With life comes loss, and with loss comes grief. Grief is an emotion that, regardless of your age, is challenging to cope with.
That’s why Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home., the Mitchell David Center for Hope and Healing, and Jewish Community Services are teaming up for “A Language of Loss.”
The 90-minute program — which will be held Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. at Beth Tfiloh, 3300 Old Court Rd. — will explore grief throughout the life-cycle stages, particularly for youngsters.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about grief and loss, particularly with children,” says JCS clinician and grief specialist Donna Kane. “There is a long-standing belief that children don’t grieve, or if they do it’s for a short time. But that’s not the case. We are all human and are all left speechless at times.”
As a parent, I’ve seen firsthand the stages of grief and loss through a child’s eyes. In January of 2014, my mother-in-law passed away. Neither of my young daughters had the privilege of knowing their paternal grandmother. And since 2014, my husband and I have lost six out of eight of our grandparents.
When my girls were very young, we told them, “Mimi is up in the clouds.” We continued using that language each time we experienced a loss. It worked until my youngest daughter was about 3 and we went on vacation. While on the plane, she looked out the window and asked, “We are in the clouds, do you think we can see Mimi?”
Since then, our girls have asked questions like, “How do you get to the clouds?” “Can we call Gigi in heaven?” and “Why do other kids have two grandmas and we only have one?”
Now, we use the words death and died, not to scare our kids but to help them better understand loss.
“One thing that is universal for all ages is using the words death or died, as opposed to loss,” says Kane. “If someone is lost, a child may go looking for them. Or if you say, ‘Grandpa went to sleep and didn’t wake up,’ a child may be terrified to go to sleep. Another saying to avoid is, ‘Grandpa was old and died,’ because to kids, their parents are old. Most children are concrete, so it’s important to be honest within the developmental limits of the person.”
Kane says that whatever a parent wants to impart to their child about death is “fine as long as you explain first that the person died and then they went to heaven. You don’t want to be gruesome or frightening, but you do want to be honest.”
While grieving themselves, parents might struggle with finding the right language to use for their children. The goal of “A Language of Loss” is to provide parents with the necessary tools to handle such difficult and delicate situations.
“Regardless of if you’ve recently experienced loss or ever experienced one, it is a part of life,” says Greg King, funeral director and director of grief support and community education at Sol Levinson & Bros. “Every funeral involves young people in some way, usually grandchildren or children of the deceased. This is an opportunity to gain knowledge into how the grief process works and be as prepared as possible when your family does experience it.”
“A Language of Loss” will kick off with remarks by Dr. Zipora Schorr, director of education at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, and the synagogue’s Rabbi Chai Posner. They will talk about maintaining resilience amid the pressures in contemporary life.
“We will all experience loss within our lives, and it’s critical to have the language to handle that loss,” says Rochelle Sullivan, a high school counselor at Beth Tfiloh. “We are being proactive with this program. We teach sex education and drug education, and we are now dipping our toe in talking about death, which is a tough subject. This program has an education spin. We want people to know there are resources in our community to support those grieving. ”
Parents will then have the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions focusing on talking to young children about death, talking to older children about loss, managing adult life losses and being a grieving friend.
“Grief is an outward display of mourning,” says Kane. “Mourning is the sickness and sadness you feel when you wake up. Grief is something you can see. We want parents to have the language to help children with their grief and language that helps reduce anxiety.”
The breakout sessions will also focus on other types of loss like losing a pet, a job, becoming an empty nester, what to say if someone has a critical illness or how to handle upsetting news events.
“My hope is that people will come out of the evening feeling empowered and more aware of how grief can impact their lives in many ways,” Kane says. “I also hope they will be able to better understand how grief may be impacting the people around them who they care about.”
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