Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review: "Someone Special Died"

To stay in line with our July social media focus of "Grief: Because Love Never Dies", Renay Carroll, one of our therapists, wrote this book review on the children's book "Someone Special Died" by Joan Singleton Prestine. If you would like to purchase this book, click here. If you would like to know more about the author of this book review, click here


Synopsis:

This book is the story of a young child approximately 8-10 years old who has experienced the death of someone special.  She and her mom talk through what happened to that person when he/she died and acknowledges the normal feelings of grief the child is experiencing. Mom gives answers and explains death in a child’s understanding reminding us that plants, animals and people die.   The book acknowledges a child’s feelings of sadness, anger, fairness and guilt.  The ending of the book suggests scrapbooking as a way for the child to remember the happy memories.  Scrapbooking becomes a way for the Someone Special who died to never be forgotten by the child. 

“Helping Children Cope with Death:  A Practical Resource Guide for Someone Special Died” by the same author is a companion guide which reviews the stages of grief describing how these stages may manifest themselves in the life of a child.  From shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and withdrawal, and acceptance, Prestine takes specific lines from the book and corresponds them with a stage of grief giving specific suggestions on how to help the child grieve the loss. 

What did you find helpful about this book?

As a clinician, I can apply the book to a wide range of grieving situations since the “someone special” is not defined as male or female or as a specific person with a role in the child’s life such as a parent, relative, teacher, friend.  I find that the honest answers to honest questions in simple terms helps in sharing the grieving experience with a child.  The companion  guide is very helpful in identifying the stage of grief the child’s feelings reference and in offering suggestions for how to help the child work through the stages of grief which may be experienced at the time of death.

“I miss him. I can’t believe I won’t ever see him again.  Sometimes I pretend he’s still alive.” This statement conveys feelings of shock and denial following the death of a loved one.  Prestine goes on to suggest using a life stages “path of life” time line, pet experiences, puppet play and planting flowers to assist in the shock and denial stage.  She explains each of these suggestions in the companion guide. 

What do clients find most helpful about the book?

Clients appreciate the simple explanations of death in a child’s language.  They appreciate the honesty of the book and the simple answers to hard questions children ask at the time of death.  Clients like the scrapbooking suggestion as a way for the child to grieve their loss.  Some clients have discovered this technique on their own so they feel empowered that they can help their child more through the grieving process in a healthy way. 

Clients find the book a ready tool when needed.  Death is a difficult subject for most to talk about and particularly in the life of a child so clients particularly parents appreciate having a resource to help them talk with their child.  The child clients I have shared the book with appear to identify with the child in the story and her feelings.  Many children will smile and affect improves when they read about how scrapbooking can help them with their feelings.  Many child clients have already begun the scrapbooking  process when they come for counseling or at least have started drawing pictures of their someone special or collecting pictures.  

Favorite Quotes:

“If I had been there, I wouldn’t have let him die.  But Mom says I couldn’t have done anything to help keep him alive.”  This statement deals with the guilt and blame a child has at the time of death.  Helping a child understand that the death is not his/her fault assists in the grieving process.

“What happened when he died?  His body stopped working.”  The simple answer to a difficult question explains the death in a child’s way of understanding.

“He died and I know he won’t be coming back.  But with my scrapbook, I’ll never forget him.”  Giving the child a tangible way to express his/her grief gives the child a place to put feelings.  Scrapbooking is helpful for children and adults alike.  

*This column is not intended to substitute for a session with a licensed counselor. If you have a question you would like for us to answer, EMAIL us at askanne@abchome.org. We would love to answer your question.*

Friday, July 12, 2013

Grief: Because Love Never Dies


Question:  My husband was killed in a car accident 3 weeks ago and I am worried our 5 year old son is not accepting his death.  I hear him talking to his dad when he is playing in his room with his toys.  Is this normal and how will I know if he needs to see a counselor?

Answer:  I am sorry for the death of your husband.  Grief is a very personal experience.  I would like to share with you ways you can help your child through this most difficult experience as you allow me to walk with you on this journey. 

As I offer grief assistance for your child I also want to address grief in general.  As your child’s primary caregiver, your experience of grief will also impact your child’s grief and his yours as well. 
Initially most people’s first response at a time of grief is shock and denial.  The initial awareness of the death or loss is too overwhelming for the mind and emotions to comprehend so the body has a built in mechanism to protect itself from the full impact of the loss through shock and denial.  Shock and denial is most often seen in sudden death or unexpected death situations as opposed to death at a time of prolonged illness.  For some shock and denial lasts for days and weeks; others for months.  Shock and denial are normal in the grieving process. 

Another response at death is anger and questioning of why or “what if.”  The circumstances of the death often provide this response.  “Why did this happen?”  “What if I had done . . . maybe he/she would not have died.”  The pain of grief seeks a reason and purpose.   Feelings of guilt over the death are often a way to blame someone or something for the hurt and pain of grief.  When we blame ourselves for how we responded through the dying process, survivor guilt is often operating.  While each person’s time table in grief is different, this response at death may last weeks, months or even  years.

The time frame for grief is different for every person but the sheer passage of time takes grief to new levels.  We never “get over grief.”  We learn to live with grief.  The purpose of grief as I see it is to move the very painful experience of the heart and emotions to  happy memories of that loved one.  
When that happens, we understand the purpose of grief:  because love never dies.  The happy memories of that loved one allow the love to continue and the life of that person to continue to have meaning and purpose. 

When it comes to helping a child understand the death of a loved one and experience the grieving process, I take into account the age of the child and the circumstances of the death.  In an extended illness, I help the child understand that their loved one was not just sick but “very very sick.”  This allows the child to understand that a person can get well if he/she gets sick such as with a cold or the flu as opposed to being “very very sick.”  Children can learn that all things die such as plants, animals and even people.  Children can walk through the funeral and burial experience with other family members as we answer their questions with simple explanations.

Often children will talk to their toys and imaginary friends in their play. It would not be uncommon to talk to his dad as he plays out the death and questions he has over what has happened to his dad.  Offer him the opportunity to draw a picture of he and his dad together and the happy times they had together.  Answer any questions he has about what happened to his dad as honestly as you can using simple terms.  

Your child will want to know that his mom will be ok. While it is ok and natural and cry over missing dad, you may need to have adult friends to help you process your feelings of grief.  I have not found it helpful for children to make frequent trips to the cemetery.  Some adults find comfort in going to the cemetery and others do not.  However children in my experience do not often feel the need to go to the cemetery as some adults. 

You asked how to know when your child may need to see a counselor.  If your child begins to regress in his development, lose weight, have frequent nightmares, etc.  he/she may need to see a doctor and/or a counselor.  Play therapy is often used to assist a child  in the grieving process so that the child does not “get stuck” in grief or develop complicated grief.  
 *This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor. If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.*