When someone dies, many of us are left with if onlys. Some are interwoven with thoughts that we could have somehow prevented the death, "If only I had asked him to pick me up later," "If only I made her go to the doctor sooner." Others relate to wishing we had connected more with the person - talked to them, asked in-depth questions about their life. We long to hear their advice and know how they would respond to events in our lives or the world. Sometimes though, we discover something about the person that we never expected. We learn information that leaves us shocked, disappointed, and angry. In this episode, Matthew shares his story of finding out a secret about his father, who died of cancer in 2009.
In this episode, the last in our 3 part series on grief after an overdose death, we talk with Liam who was just starting middle school when his brother died from a heroin overdose. Now a junior in college, Liam talks openly about what he experienced when the death first happened and how grief continues to be a part of his life. Liam shares suggestions for teens and their adults on how to talk about the death and provide ongoing support.
In part two of our three-part series on grief after an overdose death, we talk with Samina, whose son Ayaz died of a heroin overdose. The episode starts with Samina reading a poem that came to her while sitting on an airplane. She describes the poem as coming through her, as if Ayaz was speaking and she was the one with the pen. We discuss the heartbreak Samina and her family faced as they tried to help Ayaz through his addiction. Samina also shares insights from her experience and describes what helped and didn't help in the early parts of grief.
To learn more about their national networks of support groups for grieving parents, please visit The Compassionate Friends
Based on numbers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin overdose deaths increased by six times from 2001 to 2014. In one state it is estimated that heroin overdose deaths jumped by 85% in the last two years. With this huge rise in overdose deaths, there is little out there on how to best support those who are left behind. Parents, children, siblings, partners, family members, and friends are left with broken hearts and so many questions.
This episode is one in a 3-part series about grieving when someone dies of an overdose. We talk with Jessica whose younger brother died in 2011. In our conversation, we discuss what it's like when you didn't know the person was struggling with substance use along with the challenges of talking about the death with well-meaning others.
Be sure to listen till the end for a special post-script by Jessica.
Jana is joined by Dougy Center staff member, Heather Dorfman, to talk about what helps (or might help) in grief, outside the realm of more formal support. As you listen to this episode, keep in mind:
To find more formal grief support in your community, visit our website to search for help near you.
Whether it is a murder, murder-suicide, or a being killed by a driver under the influence, violent death adds multiple layers of complexity to grief. Jana and Joan discuss what children and teens may experience, along with suggestions for how to help. For additional information, refer to our Tip Sheet: Supporting Children and Teens After a Violent Death and our interactive workbook for children. For help with talking to children about mass shootings and other large-scale tragedies, we have two resources written by The Dougy Center's Senior Director for Advocacy and Training, Donna Schuurman, Ed.D., F.T. 1) Dear Lily: a letter to a 12-year old in response to America's most recent tragedy and 2) Talking with children about tragic events.
In the two years since his dad died, Mike bought a house, got married, and is expecting his first child. This episode explores what it means to grieve the person you would have turned to the most for advice and guidance on these major milestones in life. It's the story of a son whose father's values, principles, and personality continue to influence who he is and how he lives.
Dougy Center staff member, Joan Schweizer Hoff, joins Jana to talk about the top 5 things school administrators will want to consider when a student, teacher, or staff member dies.
Top 5 Things:
For samples of letters to send to staff/families and a school crisis response plan:
Tangible suggestions for teachers:
There is a lot that goes unsaid in grief, particularly when it comes to dating after the death of a partner. Jana talks with Megan Devine, grief thinker, speaker, and author of the audio book, When Everything is Not Okay: Practices to Help You Stay in Your Heart & Not Lose Your Mind, about what comes up when grief and dating overlap. When do you know you're ready? How do you talk with your children?
Be sure to check out Megan's website: www.refugeingrief.com along with her talk at the World Domination Summit, 2015: http://chrisguillebeau.com/megan-devine/ and a recent article on Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-
As a child Rachel Stephenson learned first hand the pain of not knowing the truth about her mother's death. The secrecy in her family led to a disconnection with her remaining parent and added layers of confusion and fear. In this episode, Rachel joins Jana with suggestions for how to talk openly and honestly with children about grief and loss.
and check out her blog Dear Dead Mother - https://deardeadmother.wordpress.com/
How do we talk with the youngest children about death? What words should we use? Can they even understand? In this episode Jana talks with Joan Schweizer Hoff about what helps (and what doesn't) when it comes to supporting preschoolers after a death. While children this age don't have the cognitive capacity to fully grasp the permanence and universal nature of death, concrete explanations, patience, and nurturing provide a foundation of support as they wrestle with understanding what it means when someone they love dies.
For more information, check out The Dougy Center's Supporting Grieving Preschoolers Tip Sheet
For those who are grieving, birthdays and anniversaries of a loved one's death can loom large. What we do to mark these days is as individual and unique as our grief and the relationship we shared with the person who died. In this episode, Jana talks with Jodie about how her family approaches the birthday and anniversary of her baby Silas's death. For the past five years, Jodie and her family have organized Celebrate Silas, a community 5K run/walk that bring friends, family, and the larger community together to honor Silas and his birthday.
This year's event is happening on 3.6.16 in Portland, OR. If you would like to participate or contribute, you can register and donate here: www.celebratesilas.com
100% of your donation goes to The Dougy Center and is fully tax deductible. If you cannot join us for the walk or run, please consider celebrating in spirit by making a donation to help us meet our fundraising goals.
The public and often sensationalized nature of a murder-suicide can overshadow the heartbreak and grief of those left behind. In this episode, Stephanie, a grieving mother and wife, joins Jana to talk about the deaths of both her husband and daughter. Stephanie's story offers ideas and suggestions for others facing similar losses.
V was six when her father died from cancer, but it wasn't until two decades later that she consciously engaged with her grief. A seeming random encounter at a local craft store cracked open emotions she wasn't able to explore as a child, leading to an avalanche of grief she never expected. As an adult, V turns to art and connections with others who are grieving for solace and understanding.
"How do I tell my children?" When someone dies of suicide, parents and caregivers want to know how to talk with their children about the death. Jana and Joan Schweizer Hoff explain why it's so important to tell children the truth about suicide and offer concrete suggestions for how to talk with them. For additional information, please see The Dougy Center's Suicide Resources Tip Sheet
Under the best of circumstances, the November & December holidays can be stressful. Add in grieving a loss and they can feel completely overwhelming. In this episode, you'll hear suggestions for navigating this time of year and ideas for incorporating memories of those who have died into your holiday traditions. The Dougy Center's Getting Through the Holiday Tip Sheet and Holiday Plan Worksheet Jana and Rebecca refer to can be found here: http://www.dougy.org/grief-resources/getting-through-the-holidays/
The last in a three-part series talking with those grieving the death of someone when the relationship was complex, difficult, or challenging. Jana talks with Diana about her father who died after seven years of no contact with him. Her mother, whom she was very close with, died 13 years earlier.
This is the second episode in a three-part series about grieving when the relationship with the person who died was difficult or challenging. Jana talks with Ashley, whose relationship with her brother was very conflicted. In the year before his sudden death, they began to reconcile, adding another layer to the complexity of grief when he died.
Why do people die of suicide? Join Jana and Donna Schuurman for a discussion about this complex question.
Two prominent theories mentioned by Donna:
“Suicide is caused by psychache. Psychache refers to the hurt, anguish, soreness, aching, psychological pain in the psyche, the mind. Suicide occurs when the psychache is deemed by that person to be unbearable.”
Reference: Suicide as Psychache: A clinical approach to self-destructive behavior, (1995), p.51.
1. Perceived Burdensomeness
2. Thwarted Belongingness
3. Acquired capacity/decreased fear of pain of death
Reference: Why People Die by Suicide (2007).
Eleanor and Litsa from What’s Your Grief join us as special guests to talk about becoming a parent when you’re grieving the death of your own parent or sibling. Listen in for suggestions on how to help your children build a relationship with the memory of the person who died and ways to make time for your own grief and self-care.
Resources for talking with children and teens about death:
Article mentioned by Eleanor:
Book mentioned by Litsa:
The Disappearance is a memoir by Genevieve Jurgensen whose two young daughters were killed in a car crash. She seeks ways to help her other children, who were born after the crash, to know and feel connected to their sisters.
Have you ever struggled with the idea of finding closure in grief? Given grief’s ongoing and evolving nature, the search for final closure can be a misguided pursuit, one that leaves us disheartened and even ashamed. In this episode you’ll hear from a variety of grieving young adults as they break open the idea of closure and identify significant turning points in their process. You’ll learn about moments of clarity, confusion, new understandings, and what it's like when the sharp emotions rise up again. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to this episode.
When someone dies, it creates upheaval in the support system, leading to unfamiliar territory in terms of how to help those with different perceptions and expressions of grief such as language, repetitive gestures or patterning, emotional disconnect, and searching behaviors. Although the outward expression of someone’s grief may be difficult to recognize, the need for their grief to be acknowledged and supported is universal. In this episode, Jana talks with Rebecca Hobbs-Lawrence, a staff member at The Dougy Center, about ways to support children and adults with developmental disabilities in their grief
Suggestions for supporting children or adults with developmental disabilities in their grief:
Acknowledge the loss by being present and responsive to their verbal and behavioral cues.
Affirm that they are not alone, name the support people they have.
Maintain a consistent routine as much as possible. Give a lot of advanced notice for when their daily routine may change or be unusual.
Facilitate activities or rituals that will acknowledge the grief. This can help children and adults to develop coping strategies and find ways to remember the person who died.
Finding Your Own Way to Grieve: A Creative Activity Workbook for Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum by Karla Helbert, 2012
Everyone Grieves: Stories about Individuals with Disabilities and Grief by Marc A. Markell, 2013
Helping People with Developmental Disabilities Mourn: Practical Rituals for Caregivers by Marc A. Markell, 2005
Lessons in Grief & Death: Supporting People with Developmental Disabilities in the Healing Process by Linda Van Dyke, 2003
How do we help children when a family member is dying? The diagnosis of a terminal illness brings uncertainty, fear, and heartbreak into their lives, leaving the adults who love them unsure of what to do or say. In this episode, Jana talks Tony Grace about how to best support children when a family member has an advanced serious illness.
Here are some suggestions for ways to talk with them about the illness and activities to help them process their reactions, fears, and concerns.
Children need space, time, and language to understand the changes that are taking place and that will take place in the future. If you have multiple kids of different ages, it is important to use words and phrases that are age appropriate for each of them. When communicating as a family, a good rule of thumb is to engage in conversation on a level so that the youngest child can understand, Have separate conversations with the older children and invite each child to have an individual conversation through the weeks and months ahead.
In those conversations mentioned above, share what is happening, why it is happening, and what is most likely to happen if that is known. Be specific with names and diagnosis, but give simple explanations. It is ok if you don’t know the answers to their questions or even to your own questions. You can make a list of questions for the next doctor’s visit or visit a local library. Librarians are a tremendous resource and they can help you and your child look for age-appropriate materials, videos, and references. Additionally, many hospitals now include a family resource center or a patient medical resource center. Ask your doctor or nurse if your facility has one.
Don’t be afraid to mention the word death; it is not giving up on hope but a recognition that we are all mortal beings. If we are alive, our death will be inevitable at some point. Being able to talk about death, whether it be about our own, someone else’s death, or the death of an animal, can actually provide a very deep and lasting connection between family members.
In mentioning hope, it is good to be reminded that hope can and will be redefined over and over and over again. Hope may go from wanting to live long enough to you see your children’s children to hoping that your children will grow up to be an emotionally healthy and capable adult having being taught by your role modeling.
It is also helpful to be reminded that our stories don’t end when we die, they continue in the lives of our loved ones...including our children. The illness and perhaps death of this family member will be part of that story, but it won’t be the final chapter.The current story that is being created is being “authored” not just by the illness, but by you, your family, and the people in your life. There is an opportunity for the story to be written in a way that can be beneficial for each person involved. Families will need to determine what that specifically looks like but generally, it looks like each person feeling informed, connected, valued, and able to express themselves.
Many children and teens have vocalized the need to have a tangible connection to their sick family member throughout their lives. Some have asked for a memory box where they can put pictures, clothing, and other personal items. Others have wished for letters, videos, or tidbits of advice they can access as they get older. One family collected stories of the person who was ill so that their children can learn about who their father was from others. Another family had children videotape and interview the person who was ill, so in the future, they can be reminded of their interactions.
Children with a sick family member often exhibit a lot of energy and in need of a lot of attention…and paired with a home that typically needs quiet 24/7 and focuses on the person who is ill, can often leave children feeling isolated and their energy stifled. Help identify positive ways to daily release that energy...running, sports, martial arts, gardening, dancing, etc… Neighbors, friends, and extended family members can be a great resource to help keep children active when a primary caregiver’s attention or energy is needed elsewhere.
No one likes to feel helpless, including children and teens. Many will want to be able to care for the person who is ill, including young children. Exploring ways that can demonstrate they care, can be really helpful it helping ensure that each person feels valued. Contributions can be as simple as the drawing of a picture to hang in the person’s room, to getting water, reading a book, or massage lotion onto the person’s skin.
For friends and family, it may be hard for families with a person who is ill to ask for help, but getting through all the challenges of a serious illness without any support is unlikely. The illness takes away many choices families have, so for those who want to help, offering to help with a menu of possible activities, rather than offering advice, or just doing something, is often advisable. Once something has been talked about, ask how the person would like it done. This also provides another opportunity for the family to have agency over their lives.
Jana talks with Rebecca Hobbs-Lawrence, a staff member at The Dougy Center, about ways to support children who experience the death of a brother or sister. The loss of a child shatters assumptions parents hold regarding their role as protector and their beliefs about the natural order of children outliving their parents. A child’s death can cause tremendous upheaval in families as a parent’s overwhelming grief pulls them away from their surviving children, often leaving siblings alone to deal with their own grief. Children and teen siblings grieve a unique relationship, one of friend and foe, a companion that will travel alongside in life’s adventures. After a sibling death, children and teens may question their own importance, wondering, “Am I not enough?”