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

He Makes All Things New

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”

– Revelations 21:3-4

Many of us are familiar with Revelations 21:3-4. The phrases used and the imagery depicted have brought comfort to those who are grieving, as the passage tells of a time when suffering will be no more and the concept of death no longer has a hold on us. But there is something more to this passage that doesn’t often make it to greeting cards and memorial services…

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Revelations 21:1-5

Revelations 21:1-5

Looking at the passage as a whole, we are told about God’s loving promise of renewal. God doesn’t simply erase pain from the world, He actually transforms the world and makes it new. This transformative change is a necessary part in God’s plan to bring us all into communion with Him.

We are called to embrace this idea in our everyday lives. Change is often seen as something to be afraid of, and sometimes new starts are more frightening than they are comforting. This is normal and part of the human experience. However, in times when a change in our life may seem overwhelming or too much to bear (such as losing a loved one) reminding yourself that change isn’t inherently destructive can expand your outlook. Change, while painful, can also lead to greater comfort and healing moving forward.

Whether we’re entering a new year, new season, or even a new day – we are called to embrace the newness and change that God places in our lives. Change is the catalyst to something new. No day is ever the same as the last. As we embrace this concept, we can learn to appreciate each new day as it comes to us, and embrace those bad days that are bound to happen. Just like everything in life, even our worst days will end, and a new day will begin.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

What to Expect When Attending a Grief Support Group

The Catholic Cemetery Association offers a safe and welcoming environment where the bereaved can come to be present with others who understand. The hardest parts of processing grief are best dealt with by talking about what you are feeling and realizing that most of what you experience is normal and eases over time.

Here are a few of the most common things to expect when attending one of our Grief Support Groups:

Relief/Clarity

You’ll find a sense of relief or freedom in being able to be open with your feelings.  Sometimes with family or friends, we tend to want to protect others from our hurt and pain and we don’t allow ourselves to fully experience the grief. We feel we have to be strong for them or we feel that we should be further along in our grieving. This is true especially if others in your family don’t “seem” to be grieving as much as you. Attending a support group can illustrate how everyone’s grief is personal and unique, and that everyone processes grief differently. In some cases, you may find new coping skills for common grief experiences.

Companionship

Our number one goal is for you to know that you do not have to be alone in your grief. Our support groups are designed to create a safe and non-judgmental environment for you to share your grief story and share experiences with other participants. While each grief experience is different, there is strength and comfort to be found in knowing you are not alone.

Diverse grief needs

There will be other participants in the group with varying degrees of grief. Some may have recently lost their loved one, and others may be working through a loss they experienced years ago. You may encounter others in the group who handle life in general differently from you. In our groups, we respect each person’s unique way of processing grief, without judgement. There are no wrong questions or feelings because your feelings are unique to your life experiences. In fact, these differences can provide you with a greater perspective in regard to grief and the healing process.

What NOT to expect:

Professional Counseling or Therapy

Our Group Facilitators are not psychologists or therapists, but rather trained specifically to help people understand what grief is and to encourage effective group discussions. We are able to help direct people in need of deeper grief work, to local resources for obtaining one-on-one or a specific type of grief counseling (widows, infant/child loss, accidental, traumatic/violence, suicide, substance abuse death, and other types of intense grief experiences).

A Quick Fix

Processing your grief is not a quick fix. It is not reasonable to expect to be back to “normal” in six months, or even a year. It takes time and patience as you work through painful emotions and life-altering changes.  But with a good support network at your side, you will find hope to take that next courageous step toward your new normal.

Grief will never be an easy journey, especially if you are attempting to journey it alone. Come and join a warm fellowship of people with similar grief experiences, helping each other through prayer, shared stories, and grief recovery discussions.

Post written by Kaleigh Rice

Content derived from interview with CCA Bereavement Coordinator, Rhonda Abrams.