How old were you when you had a pet or loved one die? Many folks can remember their first significant loss — even the goldfish from Grange Fair that may have only lasted a few months. Children grieve.
Alan Wolfelt, an expert on grief says: “If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to mourn.” Who hasn’t met a loving 3-year-old? Grieving children often feel set apart, different from their peers, alone and misunderstood. Every school and every community has children who have experienced some type of loss.
Children’s Grief Awareness Day began right here in Pennsylvania in 2008. Students wanted to bring attention to what their grieving classmates were coping with, for the most part, in silence. The initiative grew out of an ongoing partnership of the Highmark Caring Place with hundreds of schools across the state.
In State College, Tides, an organization for grieving children and those who love them, sponsors an annual observance of Children’s Grief Awareness Day. The mission for the day is to help children who have experienced loss feel less alone and more supported through changing the culture surrounding children and grief.
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This year, Tides has selected the theme: The Spectrum of Our Grief. Our Tides gathering on Thursday will include a variety of activities to artfully express our grief, concluding with a group memorial. This is our way of acknowledging this special day for our children and families.
At a recent closing circle at Tides, a 6-year-old said: “I love Tides because you can talk about things here you can’t talk about anywhere else.” Children are aware of their feelings around death and loss, maybe even more so than adults, and need safe places and people to share their thoughts and feelings. Now entering its 15th year, Tides has been providing services free of charge to children, teens and adults, so that they have that safe place to experience their grief and have companions on their journey.
Ken Doka, editor of OMEGA, Journal of Death and Dying, tells us that 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18. In a recent poll of 1,000 high school juniors and seniors, 90 percent indicated they had experienced the death of a loved one.
Children who have experienced the death of someone important to them often feel like their struggles are invisible to those around them. Grieving children need advocates. It is not uncommon for a child to keep their losses and experiences to themselves, but we can readily help these children to not feel so alone.
The easiest way to be an advocate and to participate in Children’s Grief Awareness Day is to wear blue. Tell as many people as you can — children and adults — the reason you are wearing blue, and ask them to show their support, too. Together, we can all show our support of grieving children and our awareness of what they might be going through by participating in Children’s Grief Awareness Day. We hope you’ll join us in wearing blue on Thursday.
Evelyn Wald, LPC, is the program director for Tides and a grief and loss counselor at Choices. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
If you go
What: “The Spectrum of Our Grief”
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Houserville Elementary School, 217 Scholl St., State College
Info: RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday