Monday, May 29, 2006

Children and Grief

Our Bereavement Department is in full swing organizing the next Children’s Art Therapy program in July, the Teen Grief Camp in September and a seminar on Children’s Grief Responses.  What better time than to write about children and grief?



Helping children who have experienced a loss can be done, but you may have to look at it as putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  If you have read my previous entry on variables in grief, you have an idea of what I’m talking about already.  In brief, a child can respond to a loss in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons.  Those are the puzzle pieces that you need to put together to figure out what’s going on because the child may not tell you, or can’t because they may not understand the reasons themselves. 


Some of the things to look for are: 


How old is the child?  The stage in their development will help give you an idea of how they perceive death.  For example, children age 2 to 6 years may not understand the finality of death.  They may think their loved one will come back after they are done being dead.  Children age 7 to 10 years begin to understand death’s finality, but view death as something that happens to other people, not to them.  They may also have an intense curiosity about death, the funeral, the burial and cremation.  Children age 11 and older not only understand death’s finality, but their own mortality, and the fact that death can occur for many different reasons, not just because someone was “old.”


What kind of relationship did the child have with the deceased?  They may respond differently to the loss of parent, than they would for the loss of a sibling, grandparent or friend. 


What role did the deceased have in the child’s life?  Were they a protector, provider, friend, teacher, or confidante?


How much information did the child have about the death?  Was the child told, in an age appropriate manner, about the death and the funeral?  If it was a long-term illness, was the child a part of the discussions and decision making process or were they not told in an effort to protect them. 


If you have a child and you need to tell them a loved one has died, don’t worry – just follow these simple steps.


  1. Explain what happened, as truthfully as possible, in an age appropriate manner.
  2. Answer their questions, again as truthfully as possible, in an age appropriate manner.  If you do not provide the information, their imaginations will supply the information for them, and it is often worse than the truth.  They will ask the same questions over and over again, especially if they are younger.  Please be patient with them and answer the questions as many times as they ask. 
  3. Include them in the arrangements.  Let them go to theviewing/funeral/memorial service, if they express a desire to do so.  Explain to them, in an age appropriate manner, what they can expect so they will be prepared.
  4. Be a role model in grief to your child.  Don’t be afraid to cry in front of them.  You need to feel to heal and they do too.  If you try not to cry in front of them, in an effort to protect them, the message they get is that it is not ok to cry. They will hold their grief in and it will eventually come out in negative ways (aggression, anger, depression, isolation).
  5. Involve them in conversations about the loved one and involve them in any activity that will memorialize the loved one (memorial garden, scrapbooking, journaling, drawing). 
  6. If you are feeling overwhelmed, call a professional for help.  It may be that your grief needs are so great, that you don’t have enough energy to tend to your child’s grief needs.  That is normal and perfectly ok.  This is the time to call a grief counselor to get the extra support that you and your family may need during the grieving process.


If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail at or call 800-882-1117.


Also, if would like more information about our Children’s Art Therapy program or Camp Connections Teen Grief Camp, please ask for a brochure.


Be well,



Wednesday, May 24, 2006

To Group or not Group, that is the question!

So the question is - Do you want to go to a bereavement support group, or not? 

Well, hopefully after reading this entry you will have a better idea of whether a support group is right for you.  You may also get an idea of what to expect when you get there,  how to participate, if you participate, what to say and what not to say.

Let's start with a crash course on bereavement group structure.  There is typically two types of groups - open and closed. 

Open groups tend to be ongoing (there is no start or end date).  Usually there is no pre-registration required.  The groups are held on the same day and time of every month and participants are encouraged to just show-up if they feel they would like to come to a group on that particular day.  Often times these groups will be called "drop-in" groups, because participants can just "drop-in" at any time. 


1.  No commitment on your part is needed, which is very important in grief.  You may not know if you will want to come to group until that day arrives. 

2.  Since these groups are on-going, a person can depend on these groups being a permanent place of support, until they no longer need this extra help.


1.  It is very difficult to offer psychoeducational components on grief due to the ever-changing group participants.  The focus is more on telling the "story", not on learning how to move through the grief process. 

Closed groups usually have a start and end date.  These groups are usually six to eight weeks in length.  Once these groups are started, new members are usually not allowed to participate.  You can expect to have a pre-registration and a nominal fee.  The focus of these groups are psychoeducational in nature, with some attention to telling the "story."  However most of the time will be spent learning about the grief process and coping strategies.


1. These are highly focused groups, and some people prefer to have this focus and a more work-like (or school-like) atmosphere.

2.  When a person is experiencing grief, they may feel like they do not want to leave the house, or participate in any outside activities.  Time limited groups offer a chance for the grieving person to leave the home in a gradual manner, that will have positive benefits.


1.  Since these are highly focused groups on psychoeducation, the sharing of stories are usually not a primary goal, which may leave some members feeling as if they need more support.


Keep in mind that support groups are not for everyone.  I like to advise people that they may come and see what it is all about and no one will be offended if they need to leave before the group is over, or if they decide they do not want to come back.  Some people prefer support groups, some people prefer individual counseling, some people prefer both. 

When your loss occurred will also help you decide whether you want to come to a group or not.  A loss that has occurred within weeks of a group may be too soon for some people.  The hurt is still so fresh and raw that just hearing others' stories will be too much to bear.  Yet there are others who are encouraged hearing that they are not the only ones experiencing the emotions and thoughts that they are having. 

What kind of loss you experienced will also help you with this decision.  There are "generalized groups" and "specialized groups."  Generalized groups have members that have experienced various kinds of losses - parental loss, spousal loss, child loss, grandparent loss, etc.  However, there are some people who feel that they would be more comfortable in a specialized group.  Specialized groups can be people who have experienced JUST child loss, spousal loss (widow/widowers groups), suicide survivors (family and friends that lost a loved one to suicide), traumatic loss (car accident, overdose, homicide), etc.

If you decide to join a group, there a few simple rules that apply for EVERY group. 

1.  Confidentiality!  Anything that is shared in the group, stays in the group!  The fact that a person is in the group is confidential as well.

2.  No  shoulds or musts!  People intend to be helpful, but it's not appropriate to tell another group member that they "should" do something, or they "must" act a certain way. 

3.  No judgments!  It is not our place to judge another group member for what they are saying.  Group is supposed to be a safe place where they can come to unburden themselves and cry freely, if needed. 

4.  Don't monopolize the group.  This  is a hard one.  Again, people don't intend to monopolize the group.  It's just that their pain is so great and their need is so strong, they don't realize that they are using up all the group time and not letting other group members have a chance to share their story.

The overall advantages to choosing a group, is the connections and extra supports that you will meet, the commonalities you will experience with other group members and what you will learn about the grief process and your own unique and individual grief.

So, have you decided to Group or not Group?

Be well,



Monday, May 15, 2006

What do you say?

Have you ever had the experience of not knowing what to say to someone who has lost a loved one?  Have you ever been to a funeral and approached the griever and felt at a loss for words? 


Have you ever lost a loved one and been hurt or offended by something someone said to you?  Has someone ever asked you "How are you doing?" after you lost someone and you wanted to respond, "How the (blank) do you think I'm doing?"

Well, if you have found yourself in either situation, you are not alone.  Don't worry, here is a list of "potentially hurtful things to say" and "potentially helpful things to say", to use as a guideline in these situations.

Potentially Hurtful Things To Say

"I know how you feel."  (Even if you have experienced a similar loss, each loss is a unique experience to that individual griever.  Perhaps a better sentiment to express would be "I lost a (insert relationship here) too.  If you would like to talk, I'm here for you.").

"I don't understand why you feel this way."

"You two were always fighting anyway."

"You're still young."

"It was God's will."

"You can have other children."

"Be strong!"

"You can always remarry."

"I know someone who had two family members die and . . ."

"Their death was a blessing."

"It's in the past.  Put it behind you."

"At least you have other children."

"Don't cry.  It will upset your mother."


Potentially Helpful Things To Say

"It's ok to be sad."

"Your feelings aren't wrong or right, they just ARE."

"I'm sorry."

"What can I do for you?"

"How are you doing with all of this?" (Ask this only if you truly want to hear how they are REALLY doing).

"Please tell me how you are feeling." (Again, only ask this if you truly want to hear how they are REALLY feeling.  It can be helpful for the griever to verbalize their thoughts and emotions.).

"This must be so hard for you."

"I'm here and I want to listen."  (Let them know you are available to listen, they may not want to burden you.)

"Take all the time you need."

"It isn't fair, is it?" 


So, what do you say?  Think about it.

Be well,



Monday, May 8, 2006

Honoring and memorializing our loved ones.

It is very helpful during the grieving process to use healing rituals to honor and memorialize our loved ones.  These activities can bring a sense of peace and of being connected to our loved ones.  Some activities that can be honoring are journaling, drawing or scrapbooking.  Scrapbooking is one of the more popular ways to remember a loved one and to honor the life that they lived.

If you are in the area and would like to experience this special scrapbooking activity, I have included a copy of our flyer for our next workshop.   As always, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to call (800-882-1117) or e-mail (

Be well,

Diana Sebzda

           Scrapbooking Their Life

Sponsored By The
Joseph T. Quinlan Bereavement Center


Scrapbooking has become one of the most popular ways to remember loved ones and special events.  This workshop will focus on the use of Scrapbooking as a healing ritual that will help honor and memorialize our loved ones who have died.  This will be an evening of sharing scrapbooking ideas, tips and personal stories, led by masters level counselors who specialize in grief support and education. 


Where:  Corner Pockets

33 Route 206 South, Augusta, New Jersey

(Next to the Augusta Post Office)


When:  Thursday, May 11, 2006

Time:  6:30 – 9:30 p.m.


Registration Fee: $20.00

Please make checks payable to the

Bereavement Center.


Registration fee includes the meeting place, use of Corner Pockets scrapbooking equipment, the use of our paper trimmers, decorative scissors and corner punchers.  We will also provide refreshments, cardstock and a limited supply of stickers and embellishments.  Please bring your own adhesives.


To register, or for more information, please call:

Diana Sebzda or Lorri Opitz:  (973) 383-0115


Monday, May 1, 2006

Grief Resources and Literature

I love books and I love to read!  I got this love from my Dad.  Thanks Dad!  :)  As a grief counselor, a lot of my reading choices center around the topic of grief. 

One book in particular generated a lot of "talk" at my office and among members of our Coping With Loss support groups - "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion.  I was led to this book by my husband, Jack.  He read a review on this book in Time Magazine and forwarded it to me.  Thanks Jack!  :) 

I loved this book.  Joan Didion's writing style is easily understandable, as she writes about her grief experience and her grief process as a result of her husband's sudden passing.  Any griever that I have met and has read this book has related to many things she described. 

It's one thing for a grief counselor to try to validate and normalize a person's feelings and actions in grief; it's quite another to have a "regular" person write about similar feelings and situations that the reader might be experiencing.  There are a lot of "Aha" moments that bring the reader clarity in what can be a very foggy time.

If you are looking for resources that can help answer some questions or help you feel that you are not alone, I highly recommend this book.

If you would like information on more grief related resources, please feel free to call at 800-882-1117 or e-mail at

Be well,