loved one’s death. At this point, they are able to sense new feelings of guilt and embarrassment, which may cause them to act out in angry or depressed bursts. Finally, you may notice that they desperately aim to please adults in their life, and seek constant reassurance.

How to help…

The best thing you can do for children this age is spend time with them. Touch base as often as possible and encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. What they need most is consistent reminders that they are being cared for and that they are safe. While they may feel the need to overcompensate for their age, encouraging them to act their age and participate in age-appropriate activities can help them cope as well. Finally, as children grow closer to their teenage years, being open and honest about your feelings can help them identify and address their own feelings as well. Remember, always let the child lead your conversations. It is up to you to decide how much information they are ready to hear. Whatever you decide to tell them, just remember that honesty is key.

Teenagers

The teen years may be some of the most challenging we experience, whether we experience a loss or otherwise. Teenagers are right between childhood and adulthood – which already comes with a plethora of emotions. Their bodies and minds seem to change every day, so losing a loved one during this time only adds to this stress. Teenagers may express grief in any variety of ways, but some commons signs include extreme emotions of any kind, ignoring their grief by hiding behind jokes, changes to their sleeping or eating patterns, reversion to bedwetting or night terrors, and growing numb or disinterested. In severe cases, teenagers may experience clinical depression or suicidal thoughts.

How to help…

It’s very important that teenagers have the proper support needed to work through their grief. At this age, they have a grounded understanding of what death is and, while they may understand death, this concept may still overwhelm them. Similar to other ages, teenagers need to be reminded that they are being taken care of and are protected. Assuring them that it’s okay to embrace their age and not assume adult roles is helpful, as is encouraging them to spend time with friends and finding creative outlets for their grief, such as journaling, painting, or listening to soothing music. It’s important to check on grieving teenagers often, as their age group holds the highest risk for severe depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts. Because of this risk, many people may seek professional help to assist their teenager through the grief process.

Final Thoughts

Again, always remember that grief is incredibly specific and unique. The signs and coping techniques we’ve listed here are common, but they are not the only way to grieve. The most important thing you can do for the children in your life, no matter what age they are, is to love them fully. Spend time with them, talk with them openly, and remind them that they are loved. If you find yourself in a particularly tough situation, do not be ashamed to seek additional sources of help. Sometimes children may respond best to a different adult. Talking to your priest, a trusted friend, a teacher, or professional counselor may be helpful. Just be patient with them and with yourself as you navigate this challenging time.

Are you interested in learning more about our grief support resources? Click here.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

What You Should Know About the Unique Types of Grief

Every person who loses a loved one is going to experience a unique form of grief. The pain and loss you experience depends completely on your relationship to the deceased, the circumstances surrounding their death, your stage in life, and countless other factors. This is also why your personal approach to grief often changes depending on what loss you’re experiencing at a given time.

All that being said, no matter how or who you are grieving, there is a “typical” process that one travels through to adapt to their loss. Sometimes called the “Stages of Grief” the grief process includes denial, anger, anxiety, bargaining, and depression in the early stages, with acceptance, hope, and healing marking the readjustment to your new way of living. However, some losses warrant a more unique or complicated response. These complicated forms of grief may require more effort to work through, which is why it’s important to be able to properly identify them – whether for your own grief journey or to help others in your life. Keep reading to learn more.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is very common among people who have chronically ill or terminally ill loved ones. This grief is unique, in that it begins before your loved one passes away. It is the expectation of the loss that can be very consuming and provoke early feelings of grief. If you’re struggling with anticipatory grief, you may hear phrases such as “enjoy the time you have left” or “take things one day at a time” from loved ones trying to comfort you, while in reality these phrases can be very hurtful. It’s important to know that experiencing grief before the loss is completely normal. It is not preemptive and does not mean you’re not grateful for the time you have left with your loved one. Anticipatory grief is just another element of the very complicated experience that comes with caring for and loving someone who is nearing their final days.

Complicated Grief

Complicated grief can manifest in a few different ways. However, the two most common forms of complicated grief are chronic and delayed. As their names imply, chronic grief is defined as intense grief that lasts for an extended period time – long beyond the scope of a typical grief experience. Delayed grief also entails a longer grief experience, as sufferers experience minor grief effects at first, only to have very intense and consuming grief later on. Both chronic and delayed grief are considered complicated because they’re characterized by a complete inability to carry on with your daily tasks and can prevent you from moving forward to the final stages of healing. If you are suffering from complicated grief, it’s often advised that you seek professional assistance in moving forward through your grief journey.

Cumulative & Secondary Grief

Cumulative grief occurs when you lose several loved ones within a short period of time. Similarly, secondary loss also involves working through multiple losses at once, though in the form of ideas attached to your loved one, such as financial security, celebrating anniversaries, etc. For more information on these forms of grief, please click here.

Disenfranchised & Distorted Grief

Disenfranchised grief can occur if your family, society, or your culture tell you that your grief is not valid or warranted. Distorted grief can be similar, as it can occur when you experience an extremely tragic or sudden loss that elicits a wide variety of intense emotions. Disenfranchised and/or distorted grief occur often among those who lose a loved one to suicide, overdose, or other sensitive situations. Feelings of guilt, unworthiness, and isolation are common among those suffering from these forms of grief. It is often helpful for those experiencing disenfranchised and distorted grief to seek professional assistance in progressing along their grief journey in a healthy way.  

Above all, remember that there is no right way to grieve, and there is no such thing as a “normal” grief journey. The types listed here are a few of the most common, but there are countless different reactions and feelings you may experience. Some people may experience multiple forms of grief, and yet some people may experience no grief at all (read more about Absent Grief here). Whatever you’re going through, just remember to be patient with yourself and know that we are here to help you however we can.

Learn more about the Catholic Cemeteries Association’s grief support resources (including support groups) here.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Grieving in the Age of Social Media

Mourning the loss of a loved one is already a very difficult and sensitive time. Today’s age of social media makes grieving even more complicated, as social media has transformed the way we interact with each other. On one hand, social media can be a very helpful resource when you are experiencing grief, as it introduces new ways to connect and reach out for help; on the other hand, social media can negatively influence your grief journey, as it may provoke unhealthy feelings of isolation or comparison. For some people, it may be best to take a break from social media during the first stages of grief to avoid these conflicting effects entirely. However, if you decide to continue using social media while grieving, it’s important to make yourself aware of how it may impact your grief journey. Please continue reading to learn more. 

The Positives

Connection

Social media can provide an accessible and broad network of people to connect with while mourning the loss of a loved one. It can also be helpful since it provides a virtual way of speaking with people. It’s common to prefer more alone time after losing someone close to you. Social media is a great way to reach out when you want, while still having the ability to turn off your device and seek personal solace whenever necessary.  

Online Support Groups

Social media offers a platform for you to connect with other people who are currently mourning. Online support groups can be helpful, as they allow you to talk with people who have gone through similar losses and experiences. Searching for groups online opens up even more opportunities, as you may be able to find specific types of support that fit your situation. Support groups can be a wonderful way to receive the compassion and understanding you need to help you heal. Even more so, it can be very comforting to know that you aren’t the only one experiencing certain feelings or types of grief.

 Unique Ways to Memorialize Your Loved One

Social platforms offer unique ways to remember our loved ones. Acknowledging your loss directly allows room for healing and growth along your grief journey. Posting a picture, video, scripture passage, or a simple post about your loved one may not only help you work through your grief, but it also opens the opportunity for others in your network to do the same.

The Negatives

Loneliness

While social media does offer an alternative way to communicate with people, it’s important to remember that nothing can truly replace the comfort felt when talking to someone face to face. In some cases, spending too much time online can make you feel isolated or disconnected from the outside world. Be sure to watch the amount of time you spend online, and try to seek in-person forms of support when possible.

Public Responses

It’s no secret that, while social media may offer positivity and encouragement at times, it can serve some negative, hurtful, or disparaging posts as well. It’s best to stay away from any toxic support groups or pages that bring you more turmoil than peace. In regard to your personal posts, it’s important to realize certain friends or relatives may not be sensitive to your loss. You may find that some people will leave hurtful comments. Maybe you expected more people to write a message, while only a few chose to do so. While on social media, you should look out for yourself and be ready to remove yourself from the platform if negativity begins to overwhelm you.

Unhealthy Comparison

Another drawback to using social media is our human nature to compare ourselves to others. You may find that your family and friends are posting about your loved one online. If it appears a family member is mourning the loss more deeply than you, this may elicit feelings of guilt. Alternatively, if you feel someone is not taking the loss seriously enough, this could spark feelings of anger or hurt. It’s important to remember that every loss is extremely unique to the individual, so comparing yourself to others is not healthy. Instead of looking at others, focus on your personal grief journey.

Final Thoughts

Above all, if you use social media while grieving you should be honest with yourself and ask: What do I hope to gain from this experience? Why am I writing this post and what do I expect once it’s published? Is this platform helping me along my grief journey or hindering me from moving forward? Taking time to reflect on these questions will help ensure you’re using social media in a healthy way.

If you’re in need of grief resources or support, please click here.

Post written by Katie Karpinski and Nicole Krantz

Guilt & Grief: Feeling Okay after Losing a Loved One

Losing someone close to you presents a variety of emotions. Sadness, anger, or simply feeling numb are some responses; but the possible reactions are endless. Since each person has a very unique relationship with the deceased, it makes sense that their reactions will be equally unique.  It’s important to realize that you are not obligated to feel one way just because family or friends are expressing a certain emotion. It’s necessary that you know you are allowed to be doing well after the loss of a loved one. God does not judge you, nor compare you to others. He accepts you for all that you are and however you feel. Even knowing all this, it may be difficult if you find yourself moving forward while others continue to mourn. Continue reading for guidance and support on how to navigate these differences.

Everyone Reacts Differently

After the passing of a loved one, you may feel as if there is a hole in your life. It may seem that there is a missing piece that you are not sure how to fill or fix. People cope with the loss of a loved one in a variety of ways. Some people are extremely emotional during these times, you may see them crying or lashing out in anger. On the other hand, some people do nothing of the sort. Some feel no need to cry or be emotional. A sense of guilt may come over you for not expressing sadness as much as other family or friends. You may feel as if it looks like you do not take this situation as seriously as the rest of the bereaved, which is not true. This lack of emotion and compelling sense of guilt is not unusual. If you have felt this way, you are not alone. It does not mean you care less than others or even that you are not as sad as the rest of your family or friends. Everyone responds differently to heartache and if your reaction is more stoic, more subdued, or less emotional, it is both a valid and acceptable way to react.

Healing Takes on Various Forms

There are many ways and instances that show how a person’s healing process is different from others. Some people who are actively mourning may not want to talk about the deceased. Whereas, you may have no issue bringing up their name or telling stories about them. For some it may be too hard to see items that belonged to their loved one, but for you this may not be a big deal. Further, it may not be difficult for you to visit the grave of the deceased while it may be incredibly difficult for other mourning friends or family. You may feel connected to your loved one again or comforted by going to their grave, while others may not be able to. You should not feel ashamed of these differences. Instead, embrace them and learn how to heal within your own comfort levels.

God Understands

God is all knowing and loving. If your healing process includes you not showing your emotions, God understands. If you do not want to talk about your loss and keep to yourself, God accepts that as well. He knows how you truly feel and why you heal the way you do because He created you that way. He made you unique. We can take comfort in knowing that He will never compare you to others. He understands that you need to mourn in the way that is best for you. He alone knows what will bring you true comfort and healing. He accepts you for all that you are and how you feel, so lean on Him in times when you aren’t sure how to process your emotions. God will guide you.

Post written by Nicole Krantz

3 Steps to Renewal: Reconnecting with Friends After Losing a Loved one

Grief is an experience unlike any other. It changes the very foundation of who you are and how you interact with others. Especially during the early stages of grief, it’s hard to find a new normal, and the comfortable habits and relationships that you once knew may be completely different. During this time, it’s common to lose touch with certain friends. This can be hurtful, as just when you need your best friends most, they may seem more distant than ever. Try to remember that this distance usually isn’t any one person’s fault, but rather a combination of circumstance and misunderstanding.

Restarting these relationships can be an incredibly healing experience, and one that can help you work through your grief and towards a “new normal.” Keep reading for some guidance on how to approach this delicate subject.

Acknowledge the Awkwardness

Remember that grief changes you. Things that used to be familiar may seem strange and different. There will likely be some awkwardness when talking to your friend for the first time in a while. There might even be some tension if either of you feels hurt by the lack of communication. In fact, chances are that you are both experiencing similar feelings of guilt, embarrassment, and hurt. As hard as it may be, try to push through these feelings and remember why you love your friend so much. If this is a relationship you truly value and cherish, then it is one worth your commitment and energy. Along the way, just accept the awkwardness for what it is. You can’t expect to immediately start back to where you were before losing your loved one, so simply understanding that you’re on the first step toward rebuilding your friendship is enough.  

Be Honest and Self-Aware

Once you begin talking with your friend, it’s important to come from an honest and compassionate place. Instead of trying to place blame or incite feelings of guilt, having an open discussion about how you are handling your grief is much healthier – it will give your friend a glimpse into what you’ve been struggling with, and how this dramatic life change may have impacted your relationship with them. You should also give your friend time to talk about what they’ve been experiencing. While you have lost a loved one, they may be grieving the loss of what your friendship used to be. The key is not to point fingers or make each other feel guilty, but rather to reach a place of common understanding, compassion, and trust. Sometimes simply talking through your experience can help provide the needed perspective to help your friendship move forward.

Focus on Moving Forward

While it’s important to understand what happened in the past, try not to linger on it for too long. Don’t hold on to grudges or bring up past mistakes. Instead, focus your energy on moving forward. What will you both commit to do to keep your friendship moving forward? Maybe it’s scheduling a weekly coffee date or phone call. Maybe you decide to restart a shared hobby – or start a new activity altogether! With time your friendship will grow and continue to develop. In many cases, this new stage of your friendship will be even stronger than before.

On a final note, keep in mind that every friendship and situation is different. In some cases, it may be healthier for you to let a friendship fade, or in some cases you may establish a new form of friendship. It’s important to do what’s best for you. If a friendship is preventing you from moving forward in a healthy way, it may be best to step back and allow the Lord to guide you toward other people in your life. This can be a hard decision to make, and losing your friend may add to your existing grief. If you find yourself in this position, joining a support group or finding a counselor may be a good idea to ensure you’re receiving the support you need.

Post written by Katie Karpinski