Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association: Teaming up to help children cope with grief

— Children and teens who have had a loved one die often feel alone in their grief, like nobody understands what they're going through. Experiencing a death can be overwhelming for anyone, but it especially is difficult for those so young. Grieving children need support. And the first step in that support is for the rest of us to become more aware of what these kids are going through.

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Suzi Mariano

Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association

This monthly column about health issues publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

My grief rights

1. I have the right to have my own unique feelings about death.

2. I have the right to talk about my grief whenever I feel like talking.

3. I have the right to show my feelings of grief in my own way.

4. I have the right to need other people to help me with my grief, especially grown-ups who care about me.

5. I have the right to get upset about normal, everyday problems.

6. I have the right to have “griefbursts.”

7. I have the right to use my beliefs about my god to help me deal with my feelings of grief.

8. I have the right to try to figure out why the person I love died.

9. I have the right to think and talk about my memories of the person who died.

10. I have the right to move toward and feel my grief and, over time, to heal.

Source: Dr. Allen Wolfelt

That’s why the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association’s Hospice Program and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Craig and Steamboat Springs are teaming up for Children's Grief Awareness Day on Thursday. Observed on the third Thursday of every November, it intentionally is set in the holiday season, which often is a particularly difficult time for those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Events will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig and from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs. After speaking to the children briefly about positive ways to deal with loss, they will have the opportunity to decorate a banner and draw pictures with the theme of hope.

“Children's Grief Awareness Day is designed to help us all become more aware of the needs of grieving children and of the benefits that they obtain through the support of others,” VNA medical social worker Katy Thiel said.

Facts about loss

• 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18. (Kenneth Doka, editor of OMEGA, Journal of Death and Dying)

• In a poll of 1,000 high school juniors and seniors, 90 percent indicated they had experienced the death of a loved one. (The Highmark Caring Foundation)

• 1 in every 1,500 secondary school students dies each year. (The Highmark Caring Foundation)

• 1 in every 20 children age 15 or younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. These statistics don’t account for the number of children who lose a parental figure, such as a grandparent or other relative that provides care. (The Highmark Caring Foundation)

• 1.5 million children are living in a single-parent household because of the death of one parent. (The State of America’s Children, 1998 Yearbook, Children’s Defense Fund)

• Mortality rates for adults in their 40s and 50s in the past two decades have risen dramatically, making it more likely that younger children will experience the death of a parent or a classmate’s parent. (Wall Street Journal, early grief article, Feb. 18, 1999)

• It is estimated that 73,000 children die every year in the U.S. Of those children, 83 percent have surviving siblings. (Annie’s Hope: The Bereavement Center for Kids, 2005)

How to help a friend in need

If someone you know has experienced the death of a loved one, you want to help, but you might not be sure how. You can help by just being there.

• Be there to listen if they want to talk about a person who died.

• Be there to sit with them even when they don’t feel like talking.

• Be there to offer a hug when they need it.

• Be there to visit, call, send an email, a text message or a card.

• Be there and just be yourself.

For more information or if you know someone who needs support, contact Thiel at 970-871-7628 or kthiel@nwcovna.org.

Suzi Mariano is the director of communications for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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