How to Explain Death to a Child

One of the hardest realities to explain to a child is death. Especially when it is the death of a parent, sibling, beloved grandparent, close friend or even a favorite pet.  As a parent, you try to protect your child from things that might harm them or from things that are too difficult to understand for their age but unfortunately sometimes this is not possible.  When you are faced with the reality that you need to have a conversation with your child about death, keep the following ideas in mind.

Don’t lie.  Whatever you do say, make sure that you are completely honest with your child.  Telling them that a person went to sleep for a long time does not help them and can confuse them later when they do find out the truth.  Don’t say anything that would cause your relationship with your child to be in jeopardy later because of a lie, even if it is just a little white lie.

Keep it simple.  Long winded explanations may make you feel better but a child will only hear the first couple of sentences.  Remember the teacher on Charlie Brown and how the kids just tuned her out?  You don’t want your child to turn you out during a difficult conversation so be clear and simple when you start.

Answer only the question they ask.  As a parent, you may be tempted to reinterpret your child’s question or answer more than they ask.  Resist the urge and instead repeat the question they ask for clarity by saying, “You want to know…” followed by their question.  If they say yes, then answer it simply; if they say no than ask them to ask a different question.

Don’t expect an emotional response.  Children need more time than adults to process what has happened because this is a new experience for them.  So if your child seems unemotional at first, don’t worry, just give them time to process what has happened.  Your child may also have inappropriate emotional responses such as laughing instead of crying; allow them the freedom to respond as they know how.  They may be laughing because that is the only way they know of releasing the stress and tension they feel.

Explain as often as requested.  You may find that your child comes back to you several hours or days later with the exact same set of questions they asked at first.  They are doing this to process what has happened and refusing to answer a question because you have already answered it is not helpful.  Rather, be consistent with your responses and answer the same question in the same manner.  Again resist the temptation to over explain, they are not asking the same question because they need more clarity, they are just trying to understand.

Invite them to ask more questions in the future.  As your child ages and has more experience to draw from, they may have additional harder questions later.  While they may have seemed like they are processing the grief well shortly after the death, problems may surface several years later as they learn more about life.  Look out for disruptive behavior at school, defiant behavior at home, or destructive behavior with friends as warning signs that your child may have more grief to process.

Get help not only for your child but for you as well.  Grief of close family members can take well over a year to process for adults.  For children, they seem to postpone aspects of their grief for later and sometimes it is not fully processed until they are adults.  As a parent, you need to get help so that you can better help your child first by example and next by experience.  Your child will be far more likely to ask for help in a productive rather than destructive manner if they have witnessed you asking for help.  The idea of being strong for your child and not getting help may be counterproductive for your child who may feel weak compared to you.

It is a tough to have a conversation with your child about death.  Before you begin, think about the right words to say then review the above suggestions rehearsing answers to some of the anticipated questions.  But if your child is resistant to the conversation, don’t force it on your time-table but rather be patient and sensitive to their time-table.  This will go a long way in strengthening your relationship with your child.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

How to Grieve Well

Not everyone grieves in the same way.  After all, there are different people with different physical appearances, perspectives, experiences, thoughts, emotions, backgrounds, and attitudes.  So why when it comes to grief do some believe that there is one correct way to handle the loss of a loved one?

There are in fact a number of constructive ways to manage the feelings of grief and some destructive ways.  Learning the difference between the two is far more important.

Denial.  It is not uncommon for someone to struggle with believing that a loved one has passed away or to pretend that the person has not really passed.  For a time being, the person may even imagine conversations with their loved one, knowing how they would most likely respond in a given situation.  This usually does not last too long after passing and is more of the emotions catching up to reality.  The seeds of dysfunction can begin however when the emotions fail to accept the reality and the person relies solely on how they feel instead of what they know.

 Anger.  This is a hard emotional reaction for some.  Some people become angry with the person who passed away blaming them for not taking care of themselves, not paying attention, abandoning their family or not caring for those left behind.  Others become angry with themselves for not saying good-bye, not being there, having a fight or argument just before or not meeting their needs.  Oftentimes, the anger does not come out at themselves or the person who passed, rather the anger shows itself at the others who are left behind.  Being aware of this strong emotion and not allowing it to overtake current relationships keeps the destructive far away.

Bargaining.  “If only”, “I should have”, or “I wish” are all bargaining methods of trying to regain control of life after someone had passed.  When a person engages in this type of thinking, they are really saying that they had control over the timing or the situation of the person passing away.  This is a normal response and while it sounds a little bit dysfunctional, this thinking can actually be helpful.  The feelings of denial and anger seem to consume our thoughts and life seems to be out of control.  In contrast bargaining is a way to return life back to some level of control.  The dysfunctional side of bargaining is a continual behavior of negotiating life in attempts to keep others alive.

Depression.  It is perfectly normal to feel depressed after losing a loved one, to not feel this way at some point is to engage in dysfunctional behavior.  Depression is a valley in life, a period of time when things seem to slow down, a time for being introspective, a time for self-evaluation, and a time to reflect on what is already gone.  These moments can bring greater clarity and meaning to our lives which can later enhance the quality of life.  Depending on how close the person was that passed, this period can last for months or years without becoming destructive.

Acceptance.  Not that we don’t miss the person who is gone or that we don’t still wish the person was alive, but at some point there is a realization that life goes on and we can be happy again.  While happiness seemed elusive before, it now becomes more frequent and the simple things seem to bring us joy again.  It is almost as if we return to a better form of ourselves as a result of the experience from having lost a loved one.  Better in that we appreciated life more, appreciate our loved ones more, appreciate the time we have with others more and appreciate the person who passed more.  The only dysfunction is never feeling these feelings again, in getting stuck in one of the other emotions.

Grief is normal and healthy.  It can take on many different forms depending on the person experiencing the grief and the person having passed.  The entire process can last a few weeks, months, or years and should not be rushed as if another task to finish.  This is a valuable time of insight, reflection and understanding that can improve the quality of your life going forward.

For more information, watch this video. 

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Embracing Grief When You Have Lost a Loved One

Out of the blue, you receive a message that someone you loved has passed away.  Perhaps it is a sibling, a longtime friend, or close co-worker, he/she is close to you but not one of your immediate family.  Whatever the nature of your relationship, the timing of their death is so unexpected that you can hardly believe what you are hearing.  And yet you know intellectually that it is true.  Your emotions do not catch up to the reality quick enough so your response is distorted by a numbness of disbelief.  You are left hanging, not knowing what to do or how to respond.  Your relationship with the immediate family is close so you feel this pull to be with them but are unsure of how to act, what to say or who to speak with during this time.

The climate of our present culture is one that has lost touch with the art of maintaining intimate relationships. Media influences such as Facebook, texting, and video gaming all of which do more to disconnect relationships rather connect serve instead to keep intimate relationships at arm’s length.  While on the surface it may seem as though we are connecting to old friends or distant relatives by befriending or sending a message, the lack of two-way face-to-face conversation keeps the relationship at this distance.  During the times of a crisis such as the loss of a loved one, the distance then becomes a temptation not to act and to remain safely away.  But this is not an example of loving your neighbor.  So what is?

Time.  As hard as it is, one of the most loving acts of kindness is giving your time.  Just spending time with the immediate family can be a source of great comfort in a time of great loss.  One of the many temptations during this time however is to remain detached and self-protective as you embrace your own loss, but that is a selfish act.  Selflessness is the willingness to put aside your own emotions and become involved in caring for those whose loss is even greater.  Time demands that you are physically present offering to remain as long as needed to care for the suffering of another.

Listen.  During your time with the immediate family, do not enforce your own agenda or your own views of the loved one who has passed.  Rather, listen to the family speak allowing them the freedom to become angry, bitter, sad, and emotional.  Don’t argue or dispute what they are saying, just allow them to ramble.  The explosion of thoughts which plague your mind during this time are even more intense for the immediate family so let them just speak.  Some feel the need to narrate the story of their lives, some feel the need to just sit in complete quiet, some feel the need to be around people, and some feel the need to give instructions.  Whatever their need, be there to listen without judgment or correction.

Embrace.  There is no way around this.  Once you physically make yourself available and spend some time listening to a person grieve, you will become emotionally and intimately involved in the grieving process.  This act defies the nature of our culture which preaches that it is “all about me” and invites you to embrace an intimate moment which is about the one who has passed away and the ones who are left behind.  While it is scary to allow yourself to be so involved, it is an act of kindness that demonstrates fully the love of Christ.

To the outside world, such behavior of giving your time, listening unconditionally and embracing grief sounds draining and normally it is if you are doing such acts on your own strength.  But if you rely on the strength of Christ, there is far more than you need.  John 7:38, “Anyone who believes in me [Jesus] may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”  These rivers of living water are nourishment and refreshment in times of great challenge and great need which are available to all who believe in Jesus.  When you give of yourself during a time of loss, you are really giving the love of Christ of which there is an endless supply and far more than you need.  This is one of the many demonstrations of loving your neighbor which becomes a light to all who see.

For more information, watch this video. 

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

9/11/01: A Day to Remember

Patriots’ Day Parade

Patriots’ Day Parade (Photo credit: mcritz)

For most people, remembering 9/11/01 is about remembering where they were when they first heard the news.  It is easy to recall it since it was such a shocking day filled with tragedy after tragedy and while most felt numb that day, recall of the event now includes emotions of great sadness, grief, despair, and anger.  The many days of confusion that followed 9/11/01 are more of fog compared to the moment in which you first heard the news.  That moment is imbedded into your memory as if it was yesterday, stirring up a mixture of both old and new emotions.  With each passing year, the memory refuses to fade as new memories are implanted into your head; instead it remains a solidly fixed and sober event.

But remembering 9/11/01 should not be so selfish.  It should not be about remembering where you were or who you were with or how you felt.  The people who committed the acts of terrorism on 9/11/01 were the selfish ones thinking only of their beliefs, their cause, their feelings, and their goal.  On that day, the terrorists focused solely on their agenda at the great expense of the lives of others.   No, this day, Patriot’s Day, should not a selfish day but rather a day in which we all remember one another and the sacrifices that were given both willingly and unwillingly.  For many gave their life, some had their life stolen, thousands of families were impacted and others worked tirelessly to save lives and clean up the debris.  For those individuals, this day has a different meaning as it was not just a national event, it was personal and it forever changed them as such.

Remember them.  Have you ever had to clean up after a disaster?  Maybe you have been in a natural disaster where things are suddenly not where they belong and destroyed beyond repair.  Or maybe you have had a smaller event such as a pipe bursting or a two-year-old on a rampage through your house.  While it is frustrating to see things get so out-of-place in such a short time, it can be even more frustrating to put things back together again.  Remember those worked after 9/11/01 cleaning up an unbelievable mess day after day only to discover an even greater mess beyond the surface.  The amount of discouragement must have been overwhelming, yet they kept going year after year.  For these individuals, 9/11/01 is not just a day; it is a series of events forever imbedded into their current memory.  And while they unselfishly gave of themselves to accomplish a task, they continue to give of themselves through the memories which repeatedly traumatize them.

Thank them.  These unselfish individuals deserve your thanks and gratitude for a sacrifice that hopefully you can only imagine but will never fully know from experience.  For most of them, recognition and thanks is nice but they did not do it for that reason.  Rather, they had a job to do and chose to do well.  Every day you have a choice to just do your job and get by with as little effort as possible or you can choose to do your job well and like the heroes of 9/11/01 do it beyond expectation.  The heroes had a choice and it is obvious by the outcome that they put aside their selfish desires and chose to live a life of service to others.  It is easier to say a thank you but so much harder to live by the example that was set before you of excellence.

Be them.  In the end, you have a choice.  It does not matter what your job is, who your family is, where you come from, or what your circumstances are in life, you still have a choice.  You have a choice to live a life that is selfish and focused on yourself or to live a life that is selfless and focused on others.  The terrorists made their choice; it was one of complete and total selfishness.  Some of the people who lost their life on that day did not have a choice; rather it was stolen from them.  But some of the people who lost their life on that day did have a choice; it was one of selflessness.  You too have a choice in how you live your life.  Are you going to be selfish like the terrorists or selfless like the heroes?

What a true monumental day 9/11/01 would be if the long-term outcome was a nation filled with individuals who became selfless instead of selfish.  For a few years following that day, there was a glimmer of hope that selflessness would be the final outcome however as the events of that day turn more selfish and focused on remembering where you were instead of remembering who perished, the hope faded.  But you still have a choice; you can choose on this Patriot’s Day to remember others and the sacrifices they gave and continue to give or you can choose instead to remembering yourself and how you felt.  Choose wisely because the outcome will determine the destination of our next generation.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Practical Tips When Your Spouse Loses a Parent

Thank you Hannah Peterson for sending me this article, “How to Help When Your Spouse Loses a Parent”!  The article is well written and offers some practical advise for handling this difficult time.  It is one of those articles you save for when you need it and aren’t sure where to begin to help.

http://www.lifeinsurancequotes.org/how-to-help-when-your-spouse-loses-a-parent/

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

What Not to Say to Your Unemployed Spouse

Having your spouse out of work for any extended period of time can be stressful especially in an economy where the unemployment rate is the highest it has been in over 20 years.  Many unemployed workers are looking for any job whether it is in their profession or not just to cover the bills.  In addition, there is also an increase in the number of employees dissatisfied in their work place but afraid to change jobs for fear of an extended unemployment.  Talk about stress.

Added to that stress is the normal stress of a marriage relationship.  As if there wasn’t enough to be stressed about in a marriage with mortgages, finances, kids, in-laws, bills, minimal cash flow, lack of communication and decreased sex drive; now add to that the stress of unemployment.  These are the kind of stressors that can make or break your marriage relationship, but this is precisely the time that the vow “For better or for worse” was intended.

It is hard to know what to say to friends during difficult times because it can literally make or break a friendship.  But if you say the wrong thing to your spouse during this time, it can paralyze them for days of inactivity precisely when activity is needed.  Even when you try to be encouraging, it can sometimes come across as patronizing.  But by looking at what not to say, you can minimize the damage.  Here is a bit of humor at what not to say to your spouse during these times.

  1. The grunge look ended in the 90’s.
  2. How many Star Gate episodes are you up to now?
  3. Did you do anything today?
  4. Didn’t you wear that yesterday?
  5. My headaches will go away when you have a job.
  6. Here is your “To Do” list to do.
  7. Did you get a job yet?
  8. I knew this would happen.
  9. I see why you were let go.
  10. You can always go work for my dad.

A better approach is to put yourself in their shoes and be more loving in your comments.   After all, unemployment has a way of making even the most secure person insecure for a period of time.  While your spouse may seem unmotivated, unfocused, and unproductive for a period of time, this is a normal reaction to unemployment.  Instead of the above comments, try words of encouragement, a kind gesture and an act of service which are far more productive in the end than nagging or complaining.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Saying Good-bye to a Loved One

Every once in a while God gives us the opportunity to say good-bye to a loved one before they pass away.  You may have experienced moments such as this in the past or may be going through it right now.   Either way, it is still difficult to endure.  Nevertheless, these are rare precious moments to be treasured as gifts from God.  Not everyone has the opportunity to say good-bye to a trusted friend, a close family member, a loved one, or a valued mentor.  Some must deal with the shock and loss all at once, but sometimes God graciously grants us an opportunity to say goodbye.  This is a gift that can be used as part of the healing process of letting the person go.  In the moment, such times are difficult to endure, but in the end they are a blessing and are very often helpful in healing from the loss.

In some cases we avoid saying good-bye because we don’t want to admit the end is near.  We don’t know what to say in the moment we see the person or we fear that we will say the wrong thing.  All of these concerns are valid and should not be minimized.  Yet, if we are honest with our feelings and examine each concern separately, we can find the seeds towards healing.

Not wanting to admit the end is near.  Yes there is always hope and God can, and often does, work miracles in the most hopeless situations.  In some of these situations, He performs miracles way beyond our expectations and beyond even our prayers.  In other situations, there is no miracle, there is only waiting for the end of a cherished life.  But the waiting does not need to be wasted; instead it can be used as an opportunity to bring closure to the many lives it affects.  Accepting that a person we love is near death does not mean that we are without hope, rather it means we are facing all of the possibilities and allowing God to choose the best one.  The seeds of healing lie in the continued hope and promise of God that the person we love, as a believer in Jesus Christ, is about to meet their Creator and spend an eternity with Him.

Don’t know what to say.  Spend some time thinking and praying about what you will say before you see the person.  This is not a time to rehash old arguments, talk about the mundane, or discuss the latest medical decision.  Rather, this is a time to extend love by asking for forgiveness if needed, expressing how much the person has meant to you by specifically telling them what they have done for you or given you, and allowing them to speak to you.  When God calls you to spend time with someone before they pass, it is more about allowing them to heal, and at the same time enabling you to heal as well.  These are additional seeds of healing during a difficult time.  The memory of these moments will enable you to know that you have allowed the person passing the awesome opportunity to say what they wanted to say to the person they wanted to say it to.  This is ultimately a gift of peace.

Saying the wrong thing.  Fear is a powerful distracter from doing the things God has called us to do, but you can have victory over fear.  It is an emotion that is useful in situations of potential danger but not useful when we allow it to parallelize us and stop us from completing what we know is right.  If you are unsure what is right, pray.  God in His wisdom will give you an answer.  Just be careful to accept the answer and not wait for another answer that you really want!  Most of the time, the answers come in the most unlikely of places so be open to listening to the Holy Spirit.  Don’t allow fear to stop you from doing what you should do, instead use the fear to propel you to be sensitive to the person and their family during a very difficult time.  The sensitivity you show them and their family is the seed of healing as it demonstrates compassion and love beyond circumstance or feeling.

It is truly a privilege to witness both the beginning and the end of life as in both we become more aware of the awesome power of God mirrored through His creations.  While the passing of a life is sad, for the person will be missed, the knowledge of their salvation is the hope we can continue to bring the generations yet to come.  This is the beginning of healing from our loss.

For more information, watch this video. 

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.