44 - Grief

Post date: May 26, 2016 2:35:38 PM

Counselor Notes 44

March 4, 2016


As many parents know, Our beloved music teacher Ms. Libby James had a car accident on the evening of February 23rd. She went off Powers Blvd and hit a tree head on. She suffered numerous injuries (13 broken ribs, broken left wrist, broken femur, broken ankle, and internal bleeding.) She was in Vanderbilt's Trauma Unit and initial signs were encouraging. That did not hold though and the middle of this week things quickly turned for the worse. To our great sadness, she went into a coma and passed on late yesterday afternoon.

Today in school students, classroom teachers have appraised students of our great loss. As a whole, students have handled the situation as well as may be expected under the circumstances. (Our 3rd Graders have known Ms. James for approaching 4 years now.) Students talk about issues such as this at different times though - and may prefer talking about it with their family. In light of that, I thought I might put out a few thoughts on helping grieving children.

Different children have different temperaments and varying relationships with Ms. James. Their reactions to the news will vary. Pent up grief from other losses may surface. (i.e. a child’s reaction may not be solely about the passing of Ms. James. Grief over the loss of a grandparent, pet, friend, etc. may be turned up.)

Make a time for your child to ask questions. (The t.v. should be off! Don’t have this discussion while you are driving a car. Give the child your FULL attention.)

· Let them ask any questions they have. Be sure you understand what they are asking.

· Answer honestly and directly

· It is okay to say “I don’t know”

· Don’t use terms that may be misleading / confusing like “she’s sleeping”

· Avoid saying things like “Don’t cry” or “It’ll be okay.”

· Attempt to do more listening than talking. Use active listening skills.

· Having children tell their favorite stories may be helpful.

· In the discussion include your religious beliefs! I can tell you from experience that children have questions that we don’t answer at school.

Children will grieve in different ways. Some will not want to talk about it and that’s okay.

Be ready to hug and pat on the shoulder, but also ready to give children a bit of space.

Be aware that younger children often think death is “reversible” You should be truthful here, but it is not the time to attempt to “break” that belief.

Also be aware that more mature children may have “magical thinking” – thoughts that if they did something (ex: wore a lucky shirt or thought more kindly of her), Ms. James would still be okay.

Maintain normal family routines to the extent possible.

Young children can work out that which they can’t communicate through things like play and art. Get them away from the television set and give them some “down time” with crayons / magic markers.

Creating a picture (with crayons or markers) for Ms. James’ family can give an outlet and direction to their feelings.

There are a plethora of children’s books on loss. Select one along the lines of your theology and read it with them.

Children may not have questions or want to talk with you about Ms. James’ passing today. If that is the case, respect it. Don’t force the topic upon them thinking the child “needs to talk about it.” Let it go. They may want to talk about it at some future point in time, so do check back with them.

How we deal with loss often stems from how we were taught as children – early life experiences. We are role models in dealing with loss. Let us be good ones for helping the children here.

Doug Muha Ed.S.

School Counselor

Waverly Elementary School


P.S. Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.