Grieving Parents Want More Help, Says Report

September 15, 2011
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A fresh look at how to cope after the loss of a loved one reveals that most parents today believe there aren’t enough resources to help grieving parents or children, according to a new survey conducted by the New York Life Foundation and the National Alliance for Grieving Children.

Researchers say nearly 80 percent of the more than 1,500 individuals surveyed believe there are not enough resources for surviving parents and there aren’t enough resources to help kids who have lost their parents.

Death tolls are inevitably rising with the increased number of severe storms, floods, tornadoes, wars in the Middle East and earthquakes happening across the globe today.

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The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks ushered in renewed feelings of grief for those who lost friends and family members a decade ago.

Chris Park, president of the New York Life Foundation, says that there are all sorts of things, big and small, that we can do to make the path more manageable for those experiencing a significant loss.

“Perhaps the number one thing we can do is just to be there for them,” he said in an interview with CNN. “When we asked parents what grief resource would be most valuable, greater societal understanding was their number one response. And don’t be afraid to engage. Better than three in five of the parents in our survey strongly agreed that it’s better to say something and risk upsetting them than to ignore their loss altogether.”

Surviving parents usually need practical help. Children also need to express their grief and will often turn to art, make-believe play or stories to share their feelings.

“Many children who lost parents on 9/11 connected with each other through the “Art for Heart” project in Manhattan, organized by then-16-year-old Ali Millard, who lost her stepfather, Neil Levin,” the report says.

About 78 percent of the parents with children at home who lost a spouse or partner within the last 10 years report they think about their deceased spouse or partner every day, according to the new report.

There were 91 percent of those surveyed that say the death of their spouse or partner is the worst thing that has ever happened to them. About 77 percent say it’s incredibly hard to know the difference between “normal” kid behavior and grief-related behavior.

Dr. Patricia Johnson, a marriage and family therapist, says despite the gamut of emotions we feel, grieving for a loved one helps us cope and heal.

“Death is inevitable, yet the loss of a close friend or family member always showers us with a range of emotions,” Johnson writes in a column for Focus on the Family.

“One day we might desperately try to avoid the pain, anxiety and feelings of helplessness we feel when a loved one dies. Other days, we feel like life has returned to normal-at least until we realize that our life has changed irrevocably.”

She said the intense, heart-breaking anguish indicates that a deep connection has been severed. Without a doubt, grieving is painful. But it is also necessary for both children and adults. As hard as it is, let the grief process take its course.

There are common responses to loss, but there is no structure or timetable for the grieving process. Understanding grief and its common symptoms are helpful when grieving. Recognizing the difference between trauma and depression is also beneficial, according to Johnson’s studies.

“Besides understanding how stress can take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need to understand the practical guidelines to ease the process,” Johnson said.

“These include taking care of our bodies, spending time with others and reaching out to the church community.”

She says going forward doesn’t mean forgetting about the loved one who died.

“Enjoying life again doesn’t imply that the person is no longer missed. Piecing together your shattered emotions doesn’t mean you, somehow, betray a friend or family member. It simply means that your grief has run its course.”

The death of a loved one is a shattering experience with far-reaching implications. As difficult as the loss may be, it is possible to move forward with hope for the future. Family experts say try not to isolate for long periods of time after suffering a loss and tap into a support system of friends, family and church.

Did you know?

The five stages of grief, which represent feelings of those who have faced death and tragedy:

  1. Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  2. Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  3. Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will __.”
  4. Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  5. Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what has happened.”

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