Barb Petsel: Talking with Children about Death

student

The Executive Editor of the Open to Hope Foundation recently spoke with Barb Petsel, author and therapist at Healing Transitions Counseling, during the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference. As the author of Remembering Grandma’s Hugs, Petsel delved deep into the how’s of talking to children when their grandparents die. “I wrote (this book) because many years ago my father died. He was visiting my brother and his children, and died suddenly of a heart attack in front of them.” However, the family was at a loss. They hadn’t discussed how to talk to their children about death or how to cherish the memories of a passed love one.

Previously, Petsel had been a director of an organization helping children and teens grieve. This experience with her father, brother, nieces and nephews made her realize there needs to be more opportunities to open up communication when families are grieving. “So often as parents, we want to protect our kids and not have them bereaved or suffer,” she says, but that’s not realistic nor the best approach. Sharing memories in a “delightful” way is a positive way to heal and grieve.

Cherishing Memories

Every family wants to cherish memories of their passed loved ones, but many don’t know how to do it. In her book, Petsel talks about the importance of language when talking to younger children. The idea of “losing” is particularly scary, and Petsel says language needs to be honest and developmentally appropriate no matter what the cause of death.

Children often have unique reactions and worries about funerals and death. For instance, Petsel recalls one child hearing “polar bears” instead of “pallbearers,” which of course led to a lot of confusion. “If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve,” says Petsel, including even babies and newborns. However, it’s up to parents and other adults to teach children how to talk and grieve in a positive manner.

Neil Chethik

More Articles Written by Neil

Neil Chethik is an author, speaker and expert specializing in men's lives and family issues. He is the author of two acclaimed books: VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment (Simon & Schuster 2006), and FatherLoss: How Sons of All Ages Come To Terms With the Deaths of Their Dads (Hyperion 2001). Previously, Neil was a staff reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat and San Jose Mercury News, and writer of VoiceMale, the first syndicated column on men's personal lives. His writings have appeared in hundreds of print and web publications. He is currently Writer-in-Residence at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Ky., where he lives with his wife, Kelly Flood, and son, Evan. Reach Neil at: Neil@NeilChethik.com 121 Arcadia Park Lexington Ky. 40503 859-361-1659 Neil appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss “Men and Loss.” To hear Neil being interviewed on this show, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley121307.mp3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *