Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 10, 1982

In loving memory of César Roel González, beloved husband, father and grandfather

10/09/1909 - 2/10/ 1982

A little girl, very close to her extended family, who lived next door to her grandparents, was nervous on that particular day.

Her paternal grandfather had been in the ICU for the last two weeks. His health had been declining for the last couple of years mainly due to his cigarette addiction, but this was serious. A tragic accident happened, maybe related to his previous health problems but nobody knew the whys and the what ifs. Her parents hadn't been home on the past 15 days.

She had been invited to go to an amusement park for the birthday of a classmate. She didn't feel like going but her mom insisted. She had a good time with her friends, but her heart was heavy with worry.

After the girls arrived to the birthday girl's home, her mom called her to let her know that her granddad was doing "better", so mom needed to stay put at the hospital, therefore, she was to go home with another friend's mom.

"Mom, are you sure he is better?" - asked the little girl
"Yes sweetie, he is getting out of the ICU" - replied the mom

Two days later, her parents came home dressed in black. They summoned the girl and her two younger brothers to their bedroom. With tears in their eyes, they told their children that their granddad died 2 days before and he was already buried.

After some crying, the children were instructed to wash their faces and get ready. They were going to their grandparent's house to attend a Mass in memory of their beloved grandfather. "No crying please, your grand mom hasn't shed a tear and she need all of us to be strong" - were the last words she heard before going to her room to get ready.

No crying was allowed after that...

He got out of the ICU because he died. The mom didn't had the strength to tell her the truth: he had hours left. Her parents and her aunts and uncles decided to hurry through the wake and the burial. Everyone was emotional drained and wanted to get it over with. The children were "protected" by being left in the darkness for a couple of days.

That little girl was 11.

That was one of her first encounter with death.

That little girl was me.

No healthy mourning complicated the grieving process. Children need to have a strong role model in the difficult moments of their lives, so they can integrate the tragedies of life, overcome the worst and learn from the experience.

Yes, I did have strong role models: for suppressing my feelings, for burying my emotions and for not grieving in a healthy way.

It took me years of therapy to work through my complicated grief, that only got worse as other losses and the death of my own children. I didn't have the psychological tools needed to mourn and grieve in a healthy way.

Honestly, I no longer blame my parents - because I blamed them for a loooooooong time. I now know that they did what they could with the tools they had at hand. They are experts hiding their pain, it is a survival mechanism. They did their best after the traumatic and tragic death of my grandfather.

I don't know if my grandfather's death and the subsequent suppressing of our feelings and emotions affected my other family members. It is a topic that became a taboo in our family, so I haven't talked about it within my family circle in the last 30 years.

Tragic, I know.

Maybe that particular moment in time impacted me so much, that I became a obsessed with death and dying.

Maybe my complicated grief and the pain of cleansing my old wounds has pushed me to work with the bereaved as soon as possible.

Maybe that little, frightened, hurt girl in me has found the strength to overcome her pain and reach out to others and be very, very vocal about healthy grieving.

Today I repeat the words of William Faulkner:

"Given the choice between grief and nothing, I'd choose grief".

-Because love is stronger than death...

P.S.- Please, please don't let this story repeat. Face your pain and work through it, be a strong, healthy grief-role model for the kids in your life. If you are unable to do so, reach out and find someone that will be able to teach your kids how to grieve in a healthy way.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

"What we can mention, we can manage"

English: Comfort in GriefImage via Wikipedia

Regarding death, we, as a society, often refuse to even mention the "D" word.

Our inner selves believe that if we don't call for it, death won't touch our lives.

Again, I have terrible news for you: death will touch your life. Either because you WILL die, without any doubt; or someone you love will die.

When it comes to children and grief, we usually expect children to:

  • Act and react as adults
  • Disregard the death of a loved one because we think they "don't understand" what is going on.

Since 1999, I began working with the bereaved. I learned that if a child is old enough to love, he/she is old enough to grieve.

The child might not acknowledge the death of a close relative or friend, but s/he will recognize that those around him/her are stressed out. Depending the developmental age a child has when facing the death of a loved one, his/her understanding will vary.

I firmly believe that those who work within a school and interact with children, have to be prepared to face - and to offer support to - a grieving child.

If you have been working within the school system and have never had to face a grieving student, you have been very lucky. Or you haven't acknowledge that one of your students was grieving.

Grief is a natural response to a loss, it is not exclusively to death. It might have been that your student lost something material, that is not important to you. It might have happened that your student lost someone important in his/her life because that someone moved. Maybe your student lost the stability of a loving home because his/her parents divorced.

Have you thought of the pain that a certain situation has brought to your student? Have you minimized their grief because their loss is not important to you?

When you are facing the bereaved, the most important thing to remember is: IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

Your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts, your experiences do not matter. When you have to offer support to a grieving child, no matter the source of his/her pain, you have to be able to put yourself out of the picture and focus on him/her.

You have to recognize that you don't have the power to make him/her understand what happened, to take his/her pain away, to make things better. The only thing you can do is listen and be there.

I have lived by this principle for the last decade of my life: "There is no excuse for the lack of compassion, not whatsoever"

Ignorance, our own inability to face grief, our selfishness, our problems, the lack of time are no excuses in my book for the lack of compassion. When put in a situation of setting an example for younger ones, the crime is even graver.

It is true: if we can mention a situation, we can work through it and we'll manage. This is a paradigm that we have to learn to live with.

If we can mention death and pain and suffering and grief, we can work through all the feelings, emotions and thoughts they bring and we'll be able to manage.

If we can talk about death and grief with our charges, our students, we'll be able to help them through a trying stage in their lives and we'll manage.

In the case you are unable to mention the above, please, please have someone capable to do so.

There are thousands of resources for grieving children, your obligation is to know them. There is no excuse not to have them.

Please, I beg of you, don't let a child grief alone because you are unable to be a compassionate human being!

The title of this entry was taken from the text written by Linda Goldman, regarding how to help grieving children within the school setting: