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How to Help Kids Manage Grief Caused by Cancer in a Virtual World

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pexels-august-de-richelieu-4261789As our world continues to cope with the current pandemic, families are looking for virtual grief support for kids and teens. A grandparent’s death is often their first encounter with loss. For this reason, the loss of a loved one, whether it be a grandparent, parent, sibling or dear friend can be a distressing experience for any child or teen.

While kids don’t always wish to talk about their feelings, they often are willing to show it through their actions. In the Bridges Family Grief Program at The Gathering Place (TGP), kids are invited to attend age-specific support groups where they utilize a wide array of expressive arts and games to identify their feelings and discover coping skills.

Adults who accompany their kids are welcome to join together for their own group. This is a time for the adults to focus on the kids, learning effective tools to better support and assist their child or teen through the grieving process.

In the interview below, Casey Durkin, the director of children, teen and family programs at The Gathering Place, explains how to help kids manage their grief in a virtual world.

Grief is a normal and healthy process.

Families attend TGP’s Bridges Family Grief Program together as a family unit, which facilitates the understanding that grief is a normal and healthy process. In doing so, kids don’t feel they’re being singled out—that they’re the one who needs help.

Most young people who struggle with the salient feelings of grief often think they’re the only ones going through this journey. They may not know of any peer(s) who’ve also been on the cancer journey, let alone the grief journey.

In Bridges, they meet peers who are their same age, which helps to dissipate feelings of isolation. And since the TGP support groups serve those impacted by cancer, they don’t have to explain what their loved one may have gone through. Instead, their TGP peers “get it.”

Cancer impacts the entire family, not just the patient.

Caring for a family member with cancer is often time consuming. It requires time and effort, which in turn, changes family routines and schedules.

Sometimes following a death to cancer, a child or teen may feel a sense of relief that the adults in their life are now able to relax, and not appear so stressed.

It’s helpful to talk about these different feelings in a normalizing fashion so that family members don’t feel a sense of guilt or anger. Watching your loved one’s dramatic health change caused by cancer is overwhelming for the whole family to experience.

What can families do to help facilitate a child or teens grief at home?

Some kids try to hide their feelings. Despite what they may show outwardly, inwardly kids and teens have the capacity to have exceptionally strong and deep feelings of loss. For this reason, it’s important for adults to allow kids of all ages to return to their typical activities.

Kids and teens alike feel safe with routines, and school provides routine and structure. Teens turn to their peers and their normal routines for support. Kids may wish to return to school just days after a parent’s funeral, while adults may need to take off a week or more from their jobs. It’s important that we understand this to be normal and likely healthy.

At TGP, we encourage parents to model their grief, so kids can experience the family’s loss and learn from these caring adults. 

It’s important to know when to refer a teen to a grief professional. Signs of depression or isolation, as well as changes in behavior are all solid concerns that are best addressed with professional help.

How can you use virtual programs to support grieving families?

In the midst of the pandemic, parents wonder how a TGP Virtual Bridges Family Grief Group works. Group leaders continue to plan activities that allow and engage kids and teens to discuss their thoughts and feelings, sometimes helping them anticipant important anniversaries, birthdays and other developmental milestones.

TGP staff deliver and mail supply packages for group members, including special art boxes that provide the necessary supplies to complete multiple projects.

Families arrive together to the TGP Zoom Room, and then following introductions, the peer groups break off into their specific rooms to talk more in-depth.

Learn More About the Gathering Place

The Gathering Place is a cancer support center in Northeast Ohio providing free programs and services for individuals and families coping with a cancer diagnosis. Programs are designed to address the emotional, physical and social impact of a diagnosis, and the practical concerns that may arise. During the pandemic, all programs are being done virtually. To learn more about TGP, visit the website or call 216-595-9546 to connect with a staff member. 

unnamed-Aug-26-2020-01-20-44-17-PMThis post was submitted by Casey Durkin, the Director of Children, Teen and Family programs at The Gathering Place. She has over 20 years of clinical social work experience. Before joining the team at The Gathering Place, she was the director of a school-based mental health program. Additionally, Casey maintains a private clinical practice serving ages 3 – 93. In all of these diverse settings, Casey utilizes an individualized, practical and strengths-based approach

Cathy Nichols
Cathy Nichols
Considers it an honor as a Certified Celebrant to listen to life stories, and then design and conduct meaningful tributes. Cathy also trains celebrants nationally, equipping them to share those legacies in ways that comfort and enlighten. Honorably serving Busch families since 2004.

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