The loss of loved ones is not a topic many people like to discuss. In general, society is uncomfortable with this loss. However, death has a very real impact on those who knew and loved the departed.

Death impacts us all in specific and unique ways and each person deals with loss individually. There is no right or wrong way to grieve but having support of friends, family and trained professionals can help move us through grief.

Losing loved ones is particularly impactful to children and often their grief is forgotten or overlooked in the process. With so much going on and family members feeling their own grief, children may not receive the support they need.

That’s where Willow Center for Grieving Children steps in.

The Willow Center for Grieving Children has been in existence since 2000 and is still relatively unknown. Many families learn of the services when the services are needed and families are touched by death. Services are available for children beginning at age three and for youth through age 18.

The primary objective of Willow Center is to provide support to children during their grieving process. Oftentimes, the grief of children is misdiagnosed as a particular disorder or children are labeled “problem children” because they don’t have the tools to cope with this grief and they may act out or behave in ways that are not consistent with their regular behavior before a loss. Willow Center for Grieving Children provides support in a safe place where emotions and symptoms of grief are welcomed, understood and allowed.

Willow Center support groups are overseen by local mental healthcare professionals, Steve Button, Mimsi Wise and Deb Street along with professionally trained volunteers. Button, Wise and Street serve as Clinical Coordinators and oversee the program. Collectively they provide the following information to assist in dealing with children’s grief. They maintain there are three phases or tasks of grieving children.

1. Understanding the loved one is dead
2. Experiencing feelings of grief
3. Continuing to live and love

During the first task or phase, you can expect that children want to know what happened and they need honest, direct factual information in order to fully understand that situation. The word “dead” can be an abstract term for children and it may take time for them to actually grasp the concept of what it truly means. It’s perfectly normal for children to be curious and speculate about the facts surrounding death and they may over-generalize by making broad associations that connect cause and effect. For example, they may think that if a loved one died in the hospital, all people who go to the hospital will die instead of realizing that some people die in the hospital and some people get well.

Some helpful action items for the first phase of understanding a loved one is dead are:
• Openly talking about what happened and sharing stories/memories about the deceased.
• Creating a memory box of pictures and treasured items
• Involvement in funeral arrangements

The second phase or task involves the feelings and experience of grief including guilt, fear, sadness and anger. Children will sometimes feel guilt and think there was something they could have done to prevent the situation. Fear and uncertainty are common and children may worry that others they love and depend on will die suddenly (this can cause nightmares, headaches and distracted behavior). Sadness can be shown in sporadic ways. One minute a grieving child may be sobbing uncontrollably and playing the next. Death can also cause anger in children and it is shown by acting out, disobedience and irritability.

During the second phase of children’s grief it’s important to:
• Reassure children their feelings are OK and that you are OK even though you’re sad
• Remind children that they were not in charge and adults are responsible for grown up decisions (for example, in the case of suicide)
• Provide comfort and nurturing and let kids express their emotions through play

The final task is to engage fully in life. This phase is expressed by different ways of coming to terms with death. When healing begins, thoughts move from “Why did it happen?” to “What can I do now? or “How am I going to do it?”. On occasion there will be times when people who are grieving begin to truly enjoy life and then feel guilty or disloyal to the dead. It’s important to encourage children and adults to take “time out” from grief to revive energy.

During the final phase it’s helpful to:
• Believe in healing for the children and family even when they cannot
• Celebrate life and the steps taken towards healing
• Be aware of your own grief and your need for support
• Take “time out” from grief to rejuvenate

If you would like more information on coping with children’s grief, you can contact the Willow Center for Grieving Children Family Support Line at 509.780.1156

If you’re interested in volunteering on the board or training to work directly with children, please contact the Executive Director at 208.791.7192

Willow Center for Grieving Children is the only grief based support group providing this service for children in our region. Partnering with Twin County United Way allows us to increase awareness of our important services while helping to strengthen our community network of services. Group is held the first and third Tuesday of each month.

Referral sources include private counselors or school counselors and approximately 35% of all referrals come from these sources. Additional referral sources are Willow Center volunteers, previous participants in the program, funeral homes, Child Protective Services and other services agencies such as the YWCA or Community Action Partnership, Twin County United Way and the local Chamber of Commerce.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Manyon specializes in POWERFULLY communicating business messages to increase results. She is a professional copywriter and marketing strategist. Her work has been featured by the National Association of Women Writers, Absolute Write, Copywriting TNT, Lewiston Tribune and more. Manyon works directly with Lorrie Morgan–Ferrero as theRed Hot Communications GOLD Copywriting Mentorship Managing Director and is also the first professional copywriter in Idaho to earn Glazer –Kennedy’s Creating Copy That Sells certification. She developed a series of training seminars for the Idaho Small Business Development Center to assist businesses with image, planning, publicity and copywriting. Sign up for Manyon’s complimentary ezine and get savvy marketing insights delivered right to you inbox at zero cost to you. Here