The grief of a child is very real

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Opin­ion - BY TRACY BOWIE Tracy Bowie is with The Good Foun­da­tion Inc.

An­thony Bourdain. Kate Spade.

We know these names.

We know who they were by their skills, their ac­com­plish­ments and sadly, their deaths. Both chose to die by sui­cide. They share one other de­tail as well. Both left be­hind young daugh­ters. Bourdain’s is 11 years old; Spade’s is 13.

Ex­pres­sion of grief is dif­fer­ent for children than adults and de­pends on the de­vel­op­men­tal stage when loss oc­curs.

It is nor­mal for children to ex­pe­ri­ence grief spurts, chang­ing emotions in an in­stant. Be­cause it can look so dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from the way adults ex­pe­ri­ence grief, it was widely thought children had no inkling of the tremen­dous emotional up­heaval hap­pen­ing around them.

It was only in re­cent mem­ory that it was rec­og­nized that children grieve.

It is important to re­mem­ber that children have an in­nate sense of the world around them and are more aware than given credit for. It is for this rea­son that car­ing adults should ex­plain about a death with truth and age ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage. Not doing so can da­m­age the trust be­tween child and adult. Talk­ing to a child about a death is one of the most dif­fi­cult things to do, es­pe­cially with all the unan­swered ques­tions a sui­cide can bring.

How­ever, with their imag­i­na­tions and lit­eral think­ing, the be­lief in “soften­ing” the ex­pla­na­tion may lead to con­fu­sion and worse trauma oc­cur­ring.

Children who have ex­pe­ri­enced a loss, in­clud­ing from a sui­cide, may find art and play ther­apy ben­e­fi­cial for ex­press­ing the emotions they are feel­ing. Phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity is also important.

While the adults may ex­pe­ri­ence a lack of en­ergy, it is important to find a way for the children to burn theirs, per­haps by tak­ing part in ac­tiv­i­ties with a trust-worthy adult or older youth act­ing as “play­mate”. Alarm­ing to adults, children may ex­press a wish to die too.

Re­al­ize this means, in their lan­guage, a de­sire to re­unite with the in­di­vid­ual who died, as op­posed to an ac­tual long­ing for death them­selves.

As younger ages do not un­der­stand the per­ma­nence of death, be pre­pared should indicators point to more. Con­trol be­comes important when a sud­den loss hap­pens, and kids should be given as much as is age ap­pro­pri­ate. Children search for and as­sign rea­sons to a death. Usu­ally they blame them­selves, feel guilty or be­lieve they had the power to pre­vent it. Knowl­edge, along with re­as­sur­ances and sup­port from fam­ily and friends, is essential.

For older children and teens, grief is even more com­plex. While they may have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the cir­cum­stances of a death, at this time pe­riod they are look­ing for ways to con­nect and fit in with their peers. Likely a death, es­pe­cially from sui­cide, will dis­tance them in­stead. In the case of a peer dy­ing by sui­cide, a teen thinks of his or her own mor­tal­ity, which is in di­rect op­po­si­tion to their feel­ings of in­vin­ci­bil­ity. Teens can feel iso­lated and lonely when loss oc­curs, and a sui­cide by some­one close to them leaves a feel­ing of aban­don­ment, mis­trust of re­la­tion­ships and the be­lief it will happen to some­one else they care about.

The Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion for Sui­cide Preven­tion states “Help­ing teens to find a voice to ex­press their ex­pe­ri­ence can be dif­fi­cult. For teens es­pe­cially, the abil­ity to be sur­rounded by oth­ers their age who have had a sim­i­lar tragedy touch their life can be very ben­e­fi­cial to their heal­ing process.”

If you are, or know of, a teen whose life has been touched by sui­cide or other loss and who would be in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in a free, lo­cal sup­port group, please email [email protected] for more in­for­ma­tion.

In case of ur­gent life threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions please go to the near­est hos­pi­tal or call 911/RCMP. Non-emer­gency re­sources in­clude Saskatchew­an Men­tal Health Cen­tral­ized In­take at 1-877-329-0005, Kid­sHelpPhone (ages 20 and un­der) 1-800-668-6868 (on­line or on the phone), or Medicine Hat Dis­tress Cen­tre which of­fers an on­line con­fi­den­tial chat from 3-10 pm MT or call their 24 hour cri­sis line at 1-403-266-4357.

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