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Hi, this is Jenna and thanks for submitting this great question:

Should we take children to a funeral?

In American culture, we do not typically do a really good job of helping children to understand the process of death and dying or knowing how to grieve a loss. So, actually, a funeral, particularly if it is for someone who they weren’t immediately close to can really help children become familiar with that process of death and dying and grief and loss and understand that we do have ceremony and a place to create closure and some degree of healing; along with the grief. And, to kind of normalize that. Other cultures tend to do this a little bit more automatically than we do in American culture so that can be valuable.

But there are other things we want to take into consideration. First of all and perhaps most importantly the child’s preferences. For a
a child who’s old enough to say, we want to ask them if they would like to go explain what the purpose of the funeral is and what to expect and what types of emotions they might be feeling. This is true, whether they go to the funeral or don’t go to the funeral. We want to help them to understand their feelings around grief and loss as well.

If a child doesn’t want to attend, we probably want to honor that. If a child does want to attend we want to honor that as well.
As long as they are old enough to sit quietly and respectfully in the service, and if we are ourselves are in too much grief to attend to their grieving needs, we want to have somebody present who can be there for the child, if we’re not in that moment going to be able to.

It is important to normalize the experience of death and dying for our children and help them to name their grief and walk through the loss. So, particularly if the person who passed away is someone that they knew, we would like to give them the opportunity if at all possible to make their own decision about attending. Keep in mind, you’re going to know your child best and your unique circumstances best.

These are a couple of quick tips to help you think through this initial stages of the decision making

Hi, it’s Jenna and this is such an important question. The question of why are these feelings states cycling back and forth so chaotically in my life? One minute I feel numb, the next minute I’m sad, the next minute I’m angry, and then I go back to feeling numb again.

This is completely normal! As chaotic as this feels and sounds to you, as you’re describing it, I want to let you know that you are simply getting the very chaotic and unpleasant, but necessary, stages of grief. There are general stages of grief such as shock and denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, even acceptance, but we tend to cycle back and forth through these stages in a very nonlinear way. It’s a very chaotic process and one moment we might be enraged and the next moment we might be overwhelmed with sadness and not be able to stop crying and then a moment later just completely numb.

Sometimes these feelings states will last a moment, or an hour, sometimes they last days, or even weeks ,and that’s okay your process is your process. The only thing I would say is try to have a place where you can really be honest about exactly what you are feeling, where you can name these feelings and give voice to them, first of all to yourself and in a journal perhaps. Just writing out everything that you’re feeling. You might want to give one journal to give voice to your anger and a different journal to give voice to your sadness and perhaps a third journal to let your numbness or your shock have a place to speak. It can be helpful in whatever way feels right for you to have just an area or a person or a group that you can share these feelings with. But, if you notice that you are getting stuck particularly in the sadness or the despair, part of this cycle for a long period of time. If you’re having trouble functioning having difficulty getting out of bed or going about the daily tasks of life and that’s the last thing for longer than a handful of weeks, do reach out to a clinical specialist for some additional support. You want to be speaking with someone who can help you, just to kind of keep a gauge as to whether or not you are dealing with the normal process of grief or whether it may have stepped over into clinical depression, in which case there are therapies, medications and other processes that we can bring on board to help you as you navigate your unique journey of loss.

Thanks for asking. You are not going crazy. You are experiencing the normal stages of grief.

Hi, it’s Jenna.

I love the heart behind this question! When we love someone or care about them and they’re walking through grief, we often don’t know how to be present in a helpful way, but we really want to. We sometimes can just quickly say things like “I know how you feel” or “be strong” or “well, at least you can have another child” or “God must have needed her or him more than you did.” All of these are really hurtful statements and we don’t want to be hurtful in the grief, but very often we just don’t know what to say.

Some helpful things that we can do and say would include things like “I am so sorry for your loss” or sometimes it’s helpful to say “you know, my favorite memory of…” and then say the loved ones name. It’s kind of wild how in death everyone stops using the person’s name. It can be incredibly powerful and healing to use that person’s name and mention something about them that you really loved or really enjoyed or a favorite memory or ask the person who’s grieving the loss if they would like to share the things that they love the most about the person or one of their favorite memories. This can be very cathartic.

Perhaps the most important thing is not really what we say it’s what we do. People need our presence and so if we can just show up with a cup of coffee a casserole or some Dunkin Donuts that we get takeout and just sit with the person, we can say things like “I really don’t know how you must be feeling, but I am so sorry for how painful I know this must be and I just want to sit with you. You can talk if you want to and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I’m here.”

If we know the person’s needs rather than asking “hey, if you have any needs, let me know.” We can just do them. Very often people who are in grief don’t even know what they need. They’re in a state of shock and despair and sadness. And so if we just show up and do the things that need to happen that can truly be a beautiful statement of love and care. It’s really the simple things that matter the most. Taking the time to be with the person calling them even if we don’t know what to say and just letting them share or not share cry or not cry in the way that’s right for them with no judgment. No unsolicited advice just the gift of our presence, heart to heart, will mean the world.

Hi, it’s Jenna. Thank you for submitting this question.

I hear this incredibly painful cry of your heart that you feel like you are all alone in this extraordinary painful grief and loss process. What I want to tell you, from the bottom of my heart, is that you are not alone. You are in such companionship with so many people who are walking through grief and loss, especially at this season.

I also want to let you know is that grief is unique to every individual going through it. Every person will experience their grief differently. Your grief may look different than someone else’s grief, who is grieving the exact same type of loss that you are and that’s okay. Your process is unique to you and your feelings matter. This is why it can be so important and valuable to connect with a community of support. Even if it’s people that you didn’t know before your loss.

Being a part of a grief and loss group can be very valuable because many people who haven’t gone through a loss don’t know really how to talk to us or open these kinds of conversations. It can be very helpful to connect with a therapist because just having that safe place to go once a week and know that we can give voice to the pain in our hearts and have someone else journey through the process with us can be extremely valuable.

Or we can find one other safe person in our existing community of support and really ask them to be there for us. Ask them to show up in the way that is going to feel the best for us, whether that’s coming by for an occasional cup of tea, or calling on the phone once a week. Just to check in. We can let them know what would feel helpful and asked if they might be willing to do that. It’s so important to not walk this grief process alone because it can feel very overwhelming. I just want you to know that that feeling of aloneness is not uncommon. There are others out there who can and want to surround you and support you with love and care.

We are here for you and I hope that this website offers you some of that love and care. Thank you for reaching out.

Hi, it’s Jenna. I’m glad to answer this hard and unfortunately very common question which is what happens to our friendships after we’ve gone through the loss of a loved one.

The reality is many people are not comfortable with the subject of death. They don’t know how to deal with their own anxiety about the topic of death and it can be very uncomfortable to know how to sit with us in our grief process. So, as a result even dear friends sometimes avoid us, not because they don’t love us, but because they don’t know how to be there for us. As a result, we suffer what I would call a secondary loss, which is not only the loss of our loved one, but also the loss of significant, meaningful relationships.

To step into this gap we can do two simple, but not easy, things. The first is say how we feel and the second is ask for what we need.
I have a format that you can follow to do just that.

Number one to say how we feel we can use the format of IFAB or “I feel about because” IFAB, for short. that format is “I feel” followed by feeling words “about” followed by a description, a factual description, non blaming of the circumstance, and then “because”, followed by a picture or a window of what’s happening in our heart. This is a really effective way to communicate our emotions without blaming.

How that might sound is “Susie, would it be okay if I shared with you how I was feeling? I want to let you know that I feel sad lonely and a little bit abandoned about the fact that we haven’t seen each other since my husband died because the story I’m telling myself about that is you no longer want to be my friend.” That is a simple IFAB statement. Notice how transparently and vulnerably that allows us to communicate.

We want to follow that feeling statement with our second statement, which is asking for what we need. And I also have a formula for that. We can simply say “would you be willing to” and then ask for the thing that we need. So I might say “Susie would you be willing to call once a week and get together for coffee with me? I could really use that time together and it would help me to just talk about anything.”

This is a beautiful and a powerful way that we can invite people to be present for us in the way that we need, even if they don’t know exactly how to do that on their own.

Thanks so much for submitting this question.

Losing a spouse is one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences that we can walk through in a lifetime.

That’s true whether we lose a spouse through something tangible such as death or through a more intangible loss like divorce or incapacitation through dementia or a physical disability. Either way, the rules of grieving still apply and I’d like to offer you four tips to move through the grief process successfully.

They are the “4-F” tips.

Number one is, feel it. This is very challenging for so many of us who don’t want to sit with our painful emotions, but to use an overly trite clinical phrase “we have to feel it to heal it. The only way out is through it.” In order to move through our grief and come out on the other side, we have to be able to name our losses.

To grieve and really release our feelings in the way that feels right for us, we might journal, talk or create a memorial with symbolic representations that represent our loss, or do particular artwork that’s really meaningful to us in our grief process. However you feel it, I would encourage you to really lean into the feelings. That will allow them to be processed and released. When we don’t do that our grief becomes impacted, when we push it down and try to ignore it or make it go away.

And, when we have impacted grief, we may notice that it develops into suicidal ideation or chronic depression where we go weeks at a time and really aren’t able to function. Obviously, if you’re dealing with impacted grief, I would invite you to reach out for professional support right away.

So, tip number one feel it.

Tip number two, keep first things first. When we’re going through crisis, especially traumatic grief and loss, our bodies kind of go into survival mode and it can suddenly become very difficult to do basic things like eating and sleeping. So, we have to keep first things first and keep our goals manageable, when we are walking through grief. You need to eat three nutritious meals everyday, hydrate, drink plenty of water, move your body, practice prayer and meditation in brief and manageable ways, so you’re connecting with a spiritual source and presence outside of your grief process. These are some seemingly very small and basic goals. But, in the midst of the throes of grief and loss, eating, moving and hydrating is a really big deal. So keep first things first.

Number three-friends, especially when our loss involves a relationship that was very close. It’s going to leave a chasm and an ache and we need to connect with safe relationships. Either people really understand what we’re going through, because they’re going through it too. Such as in a grief support group or with safe emotional friendships. So, people who don’t put a timeline on our grief process, people who aren’t impatient with our grieving and the messiness of the stages of grief, people who give us permission to feel our feelings and don’t have that need to rush in and fix it or offer platitudes or tell us how we should feel or what we should be doing. These are the kind of friendships that we need to connect with. So, I would invite you tip number three-connect to safe friends.

Finally, tip number four is to freeze. Freeze any major life changes. Before you sell a family home, or move, or move in or out of a significant relationship, you want to give yourself time to go through the grieving. So, where you are able, freeze any major life decisions for 6 to 12 months, until you’ve had a chance to really walk through the most intense part of the grieving process.

Just as a reminder-number one feel, number two friends, number three first things first, and number four freeze.

So you have a 13 year old daughter who has experienced some difficult changes over the last year and I think there’s two things that come to mind for me. The first is she’s at a key developmental point in that she’s 13 and entering adolescence. This is a time when hormonal surges create a lot of moodiness in children that is really normal. It’s difficult for them and for us to know how to whether those ups and downs of adolescence, but the hormonal shifts of puberty are really important to keep in mind.

However, what you’re describing is seems to be much more pervasive. So, you are actually describing the symptoms of clinical depression. You’re seeing a long-term loss of interest in things that used to be pleasurable to her isolation and withdrawal from friendships and from family numbing Behavior, like just watching TV and not having motivation. These are all actually symptoms of underlying depression.

So, parent you are doing a beautiful job of holding that awareness and what you want to do, rather than attending to the symptoms, is look at the underlying issue which sounds like it’s depression. You want to be curious when you notice this behavior shift if there may have been a catalyzing event maybe a rejection and a relationship or betrayal and a friendship, any kind of shifts in your family dynamic, or what’s happening globally or culturally to be aware of some other factors that could kick this off. But, in general, it sounds like you may want to help her get to professional support for depression management.