Archive for the ‘Children’s Grief’ Category


Here is a link to a quick post to remind you that children are often called “the forgotten mourners”.

Kids don’t grieve like little adults.

They don’t have the same coping skills or life experience.

Kids don’t sit down and talk about grief the way you or I might.

Kids learn through repetition.

They communicate through play.

They use all of their senses more often to understand.

They are often more concrete thinkers than adults.

But they do love and grieve. . . and I’ve never been more sure of anything else in the world.

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So many people don’t know what to do with grieving kids.  I am always so amazed.  My parents never had a to do list to help us and we turned out okay.

But for those who need some help, take a deep breath and relax.  It really is easier than you might think.

Did you see Liz Hendrickson’s last post?  Did you see the first photo? We all have rocks in our yard… paint isn’t that expensive… so, why not?

It is a photo from a grief camp that I was able to find online… but we used to do this at our camp too.

Newspaper on the table, bright colors, glitter, river rocks, paint brushes.  That’s all it takes.  And then suggest to the kids that you want to create something for the garden, the front porch, the mantle, even the cemetery.

Let them know that you want to have something around that reminds you of the person who has died.  It’s a great activity.  You can ask them about the colors, where to put them, what they put on it, etc.

We also made luminaries.  You know, like the white bags you put out at Christmas?  We got them from the party supply store.  Markers, fun sheers/scissors, etc.. Decorate the bags.  Add sand or kitty liter and a tea light (real or electric) and put them outside.  I like the electric lights because you can use them again and again… and it doesn’t matter if you have pets or really little kids.  You can also use them inside if the weather is bad.

Liz mentioned her “daddy box” or as she termed it, her “continuing bonds box”.  🙂 We used to call them memory boxes.  You can get boxes at Michaels or other craft stores.  You can even use things like shoe boxes.  They can add momentos or photos after the box has dried.

Another great thing to do with kids, boys or girls, of any age… memory bracelets.  The kids loved them.  Some of the kids (even boys) made necklaces.  It was great.  Here is an activity you can use if you aren’t sure how to start … MEMORY IN COLORS ACTIVITY

There are all kinds of things you can do and you don’t have to be amazingly creative.  Trust me, if you did, I couldn’t have done my job.  Get a stepping stone kit at the store and make it in honor of the person who died.

Help the kids make a powerpoint.

Add photos to your iPhone.  Pick a ringtone that was a favorite song of the deceased.  It doesn’t take a lot.

Pick one night a month where you make that person’s favorite meal.

I hope you find the thing that will help you start those conversations.  I hope that these ideas give you somewhere to start.

Blessings, Jennifer

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“…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
J.K. Rowling

As I shared in the first blog post, I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. I have been since I was young and I found in them a way to express feelings about the death of my father that I had previously been unable to explain.

We have come to the end of my week with this blog and I am ever so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my personal and professional experiences with you. I hope you have found them helpful, and I hope they can help a grieving child in your life.

The above quote is by author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter books. It is the one gift I hope to give to all the grieving children I work with, and it is a gift that I am constantly reminded of myself as a grieving child. Even though my father is gone, his love and protection are always with me, wrapping me up like a warm, safe blanket when times are hard.

Before we depart, I would like to leave you with a few resources:

The National Alliance for Grieving Children does great work for bereaved families and has a wonderful database of grief centers around the country that can be found here:


I love nature, as did my father, and I am a firm believer in the healing power that summer camp can have for grieving children. Many local grief centers offer camps, but two national camps are:

Camp Erin:


and Comfort Zone Camp:


Comfort Zone Camp also runs a wonderful social networking site for bereaved individuals called Hello Grief, I strongly encourage you to sign up and connect here:


I want to thank you again for allowing me to share my experiences with you. I also want to thank Jen for allowing a 23 year old BSW student to take over her blog for a week, especially when I turned in passages late and read The Hunger Games instead of doing research. I am eternally grateful for all the kindness you have given me and all the lessons you have taught me.

For now,
-Liz Hendrickson

From Jennifer:  Liz is actually too sweet!  She was an incredible part of our kid’s program at hospice and our summer camps.  I was reminded in her introduction just how young Liz is.  I never thought about it when she worked with us as she was an incredible professional at an early age, volunteering at a sexual abuse shelter in addition to her hospice work — all the while being in college.

I truly believe that people like Liz, who have been there, need to be supported and fostered in our field.  Liz has a terrible loss for any child and she has used that loss to help others, develop strength, compassion, and an incredible love of life, and become an amazing adult.

Liz knows what it’s like to be severely affected by grief and live to tell about it.  Not only live but thrive.  And we don’t have enough people in our field.. social workers, therapists, RNs, doctors, etc. who have truly worked with their grief, befriended it, learned to make it a part of them and use it to create a better world.  

I am honored that Liz was able to find the time to do this for us.  She knew I had a lot to do, getting ready for my retreat at Upaya Zen Center on Dying and was ready and willing to help me out.  I cannot wait to see where she ends up when she gets that LCSW… maybe she’ll remember her old friend and hire me some day!

With deep gratitude and continued friendship Liz,


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There are a wide array of services and resources out there for kids and grief today.  I was lucky to have a family and extended community to be supportive when I lost people I loved.  But not every kid is so lucky and not every kid experiences loss to the kids of experiences I did…. a lot of kids out there lose parents, both parents, siblings, classmates, etc. and not only is a family devastated but some times a whole community is.

What follows here is random things I have come across over the years.

Sesame Street.org I have found a wonderful site with resources for families grieving with kids… Sesame Street.org has a parents section with all kinds of resources for families and special sections on Camps & Centers, Military Family Resources, and Downloadable Materials for the public to use.  Leave it to Sesame Street to be there for families and educating them on grief.  Where would we be without PBS?

Here is their link

Mourning Star Center — ADEC Colleague Pamela Gabbay is an essential part of Mourning Star Center in Califonia.  Take a look at their services..  Here is a link to a project on kids and bereavement that Mourning Star Center helped out with.  Check it out.

Center for Loss and Transition —  When I first needed to learn about kids and grief, I read Alan Wolfelt’s book cover to cover.  I had seen him at a talk outside Pittsburgh right after I had finished graduate school (well, my MA… since I am still in grad school)… Alan had come to talk about adults and grief but I knew any work of his would be a place to start.

Here is his website.  His center is nestled in beautiful Ft. Collins, CO, situated on a bluff that looks down over the whole town.  Alan’s book are a great way to get your feet wet if you want to know about kids and grief professionally.  I think there is a lot more out there but you can’t go wrong with learning about the idea of companioning the grieving.

The Dougy Center:  The National Center for Grieving Children and Families

This is probably the other best name known center for grief and kids, next to Alan’s.  The Dougy Center has provided a safe place for kids, teens, young adults, and families since 1982 in Portland, OR.  Here is there website.  I got to tour The Dougy Center many years ago when I was in Portland for my first ADEC conference.  Amazing work they do!

The M.I.S.S. Foundation

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore founded The M.I.S.S. Foundation, an online support community with 27 different groups which help thousands of members with their forums.  Check out their Kindness Project on their website.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but a few highlights.  If you check out the Blog Roll and go to the ADEC site … Association for Death Education and Counseling, they have amassed a great list of general end-of-life and grief resources.

A few more authors to think about Helen Fitzgerald, Darcy Simms, and Janis L. Silverman.  When it comes to resources for children and grief, I feel safe with all of the abovementioned sources and the fine work they do.  Always check things like books and centers out. Ask other people.  Check with a local hospice or websites like ADEC.  And if something doesn’t feel really right, pass it by.

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Continuing Bonds Continued

Yesterday I talked about how I continue my bond with my father. And today I will talk more about continuing bonds between those we love who have died and ourselves.

We live in a digital age. My father died fifteen years ago and even if he were alive today I highly doubt he would have a facebook page. But many people do. Facebook pages and other social media often become public memorials after the death of a loved one, and serve as a way to keep in touch between friends and share memories.

These pages can also serve as a way to stay in touch with old friends of loved ones, to show them how much children have changed and share memories as the children get older that they wouldn’t have shared when the children were young.

Another way to do this is through letters. A friend of my father’s was gracious enough to write some of his memories of my father down in a letter to my niece and nephew who were both born after my father died. My family enjoyed having the opportunity to share these with the kids and they enjoyed having their own special piece of my father to hold onto.

I’ve heard of children who were born after a death being called “subsequent children,” but I’m not sure if that is a widely used term, but for the sake of brevity it’s the term I will use. Subsequent children also deserve to have a bond fostered with their loved ones who have died. When a child is born into a family that has lost a parent, grandparent, or sibling they can often feel left out. I often listen as my sisters share stories of my grandparents who died before my birth. Though I enjoy hearing these stories I often do feel left out, by no fault of my family’s.

By giving subsequent children a chance to get to know the person who died, through sharing of memories or spending time with friends of the deceased you can foster a bond that can be very powerful for the child.

-Liz Hendrickson

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Continuing Bonds

Recently, I attended the retirement party of a good friend of my father’s. My father was a police officer so these events are common especially of late, as many of his comrades are reaching retirement age.

I’ll admit that I view my attendance at these events as somewhat of an obligation at times.

Though the gentlemen that my father worked with and their families are always more than accommodating to my mother and I, the experience can still be quite emotional. And I might as well admit that I am 23 years old and there is a little piece of me that doesn’t want to spend her weekend with retires.

I’ll also admit that I love going to these things. I was eight years old when my father died and he, much like myself, was extremely passionate about his work and rarely told anyone at home about his job.

My father, in his own way, was almost masterful in avoiding what we in the helping professions would call compassion fatigue. So much so that we at home knew very little of what my father was like when he was at work and I love hearing any stories about my father.

A few days ago I received a very unexpected thank you note from a friend of my father’s that included a very sweet, very personal note about my father. It made me smile, it made me feel somewhat comforted and I tucked it away in a box filled with other pieces of memorabilia that reminds me of my father.

When I was very young I hid this box from the world, afraid others would think it was crazy. It contained very few relics from when my father was alive, but many pieces that have reminded me of him since his death.

A gift made in elementary school that served as a father’s day gift for everyone else in the class but now sits safely in my box, among other items. Back then I called it my “daddy box.” But, after taking out a hefty loan for a college degree I feel the need to refer to it in a more clinical sense, so I call it my Continuing Bonds box.

Continuing Bonds in very brief terms is the theory that our bond with our loved ones does not die with them, it continues on as we live our lives.

There is a wonderful book by Dennis Klass, Phyllis Silverman, and Steven Nickman that can be found here:
The book is a wealth of knowledge on grief at many different stages and if it is a topic you’re interested in I strongly suggest it.

These retirement events are part of a continuing bond that I keep with my father that develops as I grow up. They serve as reminders of things my father enjoyed that I now enjoy and they give me more precious memories to hold on to and they give me a sense that I am not alone in missing my father.

It is important to foster these bonds with children. Immediately after the death these bonds can serve as an emotional safety net, somewhat of a comradery in grief for the same beloved person. Further down the line they can help the child’s relationship with their loved one mature as the child matures.

This year marks fifteen years since my father died, I’ve lived almost three times as long without him as I ever did with him, but still my memory box continues to grow, and for me at least it always will.

-Liz Hendrickson

Related articles

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Sensory Memories

Our memories are strongly connected to our sense. There has been scientific research on this subject, but as I stated in an earlier blog, I spent my weekend reading The Hunger Games and not researching for these blogs.

But we do not need a scientist to tell us that certain smells, taste, sights, and the feel of certain objects can bring back strong memories of past times and people who we have lost.

The smell of Old Spice, the sound of country music, the taste of blue jello, the sight of someone in aviator ray-bans, and the feel of my father’s old flannel shirts instantly remind me of my father.

Of course, these memories are broad and far-reaching. There are other sensory memories that can bring about specific moments with my father, moments that I have tucked away in my mind.

Sensory memories can be tricky, sometimes they are welcome in a time of need and other times they can be quite unwelcome.

About three years ago I spent some time in India and found myself very ill on a houseboat wanting nothing more than to go home when suddenly the smell of old spice and cigarettes came wafting through the door. (at the time I thought this smell came from my roommate on the trip Lauren, who was very accommodating while I was ill, but I have since concluded that it may have been part of a very strange fever dream) Nevertheless the reminder of my father was very welcome.

I was on a date with a boy, one of the first I had ever been on, when suddenly the boy’s scent overwhelmed me. He smelled like fuel stabilizer and cigarettes (I was going through a phase.) The same way my father smelt after he worked on his car (which he did on many occasions). This was before I really came to terms with my father’s death, and I don’t believe I even told this boy who my father was dead.

I was overcome with memories and emotions, sadness, fear, and a bit of embarrassment. I excused myself to the bathroom and tried to put myself together but it was no use. I spent the rest of the date on the brink of an emotional breakdown. Needless to say there was not a second date.

The point of telling you these stories is that sensory memories can come up at a time that isn’t convenient for us. Though I have worked through a lot of my emotions surrounding my father’s death and am pretty confident the scent of fuel stabilizer won’t send me into an emotional breakdown now I am still surprised by the occasional song on the radio or scent that reminds me of my father.

It’s important to give children a safe way to work through emotions involving all memories, especially those tied to our five senses. Letting children know that it is okay to feel sadness, anger, fear, and a myriad of other emotions as they come up and working through them can prevent surprises such as my ill-fated date night.

Even with all the planning in the world and activities to work through every emotion under the sun, sensory memories will still sneak up and surprise us. It’s an unfortunate part of being a grieving person, sometimes we just can’t help when a memory comes up.

I have no advice for such moments except to ride the wave, these moments are the price we pay for loving someone so much, and it’s a small price when you think about it.

-Liz Hendrickson

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This post I write with the greatest of care as it talks about a lot of things that we are uncomfortable with… children, death, war, and more…

Have you ever read …I Never Saw Another Butterfly…?  If not, put it in any kind of bucket list that you might have.

This book is a compilation of poetry and pictures created by children who were enslaved in the Terezin Concentration Camp from 1942-1944.  I could not find any photos to post online from the book, so the pictures here all have captions as to what they are…

Photo 1:  After 9/11/2001, United States

Why on earth am I writing about something so painful… there are so many reasons.

First, this book is incredible for its art.  If you want to understand how kids understand death, traumatic events, and unsaid things, study these drawings.  They are powerful and profound.

Second, this book really drives home that kids know about death.  If you aren’t there to help fill in the blanks as to the who, what, where, how, and why (in an age appropriate way), then the kids around you aren’t going to be supported in what they do know.  Many people I have known that work with kids, like we did in our weekly programs and camps, know that kids have incredible imaginations and when things are kept secret, all of us tend to imagine the worst.  This is as true of death as it is anything else.

Photo 2:  From World War II

Third, because what these kids had to say is still relevant to how we need to be with grieving kids and to our world.  Read the book and tell me that you don’t want to go march for peace so that no child has to suffer again.

Here is an excerpt:

The Closed Town

Everything leans, like tottering, hunched old women.

Every eye shines with fixed waiting and for the word “when?”

Here there are a few soldiers.

Only the shot-down birds tell of war.

You believe every bit of news you hear.

The buildings now are fuller,

Body smelling close to body,

And the garrets scream with light for long, long hours.

This evening I walked along the street of death.

On one wagon, they were taking the dead away.

Why so many marches have been drummed here?

Why so many soldiers?


A week after the end,

Everything will be empty here.

A hungry dove will peck for bread.

In the middle of the street will stand

an empty, dirty hearse.


All of the children in this camp were under 15 years old.

Now, we don’t live in Germany, in another place and time… but we do live in a world with constant wars… constant news casts… constant exposure to tv death.

Photo #3:  Palestinian Child Artwork

Please don’t think that the kids in your life know nothing about death.  Don’t think they don’t feel grief.  Please don’t think they aren’t affected by the silence, the violence, the chemical dependency, or the other things that we think we are hiding from them in our own homes.

Despite the horrors that the children in the camps saw, they were able to see the beauty as well.  It was all a part of their lives.  There are some incredible poems in the book I never saw… if for no other reason, read the book to see the resilience of those children.  15,000 children lived at Terezin and less than 100 survived.  The book is  a touching snapshot of the human condition as it relates to trauma, dying, war, childhood, and life.

Please support children in their grief.  Do your own healthy grieving if for no other reason than to be their to support the “forgotten mourners.”

Related Sites:




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“Death is a crisis which should be shared by all members of the family.  Children are too often forgotten by grieving adults.  Silence and secrecy deprive them of an important opportunity to share grief.”

~~Rabbi Earl A. Grollman

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The question

I always find it interesting when people ask about my parents. I’m still young enough that most of my friends haven’t experienced the death of a close relative, especially not a parent and there is still a moment of hesitation when I tell older people that my father has died.

Over the years I have become artful in my response to the “parent question” as many of my friends who have also lost a parent have come to call it. I tailor my answer to the situation I am in and the person I am talking to.

Usually, when someone asks about my parents I reply simply with “my mom lives in Illinois.” However, there are individuals who insist on inquiring, I can see the wheels start to turn in their heads before they respond with an “and your father?” By now I am prepared for it, If I feel up to it I say “he passed away.” Sometimes I’m not feeling up to it though, after 15 years there are still days when I don’t want to talk about my dad’s death, so then I respond with “my mom lives on her own.”

Yes, there are still people who ask more, the people who insist on asking where my father is. I will admit that sometimes my snide, sarcastic wit comes up with “he’s dead, thanks for asking.” or “why do you need to know.” But for the most part, after fifteen years, I answer honestly and shortly. When people insist on knowing more, like how he died or when he died, I politely tell them I don’t want to talk about it, if that is how I feel.

My point in sharing this with you is that children who are grieving will get “the question.” It is best to prepare them in advance. Ask them how much they are comfortable sharing, role playing scenarios where “the question” might come up would also be helpful. Simply a discussion about what the child feels when these questions come up could also be helpful.

When I was young I did not have any friends who had lost a parent, I felt all alone. I have since found some friends who have experienced the death of a parent and feel less alone. It is important to offer grief groups and camps as a way for your child to make friends who have experienced a death if the child wants to experience this.

The National Alliance for Grieving Children has a database of children’s grief programs here:


Or, like I did when I found the program Jen was working in, you can simply google “children’s grief program” and your area to find support.

-Liz Hendrickson

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