Sunday, June 25, 2006

Book Review

Support groups can be very powerful because they provide an environment where people realize that they are not alone in what they are feeling and there are others who have experienced a similar loss to theirs.  The same holds true for published stories of the various losses experienced by people and their grief reactions to these losses.  It can be very helpful to someone who is in the acute stages of grief, to read an actual account from someone who went through the same reactions and feelings.  These stories provide messages of hope and suggest that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.  One such book is, “Hannah’s Gift: Lessons from a Life Fully Lived” by Maria Housden.  It is published by Bantam Books and sells for approximately $18.00. 


I guess I should begin by sharing how I came across this book.  I was attending a seminar on how to help children in grief.  The author was one of the participants in the seminar (although I didn’t know she was the author at the time).   We were supposed to portray a child we knew that was grieving and the facilitator and groups members would offer advise on how to help this child.  The author shared that she was portraying her son, who was grieving the loss of his sister.  The author was warm, friendly and unassuming.  At the end of the seminar, she offered her book for sale.  She shared that it was her grief experience dealing with her three year old daughter’s diagnosis of cancer, the treatments and her ultimate death.  Here stood before me a woman who lost a child, a very painful loss to bear, and she appeared calm, self-assured, accomplished and at peace.  I had to read her book.


Her story shares all the fears, struggles and sadness that any family that has gone through this situation has experienced.  She shares feelings of guilt, anger and family discord.  But most importantly she shares the joy, happiness, spirituality and courage that Hannah brought to her and the family in the short time she was here on earth.  When people have read this story and shared their thoughts with me, the most common thought is, “Yes, this isn’t going to be easy, but it can be done.”  The author even includes her personal e-mail at the back of the book and invites readers to share their thoughts and stories with her.  This is an important story for anybody, not just for people who have experienced a loss, because it teaches a lesson on how to live and enjoy each day.  This truly is a story of a life fully lived. 


Until next week - Be gentle with yourself.



Monday, June 19, 2006

Grieving the Death of a Mother or Father

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have now passed.  These days are nationally known as dates set aside to honor our mothers and our fathers.  We give flowers, gifts and cards.  We take them out to brunch or have a family BBQ.  However we decide to celebrate these days, we incorporate some form of letting our mothers and fathers know how much we love them, how much they mean to us and how they have impacted our lives. 


But what about those of us who have experienced the loss of our mother or father?  How do we feel as we see other families celebrating with their parents and we can’t?  These feelings can have a wide range.  Some can feel an overwhelming sadness over their loss, others can feel anger and even some can experience a jealousy.  These feelings can also be intensified according to how soon the loss occurred and how close we were to our mother or father.  These are all normal feelings to have, particularly on these significant days. 


No matter how old we are, the death of a parent is a significant loss.  As such, we need to be gentle with ourselves in our grief and allow ourselves to feel all the yucky emotions that will come.  We are learning that avoiding these emotions will not result in them going away and never coming back.  What will happen is that they will come with such a surprising force, when we least expect it, and when it’s most inconvenient.  We need to acknowledge these feelings and find a way to express them before we can start to heal.


So what can we do on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day if we can’t give them gifts or have parties?  We can remember them, and honor them.  Find what is meaningful to ourselves and incorporate it into a healing ritual that will memorialize them.  Some find comfort and a sense of connectedness by visiting the gravesite.  Others like to meditate before their loved ones picture and a light a candle in their memory.  Still others like to give a gift to their loved one’s favorite charity in honor of them.  Be creative!  Thinking about what would make your mother or father happy, is in itself an honoring. 


We also find that by performing honoring rituals and memorials, we gain a sense of closeness to our loved one, and sometimes peace, even if it’s only for a brief moment.  We may want to indulge in these activities more often than on special events or days and by doing so, we keep our loved ones in our hearts, every day.  Now every day becomes Mother’s Day and Father’s Day! 


Until next week – Be gentle with yourself.




Monday, June 12, 2006

Helping Children and Teens Understand Death and Grief

This week I wanted to feature the use of books for helping children and teens understand the loss of their loved ones and the grief feelings they may be having.  Books are an excellent way to facilitate conversations, between parents and children, surrounding uncomfortable subject matters such as dying, death and grief.  Books are also an excellent resource for parents, teachers and counselors to gain a better understanding on how to help these children and teens.

The first book is geared towards younger children.

"Jungle Journey: Grieving and Remembering Eleanor the Elephant" by Barbara Betker McIntyre and illustrated by Michael O. Henderson.  It is published by Traverse Publishing Company and is about $15.00.

The story focuses on the loss of a dear friend of the jungle animals, Eleanor the Elephant.  The author does a remarkable job of describing the various feelings of grief that the different animals are experiencing.  Some have different reactions to this loss based on their relationship with Eleanor (some were close friends, some were just acquaintances).  Some have reactions to this loss based on what Eleanor did for them (provided protection and comfort). The story goes on to reflect how the jungle animals come together to support each other in their grief and find individual strengths and coping strategies to help them go on without Eleanor. 

There are many pages where the storyteller can stop to ask the children if they have experienced similar feelings (why or why not), and offer a chance for the children to express their feelings in a non-threatening manner.  We use this book a lot in individual counseling sessions and our experience is that it helps develop a trust and rapport between the counselors and the children. 


This second book is geared toward offering guidance to adults who have contact with grieving children and teens.

"Helping Children Cope with Death" by The Dougy Center (The National Center for Grieving Children and Families). The cost of this book is $10.00 and you can visit their website for more information:

This book is very focused, brief and to-the-point regarding different aspects of grief in children and teens.  It is written in laymen terms, with lots of pictures and examples to illustrate the goals of each chapter.  The reader will gain an understanding of the stages of grief from a developmental perspective (different ages will respond to a loss and grieve differently than other ages), learn about some myths in grief, know what they may expect from their child or teen in grief, and get some guidance and advice on how to help children and teens express their grief and develop healthy coping strategies. 

It is important to remember that the adults in a child's or teen's life are their role models in grief.  They will learn from the adults if it is ok to cry or be angry, or if it's ok to ask questions or talk about the deceased. 

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

Be gentle with yourself and your children.

See you next week,


Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Anger and Guilt in Grief

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it is possible that you are wrestling with feelings of anger and guilt.  Do you find yourself angry at God? At the doctors? At your loved one?  Are you feeling guilt because your last words to your loved one were unkind?  You got in an argument?  You didn't say "I love you"?  Do you feel like like you didn't do enough in the care of your loved one?  You didn't ask the right questions with the medical staff?  You didn't advocate enough for your loved one?

Well, you are not alone - these are very common reactions, and feelings, in grief.  It is human nature to want to blame someone, or something, for our misfortunes and losses.  It is human nature to go over the events in the past and say to ourselves, "What if I did this? What if I said that?"  If anger and guilt are not recognized and acknowledged, they can result in physical problems and the alienation of family and friends (your potential support systems). 

Once you have recognized and acknowledged these feelings, you can work on finding healthy ways to vent them.  Do you need some suggestions?

If you  like to journal, you can write about these feelings and keep the journal or throw it away - the important thing is to get the feelings out. 

Do you have someone you trust to talk to about these feelings?  It is very helpful to verbalize these feelings to someone - not to get their feedback, but just to get them out in the open.

Perform some physical activity such as punching a pillow, exercise (kickboxing perhaps), gardening or carpentry.

Acknowledge your anger and guilt (it's normal, it's part of who you are and the traumatic event that you just went through), and let yourself off the hook so you can grieve.

If you have any questions, pleases don't hesitate to e-mail at or call 800-882-1117.

Be gentle with yourself.