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How to Help Our Grieving Children: Discussions with Emilio Parga from The Solace Tree

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Jessica Elder
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How to Help Our Grieving Children: Discussions with Emilio Parga from The Solace Tree

Hi Everyone,

I'd like to introduce you to Emilio Parga who will be co-facilitating discussions related to child, teen and sibling grief. Emilio is the founder and director of The Solace Tree for grieving children, teens and families. The Solace Tree is located in Reno, Nevada. Emilio holds an M.A. degree in School Counseling. He serves as a Pediatric Thanatologist and bereavement consultant to Washoe County Department of Social Services and Washoe County School District.  Emilio is also a trainer for hospitals, clergy, funeral homes, emergency services and businesses.  He is an educator in areas related to grief and death, peer support groups for grieving children, teens and adults, and explaining death to children. 

Emilio Parga is also the author of several books and publications including Kids Can Cope; The Solace Tree: Coping with Loss; No Child Should Grieve Alone: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Professionals; Love Never Stops: A Memory Book for Children; I Will Never Forget You: A Teen Journal of Love and Remembrance. 

Many of you have expressed questions and discussions around helping bereaved siblings, or around explaining death to children and teens. The title of this message board is "How to Help Our Grieving Children." Please post any questions, comments, discussions realted to the grief your children or teens are experiencing, or your own personal experiences in dealing with their grief. Emilio and I will be checking in. Thank you!

Jessica Elder

 

 

 

 

solacetree
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Thank you Jessica. I am looking forward to listening and learning from everybody who logs in.

I started The Solace Tree for grieving children, teens and families because there was nothing in my community or city of Reno, NV that helps grieving children and teens. As a former teacher and school counselor there was no training and so I  decided to start a grief program so that all bereaved families and professionals who needed help or support could come to our program for free. It's a peer support (model) program where children, teens and adults can find commonality and normalcy in their lives. We have seen well over 3,000 bereaved children and teens in the last eight years. 

What has made this work is that we have seen that the children and teens are the experts... they guide us through the grieving process. It's been great for us because we have seen from the children and teens to the adults there is no judging or assuming... just listening and being present.

I look forward to hearing from you all - Thank you for the opportunity,

 

Emilio 

Jessica Elder
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Thanks Emilio! One parent asked me to post a comment on behalf of her. This is a comment she made on a previous message board, and she wanted to post it hear so we could hear your perspective.

This mother lost her 2 1/2 year old son to a brain stem tumor about 22 months ago. He was her first child, and his younger brother was 4 months old at the time of his death. The younger brother is now 2 and she is pregnant with her third boy who is due very soon.

She has given a lot of thought into how she can explain the concept of death to her younger children. She does not find literature on this topic helpful. So far, she has not had to answer questions from her two year old son yet, since he is only two, but she knows she will be discussing this topic with him at some point. Currently, she talks to him daily about his older brother and together they pray to him every night. We talked about how this is a beautiful routine and that it is a good start to helping her young son know his older brother.

This mother wonders how she can help her two-year old son to understand that he has an older brother, and that his older brother has died. She realizes that her two year old's capcity to comprehend this is limited, but she's more concerned with how she will respond to him as he gets older and asks questions. She came up with some analogies to try and help her son understand that he has an older brother, although he is not physically present, and cannot be heard. 

Emilio, this mother would like to talk about how she can help her young children to know their older brother, who has died. She would also like to think about how to discuss the death with her two year old son. Please share any thoughts or experiences you have with parents who have dealt with these issues. What do you commonly tell parents regarding communicating with young children about the death of their sibling? How do other parents help surviving children to "know" a sibling whom they did not meet or do not remember?

 

solacetree
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Jessica,

First of all... this mother will always have two children (and one on the way). Through memories, story telling and pictures, mom should never be afraid to talk about her deceased son. The child at this age needs to see mom cry, share, laugh and smile. Mom is a model for sharing feelings to her child/children. [WE] as parents, caregivers and adults should never underestimate a child's ability to grieve. They are never to young to know and they watch us and hear us as we move around the house, talk on the phone, have people over at the house and everyday routines and schedules.

To get more information on this and other tips, advice and suggestions please visit www.compassionatefriends.org. There are also hundreds of books on this topic and more at www.centering.org.

 

I have been taught from bereaved parents to keep telling the young child or children of the life of the child (memories) and the love they have for the child or children who have died. Keep pictures up and keep them a part of your everyday life, in your hearts, memories, traditions and routines. 

 

Below are some suggestions:

  • Remember, children at this age have little or no understanding of the idea of death. However, they do understand sadness. 
  • One must never avoid talking about death with children when asked. It's an opportunity to let children (of any age) know that we are listening.
  • Don't force conversations but be available if they want to talk or let them know that you are sad today because you miss _______. Do something special on holidays, birthdays... that is how we show our children about how to carry on traditions and rituals... create new ones and/or hold on to old ones. 
  • Two-year-olds need physical contact so spend time with them in a safe place when listening to them... get down to their level, play legos, dolls, playdough with them, have them draw pictures of what they remember and show them that you care and love them.

 

 

Jessica Elder
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Thanks for your response Emilio. If anyone else has anything to share on this topic please feel free to post. In addition, another mother asked me to post a question to you, on her behalf. This mother wrote the following message:

"Our teenage son went to heaven 2 years ago. Our 20 year old wants nothing to do with bereavement camps or bereavement groups we attend.  It seems like he is shutting the door on his grief.  In the mean time he is watching TV and hangs out with his girlfriend.  He volunteers, goes to school and has a part time job so he is involved but I'm concerned.  Is grieving intentionally delayed by some?"

Emilio, this mother seems to be wondering about her son's grieving and wants to know if it is intentionally delayed, and if this is something you see when working with others. She feels he is "shutting the door" on his grief. It seems like she also might want to know what she and her husband can do to support him, as he is experiencing his grief differently than they are. Her son is keeping busy, active and involved, but the mother is still concerned because it is difficult to know how he is experiencing his grief.

 

Thank you!

Jessica Elder, CBTF  

solacetree
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Thank you for sharing. I will share with you some lessons learned from grieving parents in our programs about what's happening in your life and maybe others as well.

First, each of us grieve in different ways. Teens are no different and I think teens know how to grieve the best (based on what I have observed over the years). The are in between a child and an adult. Especially siblings, they have such a unique relationship with each other - way different from their parents or caregivers. 

Believe it or not he is grieving. He is showing it in other ways. Ways that we can't understand because we see them playing, involved in things, staying busy, smiling etc.  I/We have learned that grief is something we feel on the inside of our body (in this case), heavy heart, stomach aches, tired, etc., and mourning is grief gone public... tattoos, piercings, hair changes, clothing changes etc. So, it's not delayed at all. HE IS GRIEVING.

He may talk about it when your not around, cry when your not around, get angry or sad when you're not around... you're just not seeing it. GRIEF IS SUCH A NATURAL AND NORMAL PART OF LIFE and each of us show and share it in different ways. 

Lastly, some things to do as parents is to let him know you are available to listen (don't use the word talk), let him know you are also thinking of him (siblings are know as the FORGOTTEN MOURNERS), and that he is loved, ask him if he wants to create new rituals or traditions. Keep him (all siblings) a part of the family decisions and family talk... even if they don't want to... at least they know you are thinking of them.

It's just watershed, so I hope this helps.

 

Thinking of you,

Emilio

Jessica Elder
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Hi Emilio,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. The parent appreciated the information you gave and I have heard many parents express similar issues. I love what you said about the importance of letting children/teens, etc.  know we are thinking of them. This is something simple but powerful we can do, as there are so many times we don't know what to say or do. 

Emilio, so many parents have wondered about sibling anxiety as well. Although you addressed earlier how to be available and supportive to bereaved children, whether young children or teens, can you talk about some common issues/thoughts/feelings you observe when working bereaved siblings? We'd love for you to think about the work you've done and share some observations as well as what has helped them...

solacetree
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So, surviving siblings DO feel left out... I know they want to be noticed and wonder if it was them who died if their parents and family members would also grieve, mourn and comemorate their life like they do their deceased sibling. That's why I always say keep siblings involved on planning, helping out with decisions and asking them what they would like to do for meals, anniversary, birthdays, holidays etc.

There are certain factors when helping surviving siblings:

  • their age
  • support system
  • attachment to sibling and surviving parents or caregivers
  • routines 
  • schedules 
  • their room and now the space in the house (where the other child played)
  • the funeral or memorial (was the surviving sibling able to attend, be a part of?) These are just some things to think about when helping surviving siblings as you help your self...
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  • My computer is not letting me return........
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  • Adults need to let the child or teen know it wasn't their fault, communicate clearly their feelings when things come up so they don't feel left out, let them see you cry, be mad, be happy (share memories), create a memory box for the family room or a special place where all can go and talk and have them (or suggest) go to a support group for surviving siblings... We know all the surviving siblings have said it has helped because they feel like others are going through something similar... school issues, home issues and relationship issues.
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  • Deepen you love for the surviving sibling(s) and again get involved in their life as much as you can.    
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  • Anything you do with them and for them can be a vehicle to carry on the memories and love for generations to come. 
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  • My condolences, 
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  • Emilio                                                  
Jessica Elder
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Emilio,

Thank you for your response! I know many parents will find it helpful. We look forward to having you join us in the online chat room discussion that will take place next week on Tuesday, May17th at 8:30pm EST!

Jessica Elder
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Hello,

I wanted to share this short article for anyone who is interested. It is related to supporting grieving teens and addresses some of the issues brought up in past online discussions.

http://broadneck.patch.com/articles/how-parents-can-support-their-grieving-teens 

Feel free to read and/or post comments.

Sincerely,

Jessica Elder

Children's Brain Tumor Foundation

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