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Permission to Grieve When Your Child Goes Away to College

I wrote this blog originally back in 2011 when my oldest was going off to college for the first time.  She is now 28 and recently got married. Like when our children go away to college, marriage is another life transition in which  parents and siblings (and children) may sometimes experience with mixed emotions. Even the happiest of life transitions may also bring with them feelings associated with the grief of letting go of how things were.  Since 2011, I have been fortunate enough to have all four of my children go away to college and yet I have also experienced some levels of grief each time. This blog has been shared annually all around the country via colleges, high school PTA's and it is quite popular on The Patch.  I have received hundreds of emails over the past seven years from parents who thanked me for articulating what they felt. I have read long notes from fathers who said they felt better knowing they were not alone as they were the only one who was crying and moping …

Police Officers Driving While Under the Influence...of Grief

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Today, January 20, 2011 was the funeral for a Lakewood, NJ police officer who was killed while in the line of duty. My daughter and I were down in Toms River, a few miles south of Lakewood, for the day visiting my mom's 82 year old cousin, who has lung cancer, and is one of the most inspirational woman I know with an amazing sense of humor and compassion for people.

Since I am a grief counselor and grief educator, grief and loss are probably on my mind a lot more than most. I was supposed to visit my cousin tomorrow but with snow in the forecast I decided to see her today as I didn't want to cancel again due to snow. Hence I don't know how much longer she will be alive. She is my mom's only living relative so I try to see her as often as I can. My mother died 17 years ago, also from lung cancer, and I have learned not to take anyone's life for granted, knowing fully well that there is no guarantee that when we say goodbye in the morning to our family members, that w…

Children Need A Caring Adult in Their Lives

Childhood can be a full of fun, joy and freedom. Adults often look back and long for the "happy old days".  However for many children today, childhood is full of uncertainty, grief and upset. Many of our children have to face the pain of such difficult things as parents divorcing or separating, illness in the family, death of a loved one, loss of home, deployment of a parent or sibling, loss of trust or innocence,  domestic violence, addiction in the home, incarceration of a parent and so much more. Now more than ever, our children need adults who see them, listen to them, and take an real interest in them and their lives. What are the things most important to them now? What are they passionate about? What do they love spending their free time doing?
What can we  do to help children through such difficult times? Research shows us time and again that one of the most important keys to resilience in a child's life is a caring adult. Really try to listen to children, acknowle…

Children, Immigration and Loss

Yesterday, Mary, my fourth grader, shared with  me that her class was going to be having a new student, from another country, who didn't speak English.  She wasn't sure what country the girl was from, but she was very excited. A few years ago, Mary's best friend had moved back to China  and Mary was heartbroken.  Mary and I talked about what it may be like for the new student, to be coming to a strange place, a new school, new children and not knowing the language. Mary imagined that she might be scared and nervous. I was surprised in a way that she didn't know what language the girl spoke, for I thought it would be nice for the children to all learn at least two words in the new girls' language to welcome her.  
The big day came and as Mary stood in line with her class waiting for the bell, the new girl was nowhere in sight. I spoke with  her classmates a bit in line and asked them how they thought they could be welcoming without knowing her language. They came up …

Children Grieve Too

Grief is an expression of love. If a child can love, he or she can grieve. Children are used to having a full range of emotions. Think about a three year old throwing himself on the floor in the grocery store. He is angry and shows the world his feelings. Children know what it is to feel angry, sad, afraid, lonely and confused and have no difficulty expressing it. So why should children experiencing loss through death of a loved one, behave any differently.

Children have different responses to grief based on such things as: their relationship with the person who died, their understanding of death, their developmental level, the circumstances of the death, and the ability of the adults around them to be present, communicate and support them emotionally.

Some children want to talk about their loss all the time, others not at all, and many somewhere in between. Some won't talk about their loss until months or years later. Some children will only remember wonderful things about the pers…

Grief is No Cliche

When we don't know what to say to someone who has suffered a loss, we may be tempted to turn to an old, worn-out cliche. Unfortunately, in our attempt to be helpful, we may wind up saying something hurtful and leave the person feeling more pain or frustration. Sometimes we say nothing out of fear of saying the wrong thing, and then the person is left feeling more alone, and wondering how we can act like nothing happened. After a loss the griever needs to adjust to a "new normal" and can greatly benefit from caring words, a hug and our presence.

Here are some common phrases that participants in my workshops have shared with me that they hear all too often and do not find comforting at all.

"I know how you feel." No, you do not know how they feel. You don't really know how anyone else feels. This statement only makes grievers feel angry and may even shut them down from sharing their true feelings with you. Everyone has his or her own experiences and feelings…

We Make Time for a Funeral but not for Coffee

"Sorry, but I don't have any time to meet you for coffee next week, but I do know that if you were to die next week, I would make the time for your funeral. So, as long as you are still alive next week, I would have to say no."

Of course we don't actually say these words to our loved ones, friends and co-workers, but we do often live like this.

One day I was doing my daily morning reading of the obituaries, and I was struck by the thought that most of the time, we only have a day or two notice, if that, to find out about a death of someone we knew. Maybe we read it in the paper, or get a phone call or email. We respond immediately by clearing our busy schedules on our calendars and blackberries so that we can be available to be there. Nothing seems more urgent and important than to attend a funeral of someone we care about.

I find it facinating, that we, a society of chronically busy people, who pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task, can and often do, drop everyt…