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Healing Heart Program

A grief support program for children, adolescents, and families
and for the educators and caregivers who support them.

The Centre for Living with Dying is a volunteer non-profit agency that provides emotional support to individuals and families facing life-threatening illness or the trauma of having a loved one die.

The Centre provides broad-based community education programs on the subjects of grief, loss, crisis intervention and their impact.

For over twenty years the Centre has provided one-on-one individual and/or group assistance by trained volunteers to thousands of clients as well as training and general community support.

The Healing Heart Program offers grief groups for children from five to eighteen, by appropriate age increments. Concurrent parent/caretaker groups assist adults supporting children through the grief process.

Centre staff and volunteers conduct in-service programs for schools and other community groups.

And from the ranks of educators and child care providers; the Centre welcomes potential clients, volunteers and donors.

The Centre for Living with Dying
554 Mansion Park Drive
Santa Clara, CA 95054-1702
email: centrestaff@earthlink.net

Children & Grief

Adults struggle to deal with serious illness and death. Amidst unfamiliar feelings - physical and psychological - we face our sadness.

It's the same for children. Though less sophisticated in expressing or masking complex, conflicting feelings - children still struggle.

Children - our own as well as those we teach, coach, care for and counsel - benefit from sensitive, informed support along their own grief journey.

Children are not immune to stages of grief. They express feelings as allowed and encouraged.

There's no magic to help a grieving child. But there are some invaluable tools - gifts - for dealing with common expressions of grief.

The gift of Listening
Listening! Sounds simple doesn't it?

But to listen as someone processes grief requires total presence - a willingness to engage all the senses to see, hear, feel what is said, and not said. In listening, we need to leave behind - preconception and prejudice, expectation and exasperation.

Listening to a child - express facts and feelings about his or her loss is not about waiting to pounce in with pearls of wisdom. It is about opening our hearts, opening our minds and opening our ears as the words flow and falter.

The gift of Validation
A child's grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Expressions of grief - shock, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, regression - weave a common cloth, but experience is as unique as each child.

  • Children may show no outward sign of sadness - playing much the same as always. This does not mean they are not sad.
  • Children can ask questions that make adults squirm - details about how their loved one died, about what happens to buried bodies.
  • A child is inevitably the center of his or her own universe. Children may ask,
         "Is it my fault?"
          "Why did Mommy leave me?"
           "Didn't Dad love me?"
            "Am I going to die too?"
  • Children may react with disproportionate intensity to issues seemingly unrelated to their loss. Almost any response to grief is valid. Acknowledging a child's feelings is a powerful gift.

Keep your answers open-ended, inviting the child to express feelings and fears.
          "That must feel terrible"
           "What special memories you have"

Avoid trap words - could've, should've, would've. They can infer disappointment.

The gift of Acceptance
Grieving takes time - time and energy. Although the experience of loss is universal, it is inevitably life changing. Some changes are temporary and immediate; others take time and appear gradually. Acceptance is key.

Consider how most react to tears - offering tissues with a kindly, "There, there now, don't cry." Without meaning to, we signal that tears make us uncomfortable, that crying should stop. But when we listen without judgment, we offer acceptance and respect.

The gift of Honesty
The language of grief is universal and individual. Yet in this country we offer euphemisms. Anxious about creating additional anxiety instead of saying, "[Mommy or Daddy or your friend P.J.] died." - we substitute "polite terms" - passed away, went to God, isn't coming back.

But children are literal creatures. Imagine how easily we may be intensifying a sense of abandonment or creating false hope.

So keep it simple, honest and direct.

Healing Heart Program

How do schools receive support from the Healing Heart Program?

Any elementary, junior or high school - public or private - that wishes to obtain education and/or crisis intervention need only contact:

The Centre for Living with Dying

An initial assessment is made to determine specific circumstances and needs.

The Healing Heart Program can provide:

  • Consultation with administration and crisis intervention teams
  • Classroom support visits
  • Faculty support visits
  • Facilitation of support group meetings
  • Assistance with planning a memorial/tribute
  • Follow-up support, information and referral
  • Specific needs seminars that address issues of loss, trauma, life threatening illness, stress or grief
  • Peer support team training sessions
  • Written & audio-visual materials that assist in the learning process of coping with death, grief and loss

How can I help?

Grief is often misunderstood especially when it comes to children. It is not uncommon to feel that perhaps a child is not grieving "the right way" or needs to be expressing him or herself differently.

Grief is a spiral of feelings and experiences. It is not a straight line with a beginning and an end.

The process of grief is healing the pain of loss and keeping the treasured memories and love within your heart.

There is often a wall of silence around the painful issues of death, dying and grief. It can create a sense of disconnect, of treading water without a lifeline.

This is especially true for children and adolescents.

When young people are forced to cope with the harsh realities of illness or death, they grieve and often feel as deeply and powerfully as do adults. Often they are "protected" or pushed aside by well-meaning adults. This can lead to a sense of isolation and a belief that there is no safe haven-no place where their feelings can be shared.

The Healing Heart Program is a resource for those who would like to learn how to break down those walls of isolation and provide a bridge over which children can talk and travel and traverse their solitary sadness.