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A Child's Grief Journey


Share When a child loses someone close to them, how can adults help? Author Amy Jay Barry sought answers to that question when she and her young boys faced the death of her husband, their father. Now Barry shares what she learned from that experience, and from years as a bereavement counselor, in a sensitive and educational story, A Child's Grief Journey. Included: An Education World interview with the author.

"What happened was so big and so terrible...it was as though Jared was being sucked into a whistling wind tunnel...or falling backwards down a steep rocky mountain Jared's mother had died. People told him to be a brave soldier and said his mother was in a better place now. He wondered what was so bad about the place she had left."

Child's Grief Cover

So begins A Child's Grief Journey (Marco Products), a moving and instructive book by Amy Jay Barry about a child's loss of a parent. Through Jared's story, Barry recounts the stages of grief a child goes through after a parent dies.

  • First, "What he [Jared] used to feel a part of, he now felt apart from. It was as though his childhood had suddenly been snatched away."

  • Then, Jared felt his mother's death was somehow his fault, something he could have prevented. Sometimes he felt so angry, "he'd run outside and heave heavy rocks into the pond until he collapsed from exhaustion."

  • Finally, at Thanksgiving, Jared's aunts, uncles, and cousins came to visit. He goes to his bedroom to be alone, but his Aunt Mimi comes to see him. She tells him it's okay to be very, very angry about his mother's death, but it's not okay to blame himself. Jared cries, and his healing begins.

Months pass, and Jared begins to enjoy happy memories of his mother. The book ends with Jared meeting another boy whose life has been touched by death.

THE AUTHOR WRITES FROM EXPERIENCE

Amy Jay Barry's credentials for writing about this subject are impeccable. She has, so to speak, been there. She also writes vividly and with great sensitivity.

Eleven years ago Barry's husband died, leaving her with an infant son and a 4-year-old son. "I couldn't find a book that I felt presented the intensity of loss my 4-year-old dealt with," Barry says. "Books about pets dying seemed to diminish the experience. Some books were too cutesy."

More recently, the sister of Barry's second husband died of cancer, and her sons, who are now 15 and 12, experienced another traumatic event. "They went through the grief process a second time," Barry says.

Barry explains the philosophy behind her book. "I wanted a story with a hopeful but realistic ending," she says. "It takes time, it takes seasons to start feeling better, to begin healing."

Barry talks about mistakes even well-intentioned adults make when a child's parent dies. "The worst thing," she explains, "is not to let the child talk about feelings, to just cover it up. Our job is not to fix it and make it okay. It's our job to help the child go through the grief."

"Crying is good," she adds.

"Another real problem with children is that they will think they did something to cause the death," she says. "Then it's important to reassure them that nothing they did had anything to do with the death."

Using pat answers about death can also lead to trouble with children, Barry explains. "To say God took Daddy because Daddy was good can create a problem," she says, "because then the child will think, 'I'll be bad so God doesn't take me.'"

A POWERFUL TALE!

A Child's Grief Journey is a strong, sensitive book that will help children who have lost a parent or someone else close. After the story of Jared is told, Barry provides a special section, "Death Through a Child's Eyes: How Children Comprehend Death," which explains how to cope with problems children ages 5 to 10 may experience after a loss.

In another add-on, Barry shares "How Children Commonly React to Death." Among the common reactions Barry lists are

  • fluctuating feelings of anger, sadness, and despair;

  • anxiety about their own well-being and that of others; and

  • behavior that is not normal for the child, such as becoming extremely aggressive or withdrawn.

Barry's third addendum, "How You Can Help Children Process Their Grief and Begin to Heal," offers sensitive and useful thoughts about how to help children heal. For example, she writes: "If possible, allow children to partake in rituals surrounding the death, such as the funeral, memorial service, or a visit to the cemetery. Their participation in the mourning rituals makes the death seem less abstract and scary and helps them achieve a sense of closure with the deceased."

PICKING UP THE PIECES

After her husband died, Barry attended bereavement counseling to help her cope with the grief. "As a young widow with young children," she says, "I had a special set of problems that many widows don't have."

Now Barry has been remarried more than seven years, and her second husband has adopted her sons. Her younger son, who was an infant when his father died, of course doesn't remember his father, but she says that he went through the grieving process, too. "As the boys got older," Barry says, "they kept reprocessing their grief for their father at each developmental level."

The family's grief has grown less sharp over the years, yet in certain ways it still remains with them. "I keep the boys' father's memory alive in different ways," Barry says, "while still letting them know they can love their adoptive father without guilt."

OTHER BOOKS ABOUT GRIEF FROM MARCO PRODUCTS

Other books about grief available from Marco Products include:

  • Life and Loss, a guide to help grieving children (grade levels: 1-6, $19.95).

  • Children Who Grieve, a complete manual plus a student activity workbook for use with grieving children (grade levels: 3-12, $22.95 includes manual and workbook).

  • Breaking the Silence, a guide to help children cope with grief resulting from suicide, homicide, AIDS, violence, and abuse (grade levels 1-6, $28.95).

    Ask your local bookseller to order a copy of A Child's Grief Journey, available in paperback for $8.95, or contact the publisher directly at Marco Products, Inc., 1443 Old York Road, Warminster, PA 18974. Phone: (800)448-2197.

    Article by Sharon Cromwell
    Education World®
    Copyright © 1999 Education World

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    02/01/1999