Imagine feeling suddenly sad, angry, alone, confused and worried, without really understanding why. This is how 75 percent of grieving children claim they feel after losing a loved one (National Alliance for Grieving Children). While the journey to acceptance of a loss is difficult for everyone, a child’s limited ability to understand death can make his or her way of grieving much more difficult. Children of all ages grieve differently than adults, and hospice professionals can provide the help they need.
A new video, “Grief through a Child’s Eyes” shows the healing power of one hospice’s summer bereavement program.
Regardless of whether or not a child’s loved one received hospice care, grief and bereavement services provided by hospice for children can help them realize that feeling this loss is normal. In addition, hospice can provide tools to help parents, guardians and teachers of grieving children. Hospice resources can include individual or family counseling and referral information if another form of help is needed. Some also offer support groups for families with children of any age with any type of loss, and grief groups that can be facilitated through schools to target children of a specific age. Some hospices also host camps, like Hospice Savannah’s Camp Aloha, where children can learn to grieve, and heal, together.
Hospice Savannah (Georgia) hosts Camp Aloha every year as a way to bring children ages 6 to 17 together and remind them that they are not alone. The name, Camp Aloha, comes from the dual meaning of the Hawaiian word, acknowledging that life is about both hello and goodbye. The concept of death is difficult for many children to fully understand, so the goal of Camp Aloha is to help them come together to learn that grieving is normal and healthy, not something that should make them feel isolated.
Here are three main ways that childhood grief differs from adult grieving, and how hospice can help:
- Children have a tough time accepting that death is “forever.”
To young children, death can seem temporary or reversible, especially if their current perception of life is the day-to-day consistency of care from a lost loved one. Grief camps can help children work through this confusion in subtle ways, such as allowing children to write letters or create art in remembrance of their lost loved ones. This can help children work towards an understanding that while that person may no longer have a physical presence, there are other ways to communicate, thus altering the meaning of “forever.”
- Children tend to act out in physical or unrelated ways.
Young children may have short, intense “grief bursts” that are followed by normal play and activities, while older children can experience severe shifts in mood or in the quality of school work. With such contrasting behaviors, it can sometimes be difficult for adults to identify these as normal symptoms of grief. Hospice can provide additional resources and counsel to help parents identify how to best manage these moments, and recognize when and if additional support is needed.
- Children require an explanation in order to prepare for a loved one’s death.
Many parents find it difficult or uncomfortable to explain to their kids that a sick grandmother will not get better. They may steer clear of the words “death” or “dying” to avoid scaring young children. In reality, it is important to prepare children for the death of a loved one, if possible.
Hospice support groups and counselors can provide creative, gentle ways to teach this to youngsters, or provide parents with the tools to explain death to their children themselves.
Of children who have attended grief groups or counseling, 76 percent said that their favorite part was meeting people who are sharing a similar experience (National Alliance for Grieving Children). The groups and camps offered by hospice remind children that they are not alone. Hospice can help children understand their path to a “new normal,” meaning more moments of life and joy in remembering their loved one.
For more information on coping with grief and loss, visit MomentsOfLife.org.