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GriefPerspectives

Local News

Resource Review

Your Professional Library

Research that Matters

Greetings to Our Partners in Care!

Welcome to this month's edition of GriefPerspectives!

At Windsor Chapel we greatly value our relationships within the community and we look forward to continuing to be a strong resource for you as care providers.
Thank You for doing what you do day in and day out.  Your passion and commitment to excellence in care is of great value to so many individuals and families in Windsor and Essex County.  Our community is a better place because of you.  I trust that this month’s edition of Dr. Hoy’s GriefPerspectives will be a benefit to you as you continue to provide excellence in care and service to others.

Please be sure to check out the Local News section of this newsletter to hear of the exciting events upcoming at Windsor Chapel.

Your partner & resource in the community,
Scott Lockwood                                                                                        

Director of Community Development & Education                                 
Windsor Chapel Funeral Homes Ltd.

slockwood@windsorchapel.com
Cell  519-566-8175

GriefPerspectives

Children and Funerals:
Helping Parents Decide

by William G. Hoy

 

Any caregiving professional or volunteer who looks after families facing a loved one’s death is likely to hear the question multiple times: “Should we take the kids to the funeral?” When presenting a workshop recently, I heard a colleague say, “Funerals are no place for children.”


 

Some parents seriously struggle with the decision about whether and how to include children in the service. Though we were part of a young community and a young congregation without many deaths, Debbie and I decided to take our children to their first funeral when they were about six and four years old. Some friends applauded our decision while others seemed appalled. Our thinking at the time was that we would not have even considered excluding them from a grandparent’s funeral and we wanted their first experience to be with the death of someone they knew but not as intimately as a close family member. They were both curious and intrigued, asking lots of questions without the deep emotional connection that would have been present if a family member or close friend had died. Looking back on that experience, I am glad we did it the way we did.
 
When I was a young clinician, I suggested that children should go to funerals when they were old enough to sit still, acknowledging that such a rule surely let some adults off the hook for attendance. As I have matured in my own thinking and practice, I have determined that age has less to do with the decision than the child’s relationship and readiness. While some suggest that we should neither force nor forbid attendance, I tend to lean more heavily in the direction of strong encouragement to attend a family funeral and I would be unlikely to easily agree to non attendance at a family funeral if I had an older child or teen. Funerals are family and community affairs with many benefits to those who attend. Not only do they help make real the fact of the death as a part of life, but funerals also provide an opportunity to reflect on deeply held values.
 
We live in a society where the normative behavior is primarily self-focused; children and adolescents tend to be self-focused as a feature of their developmental stage. Therefore, I think participation in family events of significance are not nearly as “optional” as some of my colleagues seem to think. Just because we expect a child’s or teen’s attendance at the services for a family member or close friend does not mean that it is not a potentially anxiety-producing experience. However, the first day in a new school is also an anxiety-producing experience and we expect kids to endure that.
 
In preparing young people to attend, I think it is best to describe with photos what will happen. Younger children benefit from hearing about what to expect using the five senses: here is what you will see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Parents and other caregivers can help kids know about the music and words that they will hear, the flowers they will see and smell, and the food they will eat at the repast or luncheon. These descriptions can be meaningful ways to engage in conversation about the significance of the person’s life and his or her impact on the family and community.
 
I have played a game with young children in which we quietly pick out the flowers they think would be Grandma’s (or whomever the deceased is) favorite. We talk about colors and fragrances, looking for the ones she grew in her garden. This conversation provokes opportunities to talk about the people who sent the flowers and what their relationship was to the family and the person who died. In setting up flowers, most funeral directors arrange flowers sent from close family members nearest the casket so looking at the flower cards on these arrangements with the kids will most likely yield the names of people even young children know well.
 
Older children and teens can spend some time online exploring an understanding of funerals. With a parent’s or professional caregiver’s help, they can search the internet for images and these can provoke a conversation about what is happening in the picture. When I ran a Google® search on the term funeral and limited the results to images, I found dozens of photos that picture such things as caskets, cemeteries, flowers, candles, mourners, and hearses. If the parent or caregiver is familiar with the family’s traditions, more specific search terms like Catholic Native American funeral yield photos that are even less generic. And of course image searches on the web are linked to the websites where the photo appears so there is often supporting content to explain the photo.
 
One way to enhance the meaning for children and teens attending a funeral is to make sure they have meaningful opportunities to participate. Helping children create pictures, poems, and letters to place in the casket or cremation container can be a meaningful activity for children and parents alike. Children and teens can be involved in various parts of the liturgy including the presentation of the Eucharistic elements in a Catholic funeral mass to reading a favorite poem or scripture during the service. I was present at the funeral of a infant who died soon after birth and the minister led the baby’s eight siblings in singing a simple children’s song at the funeral. When my father died, each of the grandchildren placed a rose on the casket as a simple goodbye at the cemetery.
 
Clinical wisdom is important in helping families decide about children’s attendance and participation at funerals but what does the research evidence say? Studies over the last two decades have provided a consistently positive appraisal of the importance of kids at funerals. In abstracting their qualitative interview study of seven- to twelve-year olds, Softing, Dyregrov, and Dyregrov (2016), wrote, “Our study indicates that it was very important for the children to be included in the rituals and accordingly be recognized as grievers alongside adults. Being included contributes to legitimating their status as a ‘full’ member of the family system, with an equal status to adult grievers in an important and vulnerable phase of the family’s life. The children were pleased that they through ritual performances were given the opportunity to ‘see for themselves,’ both in order to better comprehend and accept the reality of the loss and to take farewell with their loved ones” (p. 148).
 
Fristad and colleagues (2001) found that children 6-18 who participated in the funeral visitation after their parent’s death fared much better psychologically than children whose families did not have a visitation, especially when examined at 13-months and 25-months after the death. Funeral participation is widely recommended by clinicians experienced in bereavement, in large part because of the benefits participation in these experiences provide to family members of every age group (Hoy, 2013).
 
At least in North America, it is interesting that the question of whether or not children should attend funerals is mostly heard from white, economically advantaged parents; this question does not occur nearly as frequently among families of color. My clinical experience indicates that children’s attendance at funerals in Black, southeast Asian, and Hispanic families is generally expected, and my research among clergy and funeral professionals in these communities confirms my observations. In their study of 31 school aged children bereaved of a sibling, Brooten and Youngblut (2017) reported that most attended the funeral. Their study is notable, in part, because 64.5% of participants were Black and 22.5% Hispanic, an unusually ethnic demographic for bereavement studies. In introducing her analysis of interviews with African American professionals in funeral service, Bunch-Lyons (2015) reflects on her own attendance at her grandmother’s funeral at the age of five, suggesting that as a normative experience in the community.
 
Parents and other caregivers make decisions about the welfare of their children based on a number of variable values and priorities; caregiving professionals and volunteers can support these families most effectively when we understand better what those values and priorities are. Undoubtedly, parents want to do what is “best” for their children, readily embracing their roles to provide for and protect their offspring. Our job is to help families think through the complex issues of funeral attendance to help them make those decisions in a ways that will be most protective for the children and to facilitate their growth.
           
 
References.
 
Brooten, D., & Youngblut, J. M. (2017). School aged children's experiences 7 and 13 months following a sibling's death. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(4), 1112. doi:10.1007/s10826-016-0647-7
 
Bunch-Lyons, B. (2015). 'Ours is a business of loyalty': African American funeral home owners in southern cities. Southern Quarterly, 53(1), 57-71.
 
Fristad, M. A., Cerel, J., Goldman, M., Weller, E. B., & Weller, R. A. (2001). The role of ritual in children’s bereavement. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 42 (4), 321-339.
 
Hoy, W.G. (2013). Do funerals matter? The purposes and practices of death rituals in global perspective. New York, NY: Routledge.
 
Softing, G.H., Dyregrov, A., & Dyregrov, K. (2016). Because I’m also part of the family: Children’s participation in rituals after the loss of a parent or sibling-- A qualitative study from the children’s perspective. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 73(2) 141–158. DOI: 10.1177/0030222815575898

 
The Author: For more than three decades, William G. Hoy has been counseling with the bereaved, supporting the dying and their families, and teaching colleagues how to provide effective care. After a career in congregation, hospice, and educational resource practice, he now holds a full-time teaching appointment as Clinical Professor of Medical Humanities at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.





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Local News
We are very excited to announce that Windsor Chapel has just opened its South Windsor Chapel at 3048 Dougall Avenue. 

If you and/or your team would like to arrange for an open house tour and information session, please contact Scott Lockwood at slockwood@windsorchapel.com or by phone at 519-566-8175. 
Resource Review


Kids and Funerals
 is just one of the resource pages at the Dougy Center’s website but this page provides an excellent one-page overview of ideas for making appropriate choices. Caregiving professionals and volunteers can either point parents directly to the page or print the information; using the “print” command on the page creates a simple two-page handout. The Dougy Center’s website has dozens of other resource pages to help parents, educators, and other caregivers access the best information currently available about grief among children, adolescents, and their families.
Your Professional Library

 
Gaines, A.G. & Polsky, M.E. (2017). I have a question about death: A book for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other special needs. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
 
Parents, counselors, and educators often struggle with finding the best ways to support children with autism and other special needs through the death of a loved one. This book is a breath of fresh air to that process, providing simple and outstanding guidance. Divided into three sections, the first provides a relatively detailed explanation to many of the questions a grieving child asks. With the child with special needs in mind, the authors have kept the illustrations simple and colorful. As the book puts it, some questions have answers and some do not but that is helpfully explained in simple language.
 
The book’s second section provides a simplified version of the text with pictures and corresponding words. The third section is a “how to” for parents, teachers, clinicians, and others who support bereaved kids with special needs. Each topic includes its own one- or two-paragraph explanation, but the authors’ advice is simple and clear: use clear language, prepare for a range of emotions, provide structure and routine, and remember the loved one are just a few of the topics addressed.
 
Overall, this volume provides a very useful resource that can be exceptionally helpful to families with children with special needs.
 
Research that Matters
 
Feigelman, W., Rosen, Z., Joiner, T., Silva, C. & Mueller, A.S. (2017). Examining longer-term effects of parental death in adolescents and young adults: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health. Death Studies, 41(3), 133-143.
 
In this extensive evaluation of seven years of data, the researchers compared adolescents for whom at least one parent had died to their non-bereaved peers. At Wave 1, more than 20,000 students were interviewed from 80 representative high schools across the United States; 73% of the initial participants completed the Wave 3 survey six years later.
 
In confirmation of other research, the early experience of bereavement showed significantly higher levels of depression, increased suicidality, diminished self-esteem, heightened delinquency, criminal behavior, substance abuse, and diminished academic achievements among the parentally-bereaved young people than their non-bereaved counterparts. However, by the six-year follow up, their use of drugs, suicidality, criminal involvements, use of mental health services, and other indicators of psycho-social adjustment matched those of their non-bereaved peers.
 
Of interest is the persisting economic disadvantage experienced in young adulthood by these bereaved adolescents. Even after controlling for race and initial family socio economic status, these young adults were more likely to have been denied credit and more likely to encounter material disadvantage, possibly because of the greater likelihood of academic difficulties and higher school dropout rates among bereaved adolescents than their non-bereaved peers. Moreover, the bereaved adolescents were more likely to report in young adulthood having been forced out of their homes, providing evidence of the family conflict often observed by clinicians working with bereaved families.
 
In the final analysis, this study lends credence to the conventional wisdom that bereaved adolescents adapt over time with generally fading impacts of the parental death as time passes. Full articles in Death Studies are available free for members of the Association for Death Education & Counseling. For more information, visit www.adec.org
GriefPerspectives is published monthly by Grief Connect, Inc. Copyright ©2017. All rights reserved, including publication or distribution in any form, electronic or printed. For reprint permissions or suggestions for content, please email us at GriefResources@msn.com.
Copyright © 2017 Windsor Chapel Funeral Homes Ltd., All rights reserved.


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