CUSD Cares

Supporting Your Child Through Grief and Loss- Part 2

March 09, 2021 Brenda Vargas Season 2 Episode 4
CUSD Cares
Supporting Your Child Through Grief and Loss- Part 2
Show Notes Transcript

Part 2 of a 2 Part Podcast:
Brenda Vargas, Director of Counseling and Social Services speaks with Jill Lovill from New Song Center regarding what to say, while keeping in mind developmental stages of children through  their journey of grief.

Brenda Vargas:

Welcome parents to another episode of CUSD Cares. We are going to be continuing a conversation we've had prior about how to support your children during the time of grief. And Jill Lovill is joining us once again, clinical director from New Song. Jill, thanks for joining us. One more time to talk about such a difficult topic.

Jill Lovill:

Thank you for having me back. It's a pleasure to be here.

Brenda Vargas:

We just appreciate your organization. I know that you, and I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I know that New Song is a program of Hospice of the Valley. And I want to make sure people know that so that they can continue to support Hospice of the Valley and all the wonderful things that you guys do to make a positive change in families lives. I am just really grateful for another opportunity to speak with you. You've trained our counselors and our social workers around this topic. And I just felt like it was really important to bring some of this very same information to parents and caregivers. As you know, we go through this very I guess, uncertain and surprising time. So I know that in our previous conversation, we gave a few tips as well as just briefly did an overview about grief. We'd like to continue that conversation and really focus this conversation about the different developmental stages that our children go through depending on your child and where they are at in their growing stage and how to best support them. But I think the single most important thing, and you and I have chatted about this as far as if there is one takeaway, is just to listen. You don't have to have all the answers. Parents just listen. It's such a powerful practice to just be present, to be fully present and just be there for your child in whatever capacity they need you, but you don't need to say much except just be fully present and see them and be with them during their moments when it can be very difficult and just listen.

Jill Lovill:

Absolutely. And you know, as parents, it's really challenging because we want to make things better. We want to give what we call a quick fix. What we know in grief, whether you're a parent, whether you're a counselor, whether you're a doctor, whomever, you are, there is no fix to grief. The only fix is bringing that person back, which we know can't happen. And so what we do recommend just as Brenda said is to be there and be a good listener , and be reassuring in that the child and you yourself did not do anything to cause this death. We do recommend reiterating that even if no one asks, a nd then just as Brenda said, just being there, being present, be a good listener. Do the, what we call the tell me mores, just use those words. I'm here. I w ant t o listen, ask open-ended questions. If you're going to ask any questions at all, and simply be present

Brenda Vargas:

When I think some parents, especially as they're dealing with their own grief as well, right? They don't want to say the wrong thing. They don't want to, for lack of a better word, put their foot in their mouth, you know, ruin something. I think most parents are super cognizant of the fact of, geez , I really just don't want to mess this up because I know this is so difficult, not just for them, for all of us.

Jill Lovill:

Absolutely. And I think, I personally think the key to life in relationships in general is validation, validating the other person's experience. And so a lot of times as parents, because we don't want them to feel that way, Oh, come on. It's not so bad. Or you don't really feel that way, do you? But on the opposite side, just saying, wow, that's a lot. Wow. It sounds like you're really hurting right now. Validating the child, the teenager , the other person's experience can be tremendously powerful. And that's really all there is to it- listening.

Brenda Vargas:

And it's so important at that time for them to be heard and seen and it sounds so simple yet, I think it could be so impactful. I think parents biggest worries are what are things I need to look for? You know, what are things that, you know, I need to be cognizant of, especially when it comes to behaviors. And I think the question I get is, is this normal, right? And I know that we all wrestle with that word normal. I would say typical, but , we understand where they're coming from and what they mean. Tell us a little bit, and I know parents, if y ou'd like to take some notes, now might be a really good time as Jill kind of goes through a few of the reactions to g rief as it pertains to a particular developmental stage in children,

Jill Lovill:

You got it. And so I'll really briefly touch on infants and toddlers. Yes, they grieve. They grieve by saying all gone. My person's not here anymore, giving them stability and security and comfort and touches is really the best for them. Since most parents on here are probably talking about closer to school age children , we'll touch on preschool a little bit. So preschool aged kids three to five are concrete thinkers. They need to know exactly what happened. Usually when we're talking about disclosure to them, we say the person has died and that means their body has stopped working. Their body doesn't work anymore. Probably the hardest thing for parents is that these kiddos are likely to ask the same questions over and over and over and over again. That doesn't mean they're not listening. That doesn't mean you're not saying it right. It means they're trying to make sense of it in their world. They also do well with routine. Going back to their normal activities, like play in school is always encouraged. We usually go to good old Mr. Rogers, who says, if it can be mentioned, it can be managed. And so, if a kiddo is asking a question, It's okay to answer that question, giving them just the information that they need to satisfy that curiosity. For grade school kiddos like about six to 11, they're beginning to understand that death is permanent. Their person is not going to come back and this can create some big anxiety, understandably. They will be very curious about details of the death. Even as me in this profession. Sometimes I'm taken aback by how candid kids this age are. When talking about death, that's not a bad thing. They're again, trying to make sense of this in their world. Feelings of guilt may begin to arise. T hey're kind of in that magical thinking of maybe I did something to make this happen, even though we know it's not true. So again, going back and saying, one thing we do know we don't have all the answers. I might not be able to answer everything, but I do know no one did anything to cause this. And if you're saying, but wait, my circumstance is different. Reach out. We're here to help. If there was a cause and effect, but that's common in this age group. They need ways to express their grief, like big energy stuff, you know, getting outside, playing sports, t hrowing ice against the wall, all kinds of different things. Art, play music, t o be able to physically express their grief is really great for this age group. Moving onto adolescents, teenagers, t ween agers, if you will, is a lso, they expect the truth. So you best be honest. We say with every age group, but they really want to be a part of this. This is their story. But they also might not have the cognitive capacity to process the truth as an adult would appropriately developmentally appropriately. They've got a lot of existential questions coming up, believe it or not, the why, why did this happen? What does this all mean? You know, the life and death stuff, you may see them act out quite a bit and it can be scary. If no harm is done, we do recommend tolerating a little bit. Again, as long as safety is there, they're going to be probably more comfortable talking to fellow teens th an t o you. That's okay. As long as you think they have a space where they're able to express that, a nd adults can provide a balance between their understanding and that continued structure. A lot of parents say, should I let them get away with anything they're grieving? My goodness. I can't imagine how hard this is. They need that structure and safety that you create. So it's okay to be empathetic, but also there should still be boundaries. They crave those boundaries, those structures, and they need that to keep themselves safe, emotionally safe as well. And then last, we do want to bring up the young adults. If you have them in your life, there's sometimes considered the forgotten mourners 'cause they're that in-between. They need to find their space as well to have someone to listen , to have ways to express themselves creatively. Everybody matters in grief, everybody grieves.

Brenda Vargas:

You know, and I know this can be really tough as parents as you hear all of these different types of ways that it might show up in your child and just trying to make sense of it right, as you dissect, okay. When they did this or when this happened or, you know, this conversation.. In the end I think grace is very important that you give yourself. You're not expected to have the answers as you two are probably grieving and they also need to be extended the same kind of grace. This is new possibly. And if it's not, it's still different. Every person that we lose, no matter how close or far or, or near and dear to our heart, they might have been, It's a different experience. Wouldn't you say, Jill?

Jill Lovill:

Oh, absolutely. I truly believe there's nothing quite like grief. And yes, I believe in extending yourself grace and self compassion and also being patient. We have a lot of families that understandably call us sometimes the same day a death has happened. The panic, what do I do? How do I help my child? Patience is so important as you go through grief. I kind of chalk up the first month to like a total wash. The grief is so raw. You're still just trying to make any type of sense of what has happened in your world , that we encourage families. That doesn't mean we can't support you in the first month, but even to join our group, we enforce waiting a month or two before doing that because it's so raw . It's so wild. Such an experience of all over the place that patience is so important with yourself, with your kids, with each other.

Brenda Vargas:

Where's the hope- what do we grab on or hang on to?

Jill Lovill:

The hope is that most people, and I'm talking upwards of 90%, move through their grief in a healthy way , and kind of come through on the other side. There is support available. I find that so hopeful, you can join groups and meet other people who "get it." No one's g oing t o understand exactly what you're going through, but they get it. There are resources out there. There are books out there. And the hope is that not that you want a reason to grow as an individual, but there is something that changes in a person when they've grieved; t hat the compassion grows; that their emotional intelligence enhances and transforms; that the relationships, even with the person who has died, can grow. So that growth, I think, is really hopeful for me, at least.

Brenda Vargas:

And I want, I'm so glad that you share that because, you know, in the darkness of the grief and working through that, and we know that it can be very traumatic. I mean, these intense emotions for parents, caregivers, as well as for children and youth, that we adapt, we find a way to bounce back despite the heaviness. And I know I tell folks one day at a time and that's, as much as you can can do is just focus on today.

Jill Lovill:

And in grief , we even say focus on this hour. A lot of times grief is so profound, and it just shakes you to your absolute core , and it's multilayered , right? So we always look at the loss itself, the person who died, but there's also a change in your religious beliefs. Sometimes your existential beliefs, there's a change in your home life. There's the change in your finances. There's so many layers to grief that oftentimes one hour at a time is enough. I'm going to get through this hour, and then I'm going to start the next hour.

Brenda Vargas:

Thank you for correcting me. I appreciate that. And one of the things that I think, you know, for anyone listening, if you're helping someone else, maybe you're not the one grieving, maybe you're helping a neighbor, a friend, you know, a coworker. I think sometimes as people that are in supportive roles like this, that aren't necessarily experiencing the grief. We want to help so badly and do something right now. I mean, I've heard of so many different situations that you want to be helpful and you feel helpless as they go through this period in their life, what would you say to them Jill?

Jill Lovill:

I think I would say when in doubt kind of just do, so a lot of times, understandably we refer back to, if there's anything I can do, let me know. And we oftentimes know in the bereaved world, we're not going to ask- Oh yeah, you could come help clean my house or whatever. You don't even have the energy to ask so often, you know, if you can say, I want to make you dinner, is it okay if I leave it on your front porch on Sunday? It's hard to interact when you're grieving. It's hard to have the energy to open the door and have a conversation. So just doing those simple acts of kindness and not expecting a response , is what I would say. One of the greatest things you can do for someone who is grieving is be there, continue to be there and don't expect it to be reciprocated just yet.

Brenda Vargas:

And even communicating, I think some folks hold back like, Oh right. We heard this news about someone that we know lost somebody, very, you know, dear and near loved one. And I just don't know what to say. I don't want to call them, but I'm thinking about them every day, the days go by and I'm feeling like myself very heavy, however, I just don't know what words and even the "how" piece, how do I do it, that I don't come across as being disrespectful in any way, impeding on their own grief and whatever circumstances they have to deal with next, after they've lost someone dear. What would be your suggestion, Jill? I know sometimes people just need something concrete, you know, here's a good idea.

Jill Lovill:

And you threw one in there actually saying, you know, I am thinking of you and I always put in, when someone is grieving , no need to respond. Kind of like I talked about leaving dinner on the front step. Because then people say, Oh, I'm getting all of these text messages. And I love to hear from that, but it's so exhausting to think of responding. So that takes the burden off of the bereaved person of saying, I am thinking of you every day, no need to respond. Just know you're in my heart, you're on my mind, whatever that may be. And I think the second piece I would say is stick around. A lot of people get inundated with support. Let's say the first one to two months after someone has died. And then they vanish , they're back to their life. Understandably. But the bereaved person's world is still stuck. So coming back and saying, I know it's been six months, I'm still here. I'm still thinking of you. I imagine this is still so hard. All of those things of saying I'm not going away. Even if you don't respond because it takes so much respond, I'm still here.

Brenda Vargas:

Yeah. That's a really, really good point because we do move on with life and we forget that, you know, it might be difficult for them to move on and that's, that's a hard thing to have to face by yourself and not have a good friend or a good neighbor or someone that you can just lean on.

Jill Lovill:

And people have that expectation that they should be moving on as well. And moving on is kind of a four letter word, If you will, in grief, we don't talk necessarily about, Oh, you're just gonna move on from this loss. But a lot of people will say, gosh, it's been a year, aren't you over it yet? No, no, no, no. This is still my world, so being present being there continually is so important.

Brenda Vargas:

Without judgment. Absolutely. Absolutely. So as we think about how we can support children specifically through this focusing on the resiliency piece, what are some things that families and parents and caregivers can do to foster that resiliency?

Jill Lovill:

It goes back to that listening and so many parents are doing so much more than they think they are always. But particularly in grief as well. So I don't know what to do. You've mentioned that feeling helpless , by being present, by allowing space for the child to feel, to grieve, to behave, you know , differently than they do usually creates that safe space of saying it is okay to grieve. It is okay to feel your feelings. What I'm going to do is be there with you. And we're going to come up with a good way to express our feelings. You don't have to say that's productive, but that's kind of the back of your mind, right? What are we going to do with all this anger? We're not going to punch people, right. But instead let's go outside, let's jump rope, let's throw the ball, let's run, let's do something fun where we can express that anger in a healthy way. Same with the sadness. It's okay to feel sad. What can we do with this sadness? Let's draw a picture of your special person who died. Let's look at photos of your person. Can I share a story about your mom ? Ways that you can say, let's maintain this connection, let's be in this together , and not run away from the grief.

Brenda Vargas:

And in youth or a dolescents, right. Writing a letter. I know that it's easy to give some tips in regards to younger children, but for adolescents, right? C ause they they're searching for that autonomy and independence and they want to be alone and/or with their friends. But we w ant t o make sure that we continuously check in with them and then just provide them different options, whether that is connecting with someone else that also is going through something very difficult, to find that comfort and/or looking at what are some of their hobbies or things that they enjoy or things that they like that could serve as a really healthy coping skill.

Jill Lovill:

Yes, we do have that peer to peer support. If that's of interest and is something that would resonate with the family and child and teenager. But like you said, also giving different options; is it providing a journal for the adolescent? You don't need to read it or be part of it. They may never have journaled before, but hey, this works for some people. A lot of adolescents like to listen to music when they're grieving, is it something that you can, if maybe they already have access to that, but say here's an iTunes card or something to help you get some new songs to listen to. Is it providing that privacy within the boundaries of knowing that they're safe ; is it engaging them in a new club or a new sport? What is it that you can do that gives them the space to grieve and that not, Oh, you're just dramatic teenager. Don't drop that on them. We're saying, I imagine this is so hard. I am here. I want to listen and giving them that space spending one-on-one time with them, even if it's for 15 minutes a week, as part of the program, we do saying, I'm putting my phone down. I am present. We're going to do what you want to do. Let's build our bonds in our relationship, even if we don't talk about the grief.

Brenda Vargas:

Which can be so hard sometimes facing it, head on, but we do know that as they become more comfortable and make more sense of it, they do open up about it. And you know, sometimes it mid into another activity and that's quite all right, or in a car ride because there's a start and an end to something to that. Jill this is such a wealth of information that I think will be really helpful for so many parents and caregivers. Any last minute points or anything you want to reiterate for parents to keep in mind?

Jill Lovill:

I think my last minute thing would just remind you that there's really no right or wrong in this. Everyone wants to say I'm doing the right thing. I'm saying the right thing by being present by listening to your kids, by being open and honest and fostering open communication and resiliency in them. You're doing "everything right." And then again, knowing that you're not alone . New Song Center is here. We are here to help. We are here to support. We are here to listen and to help provide guidance through these really challenging times. So please don't hesitate to reach out and know you're not alone.

Brenda Vargas:

Awesome. Well, thank you, Joe, for your time! Parents, please feel free to reach out to New Song or our Department of C USD Counseling and Social Services, we can connect you with J ill if you're having difficulty o r can't find them, but we are here to help support you. We know that it's been very challenging and we hope that this information has been helpful. Thank you for spending the time to join us today.