OCTOBER 26, 2006 ? COMING TO TERMS WITH LOSS:? DONNA SCHUURMAN, National Director of The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families, where she has served in various roles since 1986.? She has written and trained internationally on children?s bereavement issues, and is the author of Never the Same: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Parent.? Dr. Schuurman served as President of the Board of Directors for the Association for Death Education & Counseling, and in 2003 received their Annual Service Award.? She is a member of the International Work Group on Death and Dying, and serves as a Director on the boards of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention NW, and The National Alliance for Grieving Children.? She is the bereaved sibling of Lynne.? http://www.dougy.org/
Donna Schuurman:? I think perhaps one of the most significant parts of the story is that after she was told that Lynne had died, she and my father never spoke about it and she never spoke about it with anyone until I asked her about it forty-five years later.
Donna Schuurman:? I knew that she had died.? I knew, but every June, which was when she died, my mother would get kind of down and my father would say to me and my two old brothers, ?You know, it?s probably about that baby, and just kind of leave her alone and it?ll go away.?? So we never talked about it as a family.
Donna Schuurman:? I think there was also a little bit of shame at that time associated with the loss of a child as if you had done something wrong, but I realized after I finally discussed it with my mother and she had the opportunity to really tell her story for the first time holding it in for 45 years how much I was affected by the death of someone I never knew because my mother was affected.?
Donna Schuurman:? The fact that it doesn?t go away.? The loss of a child, the loss of someone important in your life changes in time and certainly many people get through it and all of that but it?s not ever as if it didn?t happen.
Donna Schuurman:? We started in actually the basement of ? a pediatrician and his wife, who was a nurse, who wanted to help children that they were seeing medically who were dealing with illnesses and deaths of siblings and parents and nobody seemed to really know what to do for them and how to help them.? So for the last 25 years, we?ve been working with children starting at age three up through young adults and their parents, teenagers to do support groups to help normalize the experience of grief.
Donna Schuurman:? We started in actually the basement of a pediatrician and his wife, who was a nurse, who wanted to help children that they were seeing medically who were dealing with illnesses and deaths of siblings and parents and nobody seemed to really know what to do for them and how to help them.? So for the last 25 years, we?ve been working with children starting at age three up through young adults and their parents, teenagers to do support groups to help normalize the experience of grief.
Donna Schuurman:? I think it?s a lot more difficult to grieve alone.? There?s a place at which we do grieve alone but that you don?t walk alone and that feeling understood and finding others who can support you in that really life-long journey can be so helpful.
Donna Schuurman:? I think one of the most important things to remember about teens is that at that age, their peer group is so critical to them so I understand why teens don?t want to go in and talk to a therapist.? Although I?m a big advocate of therapy, I think a lot of teens believe it means that you think something?s wrong with them and they?re grieving.? Grief is not a mental illness.?
Donna Schuurman:? ?Do you feel that there?s anyone who understands what you?re going through??? Now, of course, no one can fully understand what someone else is going through, but if you answer that question by saying, ?No.? I?m alone.? No one could ever understand that I have no one to talk to.?? That?s not a good position to be in.? If you?re answering ?no,? I strongly suggest that you find a support group, a therapist, a close friend, someone you can share with.
Donna Schuurman:? First I want to say, I don?t think that all grieving people need therapy but it can be helpful for some people.? However, a lot of therapists did not receive a lot of training in grief and loss particularly death.? Ironically, it?s very odd to me because I think what drives most people to therapy is loss-related issues, but the Association for Death, Education, and Counseling, called ADEC, has a listing of people who are certified in thanatology, the study of death, but I encourage people to call hospitals and hospices and ask for referrals for people who really have understanding and experience in grief and loss and to shop around a little bit because there?s also such a thing as fit.
Donna Schuurman:? The website is www.dougy.org.? It will have a listing of other centers throughout the country that are based on the Dougy Center?s model.? It also has some resources for people who work with children who are grieving in a school setting for parents or children specifically so there are a lot of resources on that website.
Donna Schuurman:? I think the most important thought that I can give is to trust your own experience and to find others who will listen and support you and not try to fix you or tell you what to do.? I think that being understood and feeling felt by others is such a critical issue in our healing.?