While the loss of a loved one is difficult for everyone, a child's limited ability to understand death can make grieving more difficult than it is for an adult. According to a recent national poll, 75 percent of children and teenagers under the age of 18 who have recently experienced a loss feel sad, anger, alone, overwhelmed and worried without really understanding why (ChildrenGrieve.org).To better assist children through this difficult process, hospices offer grief and bereavement services specifically tailored for them. These services can help children realize grief is normal. Resources include individual or family counseling and referral information if another form of attention is needed. Even if the child's loved one was not in hospice care, he or she can take advantage of these services.Some hospices host grief camps. Hospice Savannah (Georgia) hosts Camp Aloha every two years for children ages six to 17. The name, Camp Aloha, comes from the dual meaning of the Hawaiian word, acknowledging life is about hello and goodbye. The concept of death is difficult for many children to fully understand, so the goal of the camp is to help the children come together and learn that grieving is normal and healthy… not something that should make them feel isolated.
Of the children, who attend grief groups or counseling, 76 percent said their favorite part was meeting people who were in similar situations (ChildrenGrieve.org).There are three ways a child's grief is unique from adults, and how hospice can help:
1. Understanding The Concept Of “Forever”
To young children, death can seem temporary or reversible. Grief camps can help children work through this confusion. Activities may include encouraging children to write letters or create art in remembrance of their lost loved ones. This can help foster an understanding that while that person may no longer have a physical presence, there are other ways to communicate, thus altering the meaning of “forever.”
2. Acting Out In Physical Or Unrelated Ways
Young children may have short, intense “grief bursts” that are followed by normal play and activities, while older children can have severe mood shifts or changes in quality of school work. Hospice can provide additional resources and counseling to assist parents in how to best deal with these moments, and recognize when additional support is needed.
3. Requiring An Explanation Of Death In Order To Understand It
Hospice support groups and counselors can provide creative, gentle ways to explain the process of dying to children and provide parents with tools to explain death to their children.