Dr. Heidi Horsley interviews Dr. Grace Christ about sudden loss vs. anticipated loss for the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Both professors at the Columbia University School of Social Work, the two Drs. know each other—and their work—quite well. Dr. Christ also works with the New York Fire Department and is the director of the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network. She’s the author of two books about grief and counseling. As Dr. Horsley’s mentor, they’ve worked together since the 9/11 tragedy. Working with families who experience anticipated loss is very different than working with sudden loss.
An expected loss and sudden loss can both be catastrophic and traumatizing. What are their similarities and differences as it relates to helping families through their grief? Expected loss often gives an opportunity for preparation. This preparation is key, especially if you can use it to prepare children. Kids do best with carefully dosed information over a time span, since this lets them integrate the loss into their lives. You can make the most of the time and utilize the experience.
When the Worst Happens
Studies show that, in children, the highest levels of stress and anxiety are before an expected loss. Those are normal responses, although later a grief process will take over. Still, removing the trauma is critical since it’s an added burden. However, with sudden traumatic death, you don’t get time to plan. Dr. Christ says you don’t get that relief when someone dies because they haven’t been planning for it. Kids will more often act out afterward.
It takes longer and it’s a more complex loss when a death is sudden. It can take children a long time to process. Whatever loss you or your child is facing, remember that professional help can be a great tool.