Okay, I get the fact that it's the end of the year and we are supposed to be happy and talking about things like vacation, sunshine, and time off. However, life has dealt a little girl in my room a hand of cards that I feel the need to discuss with my fellow educators.
After being in remission from cancer, the mother of a little girl in my classroom found out that her cancer had returned. She had stage 4 brain cancer and there was no hope. After being sent home, the mom had passed away a few weeks later. I need to point out the fact that the grieving process for this child didn't begin when mom died, it began, I believe, when they found out that she wouldn't make it. So during the time that she was sick, I found myself comforting and gently discussing how this child was when I saw her. My heart broke for her every time I looked into her eyes. I knew what she was going home to...she would tell me. So this is why this post is being written. I want all of us to pitch in on this one and offer suggestions and support for one another for these types of situations.
I actually took a class some time ago on how to deal with grieving children. One of the first things that we learned was the fact that we need to explore our own personal encounters with grief. Mine was when I was nine years old. My grandmother who I loved dearly had passed away. I was wearing my favorite purple dress trimmed in white lace. I remember holding my mom's hand walking into the funeral home. I was skipping and my sister looked at me and said, "You shouldn't be happy right now." At that point, I stopped skipping and proceeded into the funeral home where I saw my grandmother in her casket. You can imagine how I felt. So, from that point on, death was not a celebration for me. It's funny how vivid those memories are to me. I can almost feel the warm July breeze on my face that blew that day.
With that being said, we need to consider that our children are coming from various walks of life, different religious beliefs, and ways of dealing with death. The little girl in my room is a Mesonite Jew, so they didn't have a viewing or funeral, so I couldn't share my condolences with the family in the way that I'm used to. So what did I do? I found myself hugging her and talking with her privately, after asking if she was comfortable doing so. She finally got to the point that she was initiating the conversations and would squeeze tighter and longer when I hugged her. The kids in my classroom were aware that she had been going through something and were then told that her mom had passed away. I didn't get into details. They were SO supportive and as a group, we decided to make her cards. Please know that after speaking to her father, I knew the basis of their religion, so the angels and crosses were placed appropriately by our students. I never instructed my students in any way to put these things, I simply told them that they could make her a card. So this is what they came up with. Take a break from reading and have a look...
My eyes instantly filled with tears as I watched them turn these cards into me. You could hear a pin drop in the room, other than the soothing, soft music that I had playing in the background. They REALLY put their hearts and souls into these cards and that little girl was so grateful. As a teacher, I put my own letter and these were then sent in the mail as a package addressed to her.
Back to my grieving class. Here is a list of Do's and Dont's that are suggested when helping bereaved people. Please know that this is just a suggested list, and I do not intend on offending anyone by posting it. You are completely allowed to agree or disagree with its content, but I found this helpful...
1. Do realize that grieving begins before death.2. Do let your genuine caring and concern show.
3. Do be available to do small tasks which seem to be helpful.
4. Do allow/encourage them to express feelings.
5. Do encourage them to be patients with themselves, not to impose too many "shoulds."
6. Do encourage them to talk about the person who has died.
7. Do remember that the grief experience is different for each of us. There is no "right" way to grieve.
8. Do remember that listening is helping.
1. Don't let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out.2. Don't say you know how they feel.
3. Don't tell them what they should do or feel.
4. Don't change the subject when they mention the deceased.
5. Don't avoid mentioning the deceased person yourself.
6. Don't try to find something positive about the person's death.
7. Don't impose your theories about how or why the person was sick or died.
8. Don't say they can always have another person in their lives to fill the void of their loss.
9. Don't suggest they should be grateful for what they have.
There are a great deal of activities that can be done with children who are grieving. Here is a list of some that we discussed in my class. Please feel free to message me and I can provide detailed instructions on how to do each of them! :)
*Create a Memory Box
*Scavenger Hunt (This encourages children to verbalize their grief.)
*Color Me Happy, Color Me Sad (This offers ways to express feelings and provide an opportunity for children to gain support for these feelings.)
*Feeling Mask (This allows them to express their feelings non-verbally.)
As teachers, we are expected to do so much for our students. I think that we can all say that our list of what we do as teachers is not one bound to curriculum and standards. We, too, are dealt a hand of cards when we take on the job as an educator and sometimes that requires us to deal with situations that are difficult for us. This particular experience shook the world of this little girl and that then trickled its way into the hearts of my other students, and of course myself. I was then helping my entire class deal with this loss and the losses that they too have endured. I found myself just listening and talking to them for quite some time. We shared our experiences with one another and you could see them lighten a bit at the end. It was as though they understood one another a little more. Was I right or was I wrong for doing this? I don't know. I think some of you will see it one way, and others will understand. Death is a hard topic to face, but it's a whole different dynamic in the classroom. There are SO many resources for us as educators if something like this should arrive. I hope with all that I have in me that it doesn't, but we all know that we have no control over certain things. Death is one.
I'm having issues with my links, so I had to paste the entire address for the following resources on this topic...sorry:
Here is where we all pitch in. I would love for us to join together to make suggestions or share what we have done. I would ultimately LOVE for this to be a post that we could come to for support in these horrible situations. I know it's a sad topic to discuss, but is something that so many of us face with our students. Thank you for having open minds and open hearts while reading this post. I promise that my next post will be a lighter topic! :)
Hugs to all...