Resources on Grief and Death for Children
“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
-- Leo Tolstoy
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, NRSV)
Grief is a universal human experience. It is one of the ways that we strive to make sense of the world. As followers of Jesus, our very real experience of grief is met by our deep and lasting hope that comes from the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation that God offers to all.
But this does not mean that grief is simple or easy, or that it is brief or fleeting. It is a genuine part of what it means to be a human being.
The following are some brief insights into the nature of grief, specifically for talking about grief and death with children. This resource will evolve and expand over time, so please check back anytime you are in need of these tools and information.
One of the best resources for talking about death and working through grief with children is Joseph M. Primo's What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids about Death and Dying. Educated at Yale Divinity School, Primo serves as the Executive Director of Good Grief and the CEO of the National Alliance for Grieving Children.
He suggests that children be given the opportunity to experience "unrestrained exploration" of death and grief in their own time and their own way. For children (and adults) grief is not exclusively or even primarily about death, but about absence. In this way, grief is not something that you get "over" or "past". Grief is the experience of absence that engages our past, present, and future. It engages our past as memories of the ones we have lost. It interrupts our present when we recognize the individual's absence. It impacts our future as we think about how our life will be in the future, and how it might have been without their absence.
Primo offers four important rules for talking about death and grief with children:
- Respect Diversity. Children will talk about death and grieving in countless ways. Don't seek to correct or offer an alternative way for the child to think about death or grief. Allow them to articulate and question in ways that make sense for them. This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing dialogue you are seeking to create for your children.
- No Interrupting. This will allow your children to feel comfortable in asking any questions they might have. A child's attention span and willingness to dialogue can be disrupted if you stop the conversation. Allowing children to speak on their own time and in their own way is critical.
- Only Give Advice if Asked. This honors the capacity of children to learn and grow at their own speed. Answering questions and giving advice that isn't solicited increases the chances that children will become confused or feel discouraged to continue in their "unrestrained exploration."
- What We Say Here Stays Here. It is incredibly important that children feel safe to ask about death and grief without fear of embarassment or a breach of privacy. This reassurance helps children to feel that this vulnerable conversation is both important and confidential.
Changing the Face of Death
by Lisa Delong
Lisa Solis DeLong, RN is the co-founder of Justin Time Children's House, an art based grief center for children and families experienced in the death of a loved one. She is also the author of Blood Brothers: A Memoir of Faith and Loss While Raising Two Sons with Cancer.