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New York City
September 2002

If You Ask Dr. McCune
About Children and Grief–in the Long Term
By Lorraine Mccune, Ph.d.

Some believe that if a loss occurs when a child is too young to know their parent personally, or to remember a parent who has died, that the impact is less than on an older child or adult who has had the opportunity for personal caring with that parent. From my own experience I can say that the impact of the death of a parent in infancy differs from later loss, but the effect of even the earliest loss is life-long. My father died in WWII when I was 6 months old. My earliest awareness included a sense of loss, a sense that continued through childhood and early adulthood. My fatherís death was a defining event in my life. Only as a mature person was I able to let my father and my loss go, experiencing some pain in the process, followed by a new lightening of feeling. I wonder if the grief of the others around me, and their inability to provide a gradual knowledge of loss along with a sense of safety as I grew up, kept me on the treadmill of orphaned sadness. Perhaps there are ways of helping children with grief.

Some come to mind . . . The early loss of a parent is a lifelong condition. In addition to the sadness of their loss, a parent also leaves a legacy of love and guidance. As children grow and change, their sense of loss will naturally be re-experienced and perhaps deepened. Adults can help by empathizing with their loss as the children show their renewed feelings. They can also help the child to know the parent they have lost. Photos, family stories of the parent at their age, even meeting people that were close to their parent can help. In early and later childhood and as an adult these experiences helped work the impossible magic of bringing my lost father close to me. Knowing my fatherís strong qualities, some of his foibles, and the thoughts he expressed about me have given me the father I never knew when he was living.

Sometimes a child can feel a need to carry on the life and goals of their lost parent. This can be an impossible burden that interferes with the child developing new attachments. If a widowed parent remarries, a child needs to know that it is OK to care for the new person in their parentís life.

It is challenging to help children with these life issues, especially for a living parent who is also confused and grieving. Knowing the parent who died would wish the best for the loved ones remaining can sometimes give courage.#

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Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.


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