Supporting Grieving Children and Their Families
Hosts: Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley
With guest: Dr. Valerie Molaison
March 23, 2006

G: Hello. I?m Dr. Gloria Horsley. Welcome to Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and renewal for those who suffered the loss of a loved one. Well, we?ve got this show on the air for almost a year now, and we have added a new and exciting dimension to the program. My daughter, Dr. Heidi Horsley, has graciously accepted co-hosting Healing the Grieving Heart. Heidi is a bereaved sibling and bereaved parent of two losses due to miscarriages. In addition to teaching intervention for grief and loss and bereavement at Columbia University, she has worked in a number of clinical settings. Heidi is an expert on sibling loss and she is currently a co-investor for Columbia University where she conducts evaluations and interventions to facilitate coping of spouses and children of firefighters killed in the World Trade Center disaster. Heidi, welcome to the show. It?s very exciting to have you co-host the program with me.
H: Well, thanks, mom. It?s great to be here, and I?m looking forward to co-hosting.
G: Great. Well, Heid, I thought today we?d start out with an email. I always get such wonderful emails from my listeners and well, they?re heart-rendering and just absolutely great, and I wanted to let you all know out there that if you?d like to email me or Heidi, you can do it through our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org and these shows, just to remind you, you can hear them seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. They?re archived on my website, our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, as well as www.compassionatefriends.org website. Well, Heid, I wanted to start out with this email I received. The email is from Denise. Denise says:
Dr. Horsley. I?m recently a bereaved parent and I found your internet programs helpful. I?m interested in hearing more about your story. My own son was 17 and died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident only one month ago.
Wow, short time, wouldn?t you say, Heid? Very short.
We also have two daughters and I?m interested in how you handled losing your only son. How did your husband and daughters feel with losing the young man in their family? How did you help your daughters do this?
She also said, and I won?t read the whole rest, but she said she attended one Compassionate Friends meeting and that it was a difficult meeting for her and she didn?t know if she?d be going back. Well, Denise, I wanted to start out with The Compassionate Friends and then I want Heidi to comment on your email. With The Compassionate Friends meeting, it?s only been a month. You went once. You didn?t have a great experience. One thing I would suggest. Our guest, Al Johnson, that was on. If you go to the archives, he?s a minister. He waited for seven months. So give it a try again in a few months. The other thing is, our national director, Patricia Loder, recommends that you go three times to try to give it a shot. But we?re glad you?re listening in to the shows and that they?re helpful, and keep emailing us. And also, Heidi and I did a show together, and in a minute, I?ll look up the date and tell you because we do talk a lot about sibling loss and families, but Heidi, what suggestions do you have something for Denise on this?
H: I guess one of the things that struck me about the email was that you lost your only son and you have two surviving daughters. Our situation is similar although I have two other sisters. There were three girls in the family. I think one thing I would say was that when my brother died, I had a lot of survivor guilt because he was the only boy, and there were three girls left in the family, and that?s fairly normal. From the siblings I?ve spoken to that are bereaved, survivor guilt is a normal emotion and that?s okay if that?s what they?re struggling with. We all dealt with this differently in our family. I was the oldest so I kind of took over and was worried about my parents and worried about my siblings. I grieved very much alone and I wanted to take care of the family whereas my youngest sister had a headset on and kind of turned to herself and listened to her headset and tuned out the family, wouldn?t you say, mom?
G: I would say that, and Denise, I worried endlessly about the girls and they have done fabulously. They are so great and our family is just very happy. We have grandkids and the kids have done well. In fact, I really feel that you guys, Heidi, have some insight that other people don?t have.
H: Right. And I guess one thing I would also say which I say to parents a lot and I?ve said it on the show. I would listen to the show I did on adolescents with Gloria and one thing I would say was I would go to the girls and say, ?I know what it?s like to lose a child, but I don?t know what it?s like to lose a sibling. It must be really hard for you girls and is there anything that your father and I can do to help. We?re here for you. Is there anything that may be helpful??
G: Great. Well, Denise, I?m glancing through this and I?m not seeing my show so email me and I?ll tell you the date of it. I might of told you. I sent you an email. And thanks again for emailing. Keep in touch. I want to start the show today by having Heidi read a quote from a guest, November 10, Ben Sieff. You know I?m getting great quotes out of the shows that we?re doing and we?re putting them on our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org and hopefully, eventually, you?ll actually be able to hear the guest say the quote so if you want to get caught up on our archive shows or listen to the quotes, tune in. Also, soon you?ll be able to pick up our shows on Ipod. So Heidi would you read Ben?s comments for us because I think it?s a great lead into our guest today.
H: Sure. Ben says, ?When I was 16 and my brother was killed, I felt completely isolated. I couldn?t really talk to even my best friends about it. I would repeat things over and over again and they would ask me to stop. It was uncomfortable for everybody and I think that?s the neat thing about support groups is you?re around people that at least have some kind of idea of what it is you?re going through. They, of course, don?t know exactly what it is but you don?t feel like you?re in this wasteland of no one?s around there to be supportive.?
G: Great. Thanks, Heidi, for reading that for us. I think it?s a wonderful introduction to our guest today, Valerie Molaison. Dr. Molaison is one of those special people who has seen the need and been willing to specialize in this most difficult area working with families who cope with loss. Dr. Molaison is the Clinical Director of Supporting Kidds, the Center for Grieving Children and Their Families, a non-profit agency in Wilmington, Delaware, that provides support groups and educational programs for bereaved families, as well as community education and consultation to professionals who work with bereaved children. Val, welcome to the show.
V: Well, thanks for having me.
G: It?s great to have you on and the support you?re giving your community is amazing. Heidi and I were just absolutely blown away, weren?t we, Heidi, with the materials you sent about your program.
V: I?m really happy to hear that. Thank you.
H: They are fabulous and they are so comprehensive, but they?re not too lengthy. It?s almost like you could use your information as a quick reference guide.
V: Well, one thing you notice when you?re working with bereaved families is they don?t have a lot of ability to concentrate for long periods of time. There?s so much going on emotionally and in terms of trying to adjust to day-to-day things that the way that people digest information when they?re in this crisis state really is in smaller terms and in ways that can be immediately of assistance. I do try to make the materials we provide both in our support groups as well as in our written materials very digestible.
H: It is and one thing I wanted to say while we?re still on the topic. Two things I absolutely love. In working with grieving children, I found that some teachers in some schools are fabulous and they really understand what it?s like to lose a family member. And other teachers really don?t understand the toll it takes on concentration and behavior, etc., and two things you have in here which I think every
G: And by the way, this is a booklet. Can our audience get your booklet?
V: Absolutely. People can email me or go online to our website. My email is valmolaison@supportingkidds.org.
G: Great and you can also email us and we?ll give that to you also. Heidi, could you get back to that? You were talking about the teachers.
H: The thing I thought was fabulous was your school survival kit especially the strategies to help integrate a child back into the classroom after a loss and what newly bereaved children need from their teachers. Those are so fabulous. Those two pages are so important for teachers.
G: Do you want to talk about those pages, Val, about what you suggest to people?
V: Well, what we find is that schools contact us a lot after there?s been a loss whether it?s in their school community or whether it?s a parent or sibling of a child, a student in the school, and they?re concerned because the child is behaving strangely, and so I do a lot of education of school professionals to help them get a sense of what these children?s lives are like and one of the things that we find with bereavement with children in some very, very dramatic ways, it?s very different from the way adults grieve, and so it?s confusing for grown ups to get into the head of a child who?s grieving.
G: Now what would you suggest to our audience if their child is having trouble in school right now after the death of a sibling?
V: Well, what I would say is it?s one of the most common complaints that we hear about, and it?s just very difficult for the kids to concentrate.
G: Math, is particularly hard, I think, don?t you, Heid?
H: Yeah, absolutely.
V: Well, a psychologist would say that anyway.
G: I was thinking of my daughter who was 14 at the time. Her math teacher was giving me a few phone calls.
V: Because that requires a lot of very focused concentration and logical thinking and that?s not the part of the brain that?s operating very well when you?re dealing with the trauma of a premature unexpected death, and kids are interesting because if you look at a bereaved child or adolescent, sometimes they don?t look like they?re bereaved. You can?t look at them and go oh, that person?s brother died. Whereas, a bereaved parent, it?s im-mistakable. You can see them in the grocery store and say, there?s something going on with that person. Bereaved children in adolescence have the capacity to set that aside for brief periods and go on about their daily rounds and so that is part of what?s confusing for people who are not bereaved to understand is that this on off quality of the grief work that young people have, it?s normal and natural and helps them be able to cope with their lives, but it also makes people think that the child is really using bereavement as an excuse for under achieving and those types of things, and that?s certainly not the case. As a matter of fact, there?s been a really nice longitudinal study on bereaved children by Dr. Worden in Boston and part of what they found out is that children?s symptoms are actually at their highest two years after the death of a family member.
G: That?s interesting. Well, we need to take a break now and when we come back from break, I would like you to talk to our audience about if they?ve got a child who?s having problems in school, how can they approach the school?
Valerie is the Clinical Director of Supporting Kidds, the Center for Grieving Children and Their Families, a non-profit agency in Wilmington, Delaware, and Valerie, this agency is wonderful. You run groups, right, for kids?
V: We run groups for folks ages five to eight-five and we?re very developmentally oriented so we make sure the kids are with other kids their age and each program is geared towards what the concerns and interests and capabilities of that age are after there?s been a death in their family.
G: Also, welcome back, Heidi, my new co-host. When we went to break, I was talking to Val about how the audience if they feel like their children, grandchildren, siblings, or whatever are having problems in school, how do you approach the school?
V: One of the most important things to do is to think of the school as a member of your team and to say, can we rally the troops here and can we share information and try to problem solve, what?s the best approach for my child who?s struggling. When you do that, and you come at the school with that attitude, it?s amazing how helpful people can be. Sometimes, when you become a bereaved parent or sibling, you?re suddenly in a position where you?re having to interpret yourself and your life to the rest of the world who doesn?t know what this is like. A lot of education is required in order for people to be appropriately supported. It?s interesting. When people are not bereaved, they want to support the bereaved people in their lives but sometimes they?re just awkward and don?t know the best way to do it.
G: When you?ve had this kind of loss, you?re feeling so out of energy, so debilitative. We take the lady who sent us the email whose child has only been dead for a month. You don?t have the energy. If you could drag yourself into school and say, help! Probably all you have to say is help. You don?t have to say a lot of other things, just I need help, support.
V: Unfortunately, you might be so edgy that you call the school or drag yourself into the school and say, why are you being such a jerk? One of the things in the materials that I have, and I?d be happy to send anyone who contacts me a copy of, is I have sample letters that familes can write to the people in their lives such as coaches.
G: Yeah, Heidi, you find those particularly interesting, didn?t you?
H: Yes, because like you said now, sometimes you don?t have the energy to create a letter when you?re grieving.
V: But I do think it?s important to say, here?s the deal. If you don?t speak up, everyone else around is going to get quiet. One of the main complaints we hear from bereaved children is, why does everybody get quiet when I walk in the room? And it?s because people are trying not to distress the bereaved child and so they don?t want to talk about this or that. They don?t want to upset them. Well, guess what? The worst thing in the world has already happened to them. They?re already upset and so there?s really nothing you can say that?s going to make a bereaved child?s life worse and the chances are much greater that you?re going to help in some way.
G: Good for adults but I?ll have to say, one of the things we found when we worked with Compassionate Friends kids is they don?t always want to be different. They sometimes don?t want to talk about it. They?re in kind of double bind with their friends. They want people to know in a way but in a way they don?t want them to know.
V: With peers, it?s particularly tricky and that?s why organizations like Compassionate Friends and Supporting Kidds are so useful because we can get kids together with other kids who have had a similar loss and they really have a kinship and they get one another. They understand and so that can be incredibly invaluable for children who are grieving the loss of a sibling. But I think in terms of having teachers and other people who are in charge of your children know that this is what?s happening in our family and this is the attitude we?d like our community to take and this is the way we would like to do this work. Really allow the people around the bereaved family to have permission to approach this and to say, for example, with those math problems. How about every odd problem instead of every problem in the homework for now? Reducing the quantity of the work can be really, really helpful.
G: What I?m thinking of when you talk, Val, is that it would maybe be good for someone who is related to the child rather than the parent at this point to maybe help with these issues because these are pretty heavy duty cognitive things to ask a newly bereaved parent to do but you might be able to get an advocate, a minister or whatever, to look over this book or a friend or a neighbor or whoever and help out a little bit too. Heid, we had some discussion points there. Did you want to ask Valerie some questions from those that we were thinking about? How about that having somebody else help out?
V: It?s crucial. You need someone whose organizing, thinking, planning part of their brain is working very well and that is not a newly bereaved parent typically. In order to allow children to continue to try to hobble along as they?re grappling with very traumatic circumstances, it really will need some adult assistance, an adult who can be trusted and who can follow through on little details like this.
G: And parents, it doesn?t have to be you.
V: No, and as a matter of fact, oftentimes it?s better if it?s not parents because one of the things that?s interesting when a child dies in a family, the bereavement of the parent is so very different in many cases than the bereavement of the children and the role you played with the person who died is very different and the things that are of concern to you are very different. What?s happening in your life developmentally is very different so it?s sometimes hard for bereaved parents and their children to come to a good meeting of the minds. That?s one of the things I love about Compassionate Friends and I would recommend anybody who can to attend local, regional, or national conferences of Compassionate Friends.
G: Oh, yeah, the conferences are wonderful and Heidi, what are you going to present this year, Heidi?
H: I?m going to present workshops for parents on how to help their children through their grief process. How to help their children and how to help their teens and one thing, Valerie, that you?ve brought up that I just want to reiterate is that, like you said, children and adults do grieve very differently. Children visit grief for short periods of time and then they go and do other things and play and that?s part of their grieving process and that?s part of their coping and that?s healthy because you don?t want children to be completely overwhelmed in their grief. They need to take breaks whereas parents can stick with the grief longer.
V: I think actually I would even put it another way. I wish parents had the ability that the kids have to be able to do that to get relief occasionally and it?s just very difficult as a bereaved parent to do that.
H: I found sometimes, though, that parents get a little, sometimes they have a problem when the kids are grieving and then go out and play basketball and look okay. Sometimes it upsets them because they?re saying how can John be out there when his brother just died? And it?s because parents and children do grieve differently.
V: And what the loss means to them is so different, too. To lose a sibling is so different from losing a child in some real key ways. Many times when a parent has lost a child, a big piece of what they have is they feel like number one, the world has got to have gone crazy because children are not supposed to die before their parents and so there?s an existential crisis about that and then the other one is just your basic parent guilt of aren?t parents here to protect and nurture their children and how did I in some way fail to protect even though we know that?s not logical always that you didn?t really fail to protect, it was just an accident of faith or things happened but parents can?t help but question themselves on their alleged failure to protect whereas siblings have a much more wider range of potential responses. Some people may feel mostly guilty because they had a lot of conflict with that sibling or they may feel like, gee, I lost my best friend and my favorite playmate. Or I lost the person who helped me with my homework. And so the roles that siblings play to one another are very
G: Or, it can be that I lost the person that I can?t stand and I hated it at the time. It was my archenemy and now I find out that I really feel bad that they died. I feel guilty. I feel all those emotions.
V: So the bereavement is very different and one thing I like about Compassionate Friends is they have a track for bereaved siblings and a track for bereaved parents which really really helps siblings to be able to come in and say, okay, I?m with my peace now. I?m with people who actually know my position and I?m not going to have to argue that my grief is better or different or I don?t have to justify my position because I?m with other people who are siblings who understand.
G: And also, by the way, a lot of it, too, is fun. I can have fun with these kids. We?re going to play together. We?re going to do things together.
H: I had a ball. I can go to different cities and visit depending on where the conference is.
V: It?s very uplifting. There are tense moments. There?s difficult moments. There?s a fabulous memory wall of photos and letters that people bring in and display and it?s just wonderfully touching. On the other hand, it?s also just so much fun. I led some of the sibling sharings with the adolescents and pre-adolescents and we had a lot of laughter, a lot of fun, and you could just see life coming back into people.
H: It?s also empowering because when you?ve had a loss, you feel victimized, you feel helpless, and when you can go into a situation, a grief group and give back to other people that are grieving, it?s very empowering for you when you feel like you?re giving something. You?re not just helpless.
V: I think one of the misunderstandings the non-bereaved world has about grief is that they think it?s all about feelings, and it?s true that grief work does involve feelings. You have a lot of strong feelings, a lot of mixed feelings, a lot of feelings you wish you could turn off and they won?t turn off when you want them to, but grief work also involves some real adjusting and cognitive adjustments in ways of thinking and strategic adjustments on how you manage your life and all the roles that you have to figure out, who?s doing what, and when you think about bereavement in those respects, one of the reasons why it?s important to focus on all those other parts is because one of the main ways in which we heal is to activate and to do and to say, look, despite the fact that awful things happen and sometimes I don?t understand the world, I still have power.
G: We?ve got a caller, Patricia. Welcome to the show. Did you have a question for us?
P: I sent you an email about my son and my grandchildren and I just got some information that was really helpful as one of my granddaughter?s reacting and my grandson, who will never know his father, that?s one of my concerns, is there a way that I can do something that might help him remember his dad. My granddaughter, she runs, she plays. She seems to be doing okay but we?re all still in shock and not knowing what to do with this new baby because what do you do when a child will never know their dad?
V: I?m so glad you called, Patricia, thank you for that question. This is Val. I remember talking with a father who?s wife had died after complications from childbirth and I was speaking to him over the years and assisting him with various things that would happen and at one point I said, ?Well, you know, bereaved children, blah, blah, blah,? and he said, ?Is my son bereaved? How can he be bereaved if he didn?t know his mother?? So it?s a really interesting question and a dilemma because obviously you want with all your heart for your son to never be forgotten and for everyone to know about him in the way that you know about him and certainly it will be beneficial for his children to know him even though it may mean a lot of your helping construct him for his children. So I think it?s very helpful to do things like making memory books, making a memory box for things that there?s only one item of like a special memento or a videotape or something like that, and really letting kids know who this deceased person is and was and what that person might be doing or saying right now if you were in the room because what you want the kids to know is something of the personality of the person who died, and you want them to be able to almost construct an image that they can use. That?s one of the interesting, newer things we found out in grief literature. Way back when, people felt you had to let go and say good-bye and move on and that?s been one of the biggest fallacies in bereavement that we?ve found is actually kids who cope best with the death of a family member are those who are able to maintain ties with the person who died and if that means helping them create the knowledge of that person, great. But I do want to caution that you want that image and that model of the person that you?re helping the children build to be genuine, honest, and accurate. That means smelly gas, stinky feet, foul mouth, the whole wide range of what made your son, your son, and that will create a much more real and genuine image and it?s really critical number one because it?s more true to life and so kids will trust you when they tell you about their father because they know you?re being honest, but secondly, particularly kids, say your grandson, will use his father as a role model and if your role model was perfect, you?re not going to give him self-esteem because he will never be able to live up to a perfect person, and I think we have a tendency to speak of people who died prematurely and tragically as if they were perfect and that creates a lot of adjustment issues for kids who are trying to live up to that.
G: Well, Patricia, I think it?s so great that you?re so insightful about what is going on here. Heidi, I know you?ve been doing something on continuing bonds, they call it now. Do you have any suggestions for Patricia?
H: I always tell parents and grandparents, that will be one of the amazing and wonderful roles you can give your grandson is to let him know what his father was like. Give him memories. Tell him what his father like when he was little. You will be his memory. You will construct this person for him. He will know his father through you, like Val says.
P: And I think that website that you were talking about Dr. Horsley, you have a website, maybe I can create a website for my son.
G: Oh, yes, through the Library of Life. Have you done that?
P: No, I haven?t but I just thought that I could.
G: It is very easy. You can do it. I did one for Heidi adopted a little baby from China in like 10 minutes and I also have one for my son. Have you been on my website?
P: No, I just thought of that now.
G: Yeah, go on to the website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, and click on Library of Life and you?ll see a website for my son Scott, and you?re right, that would be wonderful. And for $50, it?s on for a life time.
H: And your son?s friends can go on and talk about what they missed about him and create memories about what he was like so that later on your grandson can read those things.
V: And you could even create some little questions for people to respond to like what?s the funniest memory? What?s the goofiest thing you ever did together? What were some famous sayings that he had? Things like that that will be great permanent memory makers for the grandchildren.
P: Thanks so much. I love your show. It?s helped me so much.
G: And take care of yourself. Really take care of yourself and thanks for calling in and stay in touch.
That was great. We get such wonderful emails. Okay, let?s go on a little more talking about some of the issues that you see with families when you?re working with them? Val, did you have some things you wanted to bring up or Heid?
H: I guess one of the questions I had for Val, if you could give advice to a parent, what would it be?
V: Well, you know, what Gloria just said to Patricia ? take care of yourself. That would be the first thing I would say is it?s sort of like when you?re in there playing and they say if the mask falls, give yourself oxygen first before helping others. There?s a really important need to be able to do some basic self care so you can get through. Initially, you?re going to be in survival mode and you?re going to be just barely getting through, but making sure you drink water and you eat some protein and you try to rest. Even if you can?t sleep, try to rest your body. Try to get a little exercise. Some of those basic self care things. Listening to music. Do things that feed your soul. Rent a tear-jerker movie if you feel numb and you feel like you need to cry. Rent a comedy if you want to laugh and cry. Find things ? surround yourself with people that are uplifting. One of the things, I know it?s a big responsibility for a bereaved parent, but you don?t have a lot of respite because if you still have children to raise or even if your children are raised or nearly raised, they still need you. You?re still their parent, and it?s very hard to function enough to get by and still know you have to take care of other people that it?s a responsibility as well. I think you have to take care of yourself so you can do some of that.
G: It doesn?t do a lot of good if you?re totally unhealthy and breaking down and all that. It?s hard. You have to take care of yourself and I think you also have to ask people for help.
V: I was going to say that exact thing. What people will say to you after you?ve had the death of a child or a sibling is let me know if there?s anything I can do, and you go, okay. Well, you?d feel like they?re not being genuine because everybody says the same thing and then people disappear after the initial assistance that they get. So bereaved parents often get angry like yeah, so much for my world of support. Well, the thing is, it?s going to take a certain amount of you deciding. I encourage bereaved parents to say, okay, who makes the best pie of every friend or family member you have. Call them and ask them to make you a pie.
G: But you know one of the problems is early on, and I?m not saying you can?t do that a little later, but early on, you don?t have the energy to pick up a phone and one of the things I wish we could get out to the world is don?t say call me. Say I?m going to bring this over. Do it. Go mow their lawn.
V: I wrote some written materials called after the first wave: how to help loved ones who have experienced a loss and what I hope to do is have bereaved families hand that paper to
G: I like that. I liked your letter and you?ve got a letter in your booklet. People can Xerox that off and hand it to him and a note that says help. If you want to do something for me, don?t call me. Do it.
V: Just do it. Offer to do my laundry, for goodness sakes. Offer to do things that need to be done.
H: Some of the 9/11 families said to me they went out after a snowstorm and someone had shoveled the walk in their driveway without asking.
V: And it?s the most touching thing.
G: Just do it. People at Christmas time, we had a secret santa just drop stuff off. We went to the door to see what was there and we never thanked them because we didn?t know who it was. It was fabulous. We didn?t have to write any thank you notes because we didn?t know who did it.
H: And taking their kids. Babysitting. Give the parents a break.
V: Right. If you don?t feel like you have it in you to provide some of the fun that little kids need and the noise and the chaos that they need, try to find somebody who will take them to the movies or go bring them somewhere goofy. Around the holidays, it?s particularly challenging. We have a big family party every year for any families who are bereaved that would like to come and we have a magician and we get very silly and we do arts and crafts.
G: I love silly. We need more silliness and whatever.
V: We do and that?s one of the blessings of having young children around that we still need to take care of after we?ve had a death in the family because they?re going to make us live even if we don?t want to. They?re going to have a way of bringing that spark into a room and making us pay attention to life.
H: Val, I had a question. Do you see gender differences in who comes in for help and is there a different way in which males and females grieve?
V: It?s a big question and I?ll try to give you a relatively small answer. Yes, there are a lot of individual differences in general regarding how people grieve and although it?s not the case for every person, we do tend to see patterns where women tend to be more interested in talking and have more access to their feelings and seek out support more readily and so forth. On the other hand, men tend to focus more on wanting to do something to make the situation better, to do something to create change. And so sometimes it?s difficult for men and women, males and females to understand one another when they?re grieving because the way in which they do it is so different. There are some pretty good books and we have a nice lending library at Supporting Kidds that I can recommend for anyone who wants to contact me specifically at valmolaison@supportingkidds.org. The website is supportingkidds.org. In the old days when people were first trying to understand what?s normal in grieving and so forth, people thought well, men just don?t know what they?re doing. That was because we were researching women, elderly women whose husbands died. That?s what a lot of the original research was about and so what we decided was normal was what elderly women whose husbands died would be normal. And we?ve had to really really inspect ourselves as people who study bereavement scientifically to say, wait a minute. There?s something wrong with this logic, you know. And we begin to understand now that there?s different ways of approaching and doing this and that there?s a wide range of what?s normal and that it?s not abnormal if a person doesn?t want to talk a lot about their feelings. It?s not abnormal if a person wants to go and do something that seems illogical like build a boat. We just have different ways of doing this.
G: Do you see any gender differences with kids?
V: When it comes to working with kids, you do see a lot of differences particularly among the adolescents. Probably the trickiest kids to know how you?re benefiting is adolescent males because developmentally they?re at a point where it?s important to be tough and cool and to only stand out if it means you?re looking really good or you?re really athletic, not because you?re bereaved or because you?re sad or something like that or angry and so you do see a lot more silence and a lot more reluctance to participate in the types of information and support that are typically available for kids who are bereaved, but, you know, one of our ground rules in our support groups is you don?t have to say anything if you don?t want to. You just have to come. And we find across the board, I?ve been at SupportingKidds for nine years, across the board people no matter their gender or age can be helped by being with other people who are in a similar situation because a big part of the work is finding out by exploring what is it that?s universal about our grief and our losses regardless of the circumstances.
G: One of the things we forget is that there are more commonalities about how we grieve than there are differences.
V: Absolutely, but I think what people find is that when they compare and contrast and they?re constantly saying, oh, I?m different in this way. Oh, I?m the same in this way. And they?re constantly holding a mirror up and moving it around and trying to figure out what do we have in common and what?s different, what do we have in common and what?s different. That?s what helps people to feel comfortable in their own skin again.
G: And telling their story.
V: Because they realize that there are some universals and they realize that there?s some things that aren?t universal and it?s soothing, believe it or not, to recognize that I?m both unique and the same.
G: Before we end our show, is there anything you feel we haven?t talked about that you?d like to talk about before the end?
V: I would love it if bereaved parents could be kind to themselves and not judge themselves. It?s a very disorienting time when you have a child die even if the child was sick a long time and you knew it was coming. It doesn?t matter. It just is so overwhelming, and what we find parents doing is saying, oh, I?m such an idiot, I lost my keys in the car, or what?s the matter with me? I can?t get up to get my kids to school. And we hear a lot of negative self-talk and a lot of really berating themselves. We try to say this is normal what you?re doing but we want you to know that you?re doing this to yourself and to be aware that it?s not that there?s something wrong with you, there?s something wrong with your life circumstances. And I always think of the people that I work with as being regular every day people who have had irregular horrific things happen to them and I?d like to reflect that back to the families I work with because they feel so abnormal and they?re not.
G: I want to close this show on that note Val has about taking care of yourself. I just wanted to say that she has these fabulous booklets and they?re wonderful.
V: One of them is tools for healthy grieving, survival kit for families and the other one is coping with grief in the schools.
G: And they are absolutely first rate. They?re wonderful and I would highly recommend that you try to get a hold of those and Val said that you could do that through contacting her.
V: valmolaison@supportingkidds.org is my email and the website is www.supportingkidds.org.
G: And this is out of Delaware.

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