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: