How to Deal With Death: A Primer for You and Your Kids
By Martha Michael
The death of Queen Elizabeth II at age 96 was a reminder to the world that even a divinely appointed monarch has to meet her maker eventually. In the ultimate battle of life and death, nature is king. However, we do have control over our ability to accept the loss of a loved one. Grief comes in many forms, but you can reduce the long-term negative impact by learning some methods to help you adjust.
Stages of Grief
The University of Washington counseling center has an article with insights into the healthy grieving process. When asked about grief, we may first think of death, but there are many forms of loss including:
- A relationship that ends
- An opportunity or career goal that’s lost
- When a pet dies
- A loved one battling serious illness
- Moving away from friends and family
It’s tempting to avoid grief altogether, in part because it’s uncomfortable and painful. Healthy grieving can make it seem more real for the moment, but it leads to a sense of peace. While individuals respond uniquely to loss, there are forms that it takes that are common experiences:
- Reduced appetite
- Problems sleeping
- Lack of concentration
Actively processing grief is a healthy form of coping, beginning with relaxing expectations about what it looks like. When you face the fact that much of life is out of your control, it’s easier to accept the change in circumstances. After expressing your emotions about the loss in your life, you can adjust to the new normal, beginning your next chapter without things as they were.
Helping Young People Accept Death and Loss
By the time you’re an adult you’ve faced a huge range of emotions, including grief. Kids at any age may need help interpreting the unfamiliar feelings that surface when they lose someone they love, especially if they have healthy parents and grandparents. KidsHealth has an article with five tips for teens dealing with the death of a friend or loved one:
Accept your emotions - Giving yourself permission to cry is an important part of the grieving process. There isn’t a way you “should” be feeling, so lean into the sadness rather than pushing yourself to feel differently than you do.
Talk about the person you’re grieving - When you feel comfortable enough to remember him/her, it can be therapeutic to talk about those memories. If you don’t feel comfortable verbalizing your emotions, you can put your feelings in writing.
Take part in rituals - Attending a memorial service or funeral is a chance for you to share your grief with others who have similar feelings. It can provide a level of closure after honoring the deceased, and you may feel some camaraderie, which can be comforting.
Preserve your memories - There are many ways to make a lasting mark that honors your loved one. You can plant a tree or take part in a charity walk in memory of him/her. On a smaller scale, you may want to create a scrapbook or photo album with pictures, quotes, and mementos representing your relationship.
Get support - While it’s natural to be sad when you lose someone you love, there are times when it’s overwhelming. Speak up to an adult about your feelings if you’re struggling. There are grief counselors, support groups, therapists, and others who can help.
Our earliest experiences provide clues to our capacity for resilience, says an article in The New York Times. Nature and nurture are involved; factors affecting your ability to handle a crisis include:
- Personal history
- Situational context
It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that your genes are the biggest determinant of your resilience, but your history is far more important, experts say. The quality of your relationships, particularly early in life, establish your ability to attach and adapt to circumstances.
“How loved you felt as a child is a great predictor of how you manage all kinds of difficult situations later in life,” says Bessel van der Kolk, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. “Different traumas at different ages have their own impacts on our perceptions, interpretations, and expectations; these early experiences sculpt the brain, because it is a use-dependent organ.”
One of life’s greatest challenges involves building the skills to handle grief and loss so you can manage them and move on. When we take off-ramps such as drugs, alcohol, or gambling, we impede that process. More positive options include social connection, religious or spiritual beliefs, meditation, and practices that develop greater cognitive and emotional flexibility.
Results from a study of individuals with the greatest levels of resilience show they tend to have qualities such as:
- An optimistic, yet realistic, mindset
- Belief in something greater than themselves
- A strong moral compass
- Concern for others
- Support system
A death such as the Queen’s reminds us there is no one above the laws of nature, though we don’t have to look across the pond for reflection; the last two American presidents were in their 70s when they took office.
Every human being has to deal with death -- their own and members of their family and social circles. Whether you rule a kingdom or just your own household, there are ways to make your journey of grief resemble an adjustment period. By creating space for feelings of loss, you help kids in the process and do a noble service to yourself.
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