Letting Children Share in Grief
A FEW decades ago, children often didn’t attend funerals. The thinking was that they should be sheltered from the pain of losing a loved one. And as Americans started living longer, the need to even broach the subject of death was delayed because many grandparents survived deep into their golden years.
But recently, the opposite view — that children should be as involved in the grieving process as adults are — has been taking hold, reflecting an increasingly common belief that children are better off when their grief is acknowledged and they are allowed to mourn in the company of relatives and peers.
Grief centers for children are one example: there are now more than 300 of these nonprofit counseling centers, up from 204 in 2002. And Donna Schuurman, the executive director of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families in Portland, Ore., which helped establish these centers, estimated that there are at least 150 more peer-to-peer programs nationwide that serve a similar function. The rise of hospice care, which provides bereavement services for relatives, including children, has also played a role, as have grief camps for children.
“Twenty-five years ago, children were ‘invisible grievers,’ ” said Vicky Ott, executive director of Fernside, a nonprofit center in Cincinnati that served 1,300 children and adults last year. There was an attitude, she said, that they “are resilient, they will bounce back, we don’t need to talk to them about death. I think that’s changed a lot.”
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