Common Questions & Topics About Grief
We all grieve in different ways, but grief can bring a flood of different emotions and changes. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers about grief.
- How do I talk to children about death?
It’s important to be honest, but on the child’s level. Children are literal and concrete thinkers. Use words like “dead”, “die”and “death”. Use clear and direct language. Often times, their questions are surface, factual questions. Be aware that the unknown for children is more frightening than the truth.
- Should a child go to the funeral or cemetery?
It is best to give a child the choice of whether or not to go to the funeral or the cemetery. These ceremonies are important in helping a child say goodbye, just like for adults. Also, they help a child to believe their loved one is truly dead and not just “away”, to return later.
- How do children grieve?
We all grieve differently. Children, in particular, often show their grief behaviorally and physically. It is common for children to have stomachaches, headaches, and other physical symptoms. Children may also be irritable, aggressive, withdrawn, or distracted. Sometimes it is difficult for children, especially young children, to place a label on their feelings or to explain how they feel. It is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms of grief. As an adult, please ask a caring professional if you are concerned about the way your child may be expressing his or her grief.
- How old do you have to be to grieve?
Grief touches everyone, from the young to old.
- Is my child grieving?
Children do grieve. However, children express their grief differently from adults. Children show their grief more than talking about their grief. Many emotions that come with grief may be new feelings for children. These new feelings can sometimes feel scary and make a child feel self-conscious. Children may express their grief through physical, emotional, spiritual, social, cognitive and behavioral reactions. Sometimes grieving children will try to cover up their feelings and pretend to act as if everything is normal – that’s because they want their old, normal life back.
- Will they be sad forever?
No. The pain of grief does lessen. However, children will re-grieve for their loved one as the child continues to grow and accomplish a new task in life.
Reactions to Grief in Children
- What are some normal ways children react to grief?
Children, like adults, feel out of sorts when they are grieving. Everything is changed when death happens. Children may not understand why they feel so differently. They may not know how to act, how to feel, or how to go on now that their loved one is gone. They may not know where they fit in their changed family. Adults can help children understand how grief affects our minds, bodies, and emotions. Adults can also help by maintaining consistency and schedules that they are used to as much as possible. Connecting children with support groups and individual counseling will help you help your children.
- How is school affected by a child's grief?
It is important for teachers and guidance counselors to be aware of a child’s loss. It is important for adults to know symptoms of grief so a child is viewed appropriately and not seen as lazy or goofing off. It is important for children to know what their options are if they are having a sad or angry day – can they call home? Can they talk to a teacher?
- Is it normal for my child to have low self-esteem?
At times, grieving children lose a part of themselves when a loved one dies. Some children feel that they are the only child that has had a loved one die. Children may even feel as if it was their fault or that they no longer belong because they feel different.
- Is it normal for my child to be clingy?
When death occurs in the family, children fear that death may happen again to another family member. Children may not want to let the adult out of their sight for fear that harm will come to him/her. Remind children that you are doing your best to stay safe and healthy.
- Is it normal for my child to have difficulty sleeping, nightmares, strange dreams or wet the bed?
These are signs that the child has concerns that need to be addressed. They need comfort, reassurance of their safety, and freedom to express their feelings of grief.
- Is it okay for my child to see me cry?
Yes. A child who sees an adult cry understands that it is okay to be sad and cry. A child who sees an adult hiding their feelings learns to hide his or hers, too.
- Is it normal for my child to worry about the future?
Children worry about small things as well as large things. Children worry about bills and finances but also worry about who’s going to make their lunch the next day. Children fear how their lives will be changed by death. It’s good to address these concerns with your child and offer reassurance.
- Is it normal for my child to worry about their family?
Children can feel responsible for the well-being of their family after the death of a loved one. They may attempt to fill the role of the deceased. Children know that the adults in the family are also grieving and worry about them. Children may hide their own grief to protect other family members. It is okay to grieve openly as a family and to honestly address the future of the family with the children. It is important to offer reassurance and security.
- Is it normal for my child to bring up spirituality?
Children are naturally curious. Children may ask questions about life after death or about God. It’s important to ask them what they think versus telling them your opinion.
- How does a teen grieve?
Teens are individuals and their grief is individual as well. Teens will feel a flood of emotions and may address these feelings privately through journaling, or publicly with angry outbursts. Behaviorally, teens may eat more or less, sleep more or less, rebel more or less, study more or less, and talk more or less.
Emotionally, teens may have so many different feelings that it is overwhelming and confusing. They will probably reach out to friends rather than family. They may try to pretend that nothing is wrong at all. As the adult, be patient and offer as much support as they will allow. Reach out to a caring professional if you have questions or concerns about your grieving teen.
- What if they act like they don’t care?
All teenagers are beginning to become independent people separate from their families. This is normal. Often, grieving teenagers will wear “masks” to show people that they are fine so that they can avoid the intense pain of their loss. Be patient and offer them many opportunities to express themselves. Remember, some teens may find it easier to talk to a friend or another adult.
- Should I force a teen to go to the funeral and cemetery?
Give your teen the right to his or her own decision. Be honest about the service proceedings and allow your teen to be as involved or uninvolved as he or she desires. Allow your teen the opportunity to honor his/her loved one publicly at the service or privately, whatever he or she chooses.
- How honest should I be with a teen?
Teenagers are smarter and more observant than we realize. Often they know, or at least suspect something that you are trying to hide. Teens, especially, can become very angry and resentful if they learn the truth from another source. Teens are also very perceptive and know that you are struggling with your grief as well. To grieve as a family, it’s crucial to be honest about your grief and the circumstances surrounding the death.
Reactions to Grief in Teens
Anger is a normal emotion. It’s not bad. It is just important to handle anger without hurting yourself, others or property. Anger represents protest of a loved one’s death and the grief for what has been lost.
Teens often feel misplaced guilt about the death of a loved one. Because a teenager is naturally growing in independence from his or her family, there is often friction in those relationships. After a loved one dies, the teen often remembers and feels guilty about the tension.
Some teens isolate themselves from contact with family or even friends. They feel the stigma of being different from their peers and therefore, they retreat. They want to avoid the pain in the family, and they don’t know what to do with it.
- Self Esteem/Peer Pressure
The death of a significant family member can crush a teenager’s self-esteem by how it affects his or her peer group. For teens, a sense of belonging to a peer group is vitally important. When a loved one dies, teens feel different and distant from their peers, and no longer understood or accepted.
Sometimes teens become clingy, focusing totally on family, to the exclusion of their friends or their own interests. They have seen their world crumble with the death of a loved one, and they worry about what might happen to other family members.
Teenagers search to solidify their faith and beliefs as they are exposed to alternative beliefs of friends and other trusted adults. A death shakes this search and can invoke doubts and questions. Death can make your teen feel as if everything they learned and once believed is false. “If it were true, why would such an awful thing happen?” As an adult, it is important to allow the search to continue and to be tolerant of questions and doubts.
- Worrying About the Future
A teenager is old enough to see the future and to know what has been lost. A daughter who loses her dad might worry about who will walk her down the aisle at her wedding. A teenager will often worry about stepping into the responsibilities of the parent who has died, worrying about how the family will survive the future.
- Risky Behaviors
Some teens feel out of control as they try to cope with a loss. Some teens push their feelings away and try to avoid them by doing other things. When a teen feels out of control or helpless, sometimes they might begin taking risks. Teenagers normally tend to feel invincible. If you add hopelessness to the invincibility, you’ll see risky behavior. Be aware of changes in behavior and mood. Have open discussions if you start to see any sign of these risky behaviors and seek help from trained professionals.
- Respecting a Teen's Feelings
Teenagers often feel as if no one else in the world has ever felt the way they feel. Teens can feel a variety of emotions including sadness, anger, guilt, regret, confusion, fear, frustration — the whole gamut. It’s important for adults to remember to validate a teen’s feelings as important and as their own. Minimizing these feelings can build a barrier between you and your teen.
- Am I crazy?
No, you are grieving. Grief can often make people feel crazy because grief affects us in so many ways. Grief impacts us physically, mentally, emotionally, behaviorally and spirituality. Sometimes a person’s mind can become so overwhelmed that people feel crazy. It’s important to slow down and develop ways of helping yourself instead of overwhelming yourself.
- What are the physical symptoms of grief?
Grief can sometimes manifest itself in headaches, upset stomach, increased heartbeat and difficulty breathing. If you begin to feel any of these symptoms or other physical complaints, see your primary care physician for a good checkup. Often times people neglect their own health when grieving.
- Is it normal for grief to hurt this much, emotionally?
Hurt is a sign of the extent of love in your relationship with the deceased. Turn toward the hurt and allow its expression. Cry, scream, write, find someone to listen and be present for you. Unexpressed hurt will hurt you from the inside, trying to get out.
- How can I remember my loved one?
Over time, you’ll remember significant pieces of your relationship with your loved one. Make an effort to collect memories through pictures, mementos, stories shared, letters, etc. Speak your loved one’s name, encouraging others to mark special days with you. Include memories of your loved one during holidays by lighting candles or hanging new ornaments.
- How do I fit in?
Sometimes people feel such a sense of loss that they do not feel like they fit in their previous life anymore. The death of a loved one comes with a change in one’s identity and one’s role, which sometimes requires a change in one’s circle of friends. A change in friends often feels like another loss.
- What do I say to people who don’t have a clue?
It’s unfortunate that grieving people must sometimes teach others how to be helpful to them. When someone who has “no clue” about grief makes an insensitive or hurtful remark, feel free to be honest with them. Explain that your pain is huge, every step is a struggle and they can help by giving you time to grieve.
- Shouldn’t I be better by now?
Grief takes time. It’s a long and all-encompassing journey. With time, the pain becomes less intense and the memories bring comfort. Just remember to be patient with yourself and remind yourself that grief is hard work.
Reactions to Grief in Adults
Loneliness is very loud for many people. Death brings about many changes – the primary being the loss of a person’s physical presence. That presence can leave many voids after death. It is important to reach out to family and friends and allow them to be with you.
Anger is a very normal emotion. Some people are afraid to admit that they’re angry because they have been raised to believe that it’s a bad feeling. It is okay to be angry at the cause of death, angry at the world around you, etc. The important thing to remember about anger is that we must let it out. Let it out in any way as long as you do not hurt yourself, others or property.
Many people experience a feeling of relief after the death of a loved one. For some caregivers, it’s relief from overwhelming fatigue. For some, it’s emotional relief from watching the physical suffering of a loved one. Sometimes it’s just the fleeting sense of relief at the closure of a less-than-perfect relationship.
Isolating oneself while grieving is a natural tendency, but it’s not usually helpful. Humans need connection with others and healing comes by sharing grief.
Grief is exhausting and steals one’s motivation for anything. In this sense, grief feels like depression, though it’s very different. Give yourself time to grieve without guilt.
One’s spirituality is almost always changed in some way during grief. Some find their faith strengthened and solidified, others lose a faith they previously had professed. Some simply experience a time of questioning and doubting their faith, only to return to it later.
- Burst of Grief
A surge of intense feelings may be triggered by a smell, a song, a special place, or nothing at all. Grief is unpredictable and often interrupts what you thought was going to be an easier day. This does not mean you’re moving backward or doing something wrong. It simply means you’re grieving.
- Changes in Life or Family Roles
When a loved one dies, it can feel as if our entire world’s been turned upside down. Your life may change financially or you may be facing new household jobs that you’ve never done. You may be a single parent or this may be the first time you have lived alone since you were very young. These changes can sometimes be just as overwhelming as the death itself.
- Addressing Grief During Other Changes
In life, change is inevitable. The death of a loved one ignites a series of changes. It’s important to acknowledge the changes and do the best you can, but it’s just as important to address your grief for your loved one and the overwhelming changes. Reach out for support in the wake of change and the intensity of grief.
- Permission to Grieve
Responsibilities, finances, changes, and other obligations can often distract us and override our grief. But your grief is real. You feel it affect you physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Acknowledge your grief. Give yourself permission to grieve by allowing expression of your feelings, recognition of your pain, and acknowledgment of your loss.
- Making Decisions
Grief impacts all the parts of our body and mind. When you’re in the midst of grief it can sometimes be difficult to make decisions. Obviously, it can be difficult to make big decisions. “Should I move? Should I go back to work?” Even the smallest decisions can sometimes be hard. “What should we have for dinner? Should I paint this room?” Remember, you have the right to take all the time you need. Slow down, don’t rush and seek trusted people to help you think things through.
- Support is Important
Grief is a burden that’s too heavy to bear alone. Identifying people you trust and rely on is the first step. Then reach out. Ask for help. There is not a weakness in receiving help.
Time passes. The intensity of your grief lessens. Life moves forward with new milestones and different paths. As new opportunities present themselves, it’s difficult not to pick up the phone and call our loved one. In that second, when we reach for the phone, we are then reminded that they are gone. We feel that surge of emotion and so desperately miss our loved one. We grieve again. Remember, it’s normal to re-grieve for our loved ones throughout our lives.
- Special Days
The intensity of grief increases before and on special days and holidays. You may feel anxious just thinking about the approaching special day. You may feel obligated to maintain old traditions or you may want to abandon those traditions for new ones. You may wish the special day would never come or that you could just sleep through it. When it comes down to it, it is just a day that too will pass. As these special days approach, make plans for yourself and your family. Arrange to be with a special friend or family member. Keep traditions that are special or make new traditions. Do what you feel you can do.
Taking time for yourself has probably always been a challenge. Now, when you’re grieving, it’s even more important to take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to have a day, an hour, a minute just for you. You may have a million other responsibilities, but remember that you cannot help and care for your family unless you are cared for first.
- How do I know if I need grief counseling?
In order to experience healing from your loss, it’s important to have supportive people in your life, and opportunities to express your grief and actively remember your loved one who died. Many grieving people are able to meet these needs without formal grief counseling. However, if you’re experiencing any of the following, you might benefit from our services:
- The death was unexpected or traumatic
- You’re caring for grieving children while coping with your own grief
- You’re struggling with expressing your grief emotions
- You don’t have a good support system
- You’re not sure if you’re appropriately taking care of your grief needs
- You’ve experienced multiple deaths in a short period of time
- People around you are encouraging you to find someone to talk to
- Your grief is severely impacting your ability to function
- *Note: In the first few weeks after a death, when grief is acute, it’s natural for grief reactions to be extremely disruptive. However, if the frequency and intensity of these grief reactions remain at this heightened level for an extended period of time, then grief counseling might be helpful.
- How do I know if my children need grief counseling?
Grieving children tend to be very resilient when they have supportive adults in their lives. Children need to be able to talk directly about the death and receive truthful, direct, age-appropriate answers to their questions. They also need to openly express their emotions and to actively remember their loved one who died. Your child may benefit from our services if the following apply:
- Within the past two years, he or she has experienced the loss of an immediate family member or a family member who lived in the home
- There’s been a significant change in your child’s behavior since the death
- There have been problems at school that weren’t present before the death
- He or she has had intense and/or frequent emotional expressions related to the death
- He or she is showing no emotional expressions related to the death
- The child has reached a new developmental stage and is processing his or her grief in new ways.
- How long does grief counseling last?
Death is permanent, and so is grief. The goal of grief counseling is not to reach a point in which grief isn’t present any longer, but to work through the intense pain of grief in order to integrate the loss into your life while continuing to live.
There’s no set timeline for grief, and everyone’s grief process looks different. At the Center for Good Grief, the length of counseling services is determined on an individualized basis. This is a decision that the counselor and client make together. Sometimes, a grieving person may need just one or two sessions, and others may benefit from a more extended period of counseling services.
It’s also common for a person to reach a point in which regular counseling sessions are no longer needed, but he or she may return to counseling periodically in order to address any grief-related issues that arise. This is especially true for children, who may process their grief in new ways as they progress developmentally.
- What's grief counseling like for adults?
The counseling session is a chance to get support and to engage in emotional expression and remembrance, as well as to identify ways of meeting these needs outside of the counseling session.
Our grief counselors know that each person’s grief is unique, and we encourage our clients to teach our counselors about their individual grief experiences. During the counseling sessions, clients will be encouraged to talk about their loved one who died, tell the story of their loss, and to discuss their grief reactions. Our counselors will help our clients learn strategies for coping with their painful grief emotions in ways that feel manageable for them.
- What's grief counseling like for children?
Children grieve and communicate their grief very differently than adults. Often, children do not have the language skills to adequately express their grief, and instead, they may show it visually or through play. Therefore, children’s counseling sessions are structured to meet their developmental needs. During the first counseling session, counselors spend time getting to know the child and helping him or her to feel comfortable. Counselors will explain the definition of grief and the purpose of the Grief Center.
Children’s counseling sessions typically incorporate a combination of grief education, structured expressive and memorialization activities, and non-directive play therapy. Counselors usually meet with a child’s parent or guardian at the end of each counseling session (and the beginning, if needed) in order to discuss the child’s overall progress. In order to create trust, children are told the counselor will not share everything that’s discussed in session, but that parents and guardians will always be made aware if the counselor is concerned about anyone’s safety.
- What's grief counseling like for teens?
Like with children, counselors will spend part of the first session with teens getting to know them and discussing the purpose of the Grief Center. Counseling sessions with teenagers typically incorporate the use of activities to encourage emotional expression and to facilitate open discussion about their grief experiences.
Counselors usually meet with a teen’s parent/guardian at the end of each counseling session (and the beginning, if needed) to discuss the teen’s overall progress. To create trust, teens are informed that the counselor won’t share everything that is discussed in session, but that parents and guardians will always be made aware if the counselor is concerned about anyone’s safety.