Grief in children

Grief in children: a handbook for adults

Atle Dyregrov
2nd edition, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, 2008. ISBN 9781843106128

“Atle Dyregrov has written about children and death with a calm and clear voice”

Explaining death, grief and loss to children and young people can be incredibly challenging especially for grieving parents and carers. Even health professionals, emergency workers, police and teachers working with children find talking about death, grief and loss with kids hard.

This became clear to me when a nurse asked AWCH for information about how to talk to children in her own family about their parent’s serious illness. She wanted to talk with and prepare children at their level and in a supportive way. This was a critical time in their lives.

Grief in children: a handbook for adults, is an accessible book for parents, carers, family and professionals. It is for people who want to prepare, care for and support children living through grief, loss or trauma when someone is dying or has died. Circumstances covered vary from anticipated to sudden and traumatic death. 
Children and adolescents at different age levels have different understandings about death and grief. So how do we help children through their grief journey? 
Atle Dyregrov has written about children and death with a calm and clear voice. This is valuable in western culture where people often find it difficult to know how to talk about death. This book gives information about children and how they might think about death based on their age, sex and developmental stage. Useful examples have been drawn from family life experiences. In this second edition, more children’s voices are included with children’s questions and reactions. There is also more material on traumatic deaths. Atle Dyregrov has listened to what children have said about what is helpful and supportive.
To view contents link to the book, Grief in children: a handbook for adults. The chapter Guidelines for taking care of children’s needs, explores open and direct communication. There is information on death following an illness, making the loss real and giving time for understanding to grow. Children need information, adolescents may want to have websites to look at. 
The section Handling death in a playgroup and at school, is an inevitable situation for teachers and this book will help to do this well. Find help with mental preparation and planning before a death or other critical event occurs. Atle Dyregrov includes information on terminal illness of a child, although the general focus of the book is on sudden death.
This handbook overviews crisis or grief therapy for children and bereavement groups for children, caring for oneself and peer support.

Grief in children, draws on the author’s experience as a clinical psychologist, author and director of the Center for Crisis Psychology in Bergen, Norway.  His extensive experience and research underpins this book, yet the tone is informative and very readable. The case studies bring experience and understanding to the topic. Concerned adults will find a good overview and helpful information for what can be a hard task involving raw emotions.  
For children’s healthcare facilities valuing patient and family centered care, Grief in children will be a good addition to the bookshelf. It is also an accessible reference book for early childhood educators, teachers, school counselors, pastoral carers, libraries and families.
If you found this blog informative you might also like to read our blog G is for Grief and Grandma.

More information

Crisis support

Kidshelpline  Call 1800 55 1800

Hey teachers there’s also the Kids helpline @ School program
Lifeline  Call  13 11 14

Resources and links

Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement

Parent and carer information

Do you have a resource that has been helpful? We’d love to hear from you.

Jillian Rattray
AWCH librarian
Email: Jillian@awch.com.au
AWCH Library

G is for Grief and Grandma

“MG”, a dear friend of mine died recently. She had been fighting illness for over eight years and before thinking that is long enough, the health professionals who got to know her, regarded her as a miracle person. There were times of bounce back and return to health.

Even in the ill stages my friend was not known for sitting back, she took herself to and from treatment at different times for many years, was dynamic, stylish, generous and energetic. She had a spirit of compassion, acceptance of others and was also gifted with the ability to care. Her language of love included cooking fresh food from scratch, recipes came from the top of her head along with the dishes that just kept coming. MG always had a beautiful home and used her green thumbs to create a lush garden. Dance was a lifelong passion and included teaching seniors. Over recent years she cherished time with her grandchildren and cared for one grandson from nine months old for several days a week. With a sparkle in her eyes and a song in her voice, MG loved a lot and left many better off with her presence.

It was not easy for MG to be cared for in the last few months, having spent most of her life giving to others. Yet even at the end, in her fragile state, she reached out to her grandson and they began a little dance by the hospital bed.  Hearing about this caught my breath away.

“Yet even at the end, in her fragile state, she reached out to her grandson and they began a little dance by the hospital bed”

For much of his three years, this little boy had known Grandma was sick and also that she went to hospital. Recently, he watched nurses asking Grandma questions such as “what’s your name, birthdate and is this your medication?” Visiting Grandma in hospital meant he was an expert observer of Grandma’s care. It was a poignant moment for his mother, when she was about to take some medicine and her three-year old asked, “where’s your bracelet, what’s your name and birthdate?” With these words, I’m taken to a childish place.
This little boy’s parents had communicated about Grandma’s sickness and then her death. There are many children who are not given this opportunity, through circumstances and by parent or carer choice.

Children approaching a medical or surgical procedure are cared for by adults who are trained and experienced in pediatrics, they are “child-friendly”. However, children visiting sick adults in hospital are in an adult world with strange circumstances, sights and sounds.  I wonder what children who face this experience think? Parents and carers are there to guide, comfort and help make sense of what is happening.

My friend MG and her grandson, had a unique way of observing life and death. Amidst the grief felt by families, children observe many things. I’ve learned that a child’s approach to death may catch adults by surprise and for at least a moment, take our breath away.

Jillian Rattray

AWCH librarian
http://Library.awch.org.au
August 2015

Photograph: thank you to the children who created dancing grandmother, grandson and the special happy tree.