Healthy Grieving How Rituals Can Empower Our Youth: How Rituals Can Empower Our Youth
Aug 01, 2016 11:12AM
● By Gisele Rinaldi Siebold
Empowering youth to experience the grief process honestly, while surrounded by love and support, contributes to their health and well-being in the present and the future. Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks recently spent time in discussion with Patti Anewalt, licensed professional counselor and director of Pathways Center for Grief & Loss, and Charles F. “Chip” Snyder, Jr., licensed funeral director and owner of Charles F. Snyder Funeral Homes & Crematory.
A key point shared by Anewalt emphasizes the significance of teaching children and teens that grief is an emotional experience. “If you are old enough to love, you are old enough to grieve.” Even very young children will be affected by the loss of a loved one, and being a part of the mourning process is beneficial. Sheltering them from it, especially over time, can be more harmful than helpful.
Snyder agrees. “Children and adolescents need to learn to grieve, and since there is no class titled ‘Grief 101’, the only way to learn is to observe the adults around them going through the grieving process,” he says.
However, both Anewalt and Snyder concur that children grieve differently than adults. They may cry intensely in a corner of the room and then go off to play moments later––their grief comes and goes in waves.
Furthermore, young people intuitively sense what is happening during the grieving process with adults and may keep their own grief reserved at first, and share later when they feel adults are in a better place.
“Let children lead, and when questions arise, look for guilt, and questions behind questions,” notes Anewalt. “Kids can make things worse in their minds. It is comforting to provide honest, age-appropriate answers within continued conversations. Using metaphors can sometimes be helpful. For example, when someone dies, it is like when a hand leaves a glove, and only the glove is left.”
Rituals and family traditions are essential pieces of the grief journey not only because they honor loved ones, but also because they help family members of all ages come together to grieve and remember, openly mourn and comfort one another. Preparing children in advance for what they will experience allays fears, and children bring a joyous piece to the celebration of life––they exemplify that life will go on.
“In my experience as a funeral director for over 40 years, the families that follow traditions are the families that truly grieve because they are teaching future generations by example,” points out Snyder. “Children learn from adults how to behave, shake hands, say kind words. They observe that grown-ups cry, but they also laugh because someone shared a funny story or memory about the deceased. Grieving together is healthy.”
Both Anewalt and Snyder encourage parents to allow their children to be present at, and participate in, funeral rituals, if they so choose. Children can share something about their loved one or place a meaningful memento in the casket.
“Viewing the deceased can be helpful for a child in the same way that it is for an adult. It often helps––in a way nothing else can––to fully grasp the permanence of death,” offers Anewalt. “And, if the body was cremated, say so.”
“We assist families with honoring traditions or creating new rituals,” explains Snyder, “and encourage them to ask for help with any part of the grief process.”
Grief, in all its forms, is healthy to experience and to observe. It is important for children to understand at a young age that acknowledging all the feelings that accompany the grief experience is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is being true to oneself.
Gisele Rinaldi Siebold is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks edition. Connect with her at [email protected]