American Hospice Foundation, Washington DC, USA

Questions and Answers from Helen

Question:

I am looking for resources to help my 13 year-old son deal with his father's death.   Although the death occurred 7 years ago, he is still having a hard time.  He attended counseling and camps and seemed to be doing OK. However as he approaches the teen years, we're dealing with a new stage of grief for him. The death was a suicide, so I'm not sure if that has an influence. Any advice would be appreciated.  

Helen:

My son was 11 when his father died and as he entered his teen years he had a whole new set of "losses" to deal with.  I would suggest going back to therapy, especially to deal with the cause of death.  It is possible your son may feel like he contributed to his father’s death or might die the same way.  Teen years can be difficult under the best of circumstances.  If you have a therapist who deals with grief, go to him or her, otherwise you might call your local hospice for a referral or even your community mental health center.  You want a therapist who understands teens and grief.    

 

 


 

Question:

My husband's father is suffering from one ailment after another (heart problems, diabetes, liver disease, stomach ulcers, iron deficiency, congestive heart failure, and now, pneumonia).  He is currently hospitalized and although this may not be what causes his death, it certainly won't be long until he is gone.  We live two hours away and are very busy with work and little ones, so we don't often get to visit.  The problem is that my husband refuses to go see his dad in the hospital.  His grandmother died seven years ago, two days after we went to the hospital to see her.  My husband now feels that he has bad luck in hospitals...almost as if he is to blame for his grandmother's death.  I am afraid that if he does not visit his father, the guilt of not providing that support will be devastating.  Do you have any suggestions?

Helen:

I understand your concern and you may be right.  I wonder if there would be other ways he could “visit” his father.  I am thinking about telephone calls or writing a letter which someone could read to him.  You might even gently tell him what you have told me.  Your intuition sounds right on target to me.  When my father was ill and living a long distance from me, I found it nice talking to him about my life, with him as my father.  We got out pictures and reminisced—such a wonderful last conversation.  It may also be useful for him to speak to a therapist about this, or even a minister.  I think he would find some relief in doing so.  

 

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Question:

My 16 year old daughter lost a very close friend in an automobile accident 3 months ago. She has taken his death very hard and she is seeing a grief counselor through hospice. I believe her when she tells me how bad it hurts and she just cannot accept it.  I try so hard to be patient and understanding and to give the best advice I can.  Lately, she is constantly telling my husband and I we don't understand.  She does not want to be alone and I feel as if she is starting to use her friend's death as an excuse to get her own way.  Whenever we tell her she cannot go somewhere or she cannot have someone (like her boyfriend) spend the night, she breaks into this whole sob story about how badly she is missing her friend and I am starting to feel angry myself. I am not sure what to do about this. It just seems that when she cannot get her own way, she uses her grief as an excuse to get us to give in, so how do we handle this sternly without sounding like we don't care?  

Helen:

It might be a good idea to do a joint session with your daughter’s counselor.  You could present it to her this way:  "Your father and I want to be more understanding and to do so we would like to do a joint session with you and your counselor."  Also, your daughter's counselor might be willing to meet with you alone so you can share your concerns with her.  This situation might need more, such as a referral to a PhD or MD.

 

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Question:

We recently lost my Father-in-law.  My daughters (16 and 13 years old) were extremely close to him, as we live just yards from him.  My 13 year old daughter is open with her grief and showing "appropriate" behaviors.  However, my 16 year old is very closed off; she doesn't seem to be grieving at all. How can I help both through this process?  

Helen:

There are a couple of things you might try.  In my work with grief, I have found teenagers often close down and work at keeping the grief under control.  They are choosy with whom they want to share painful things.  I would suggest seeing if there is a teen bereavement group at her school or at the local hospice.  You might check into that and if there isn't, you might suggest to the school counselor (perhaps with the help of your daughters) to start such a group.   

 


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Question:

I found out on Friday that my ex-husband of 20 years died in a tragic mine accident and I’m really upset about his passing.  Also, this upsets me because our son was just starting to build a relationship with his father which now will never happen.  I am in my own relationship, but I’m having a difficult time with my ex’s death.  Is this normal?  

Helen:

You are very normal.  I have noticed a similar reaction in my husband when his ex-wife died recently.  I saw a genuine sadness in him.  He was grieving with his children.  It didn't mean he loved me any less; he was grieving the happy times in his marriage to her.

 

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Question:

Do you have any suggestions for journal writing for grieving teens?

Helen:

I put together an activity book for grieving teens called, "Remembering You.”   These booklets are free and can be accessed on AHF’s website under Articles, Grieving Children.

 

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Question:

I recently was reviewing some material I had on death and dying. I came across the words “premature separation” and it jumped off the page at me.  I thought, “That’s the problem!”  My emotions and mind have moved through many of the stages of grieving.  My husband is temporarily better.   I feel anger at him, I thought; however as I look more closely it is also anger at me as I am not accepting of what is going on in my life.  Tomorrow I see a counselor. Is there any other helpful information out there?

Helen:

Grief is so individual and complicated.  Many times the death of a loved one is premature.  They die early in life and the circumstances of the death are also part of many premature deaths.  I think that seeing a counselor is a good way to go.  She/he will get to know you and the loss you are dealing with and will refer to you readings that pertain to your special loss.  As you may have already noticed, AHF’s website has many articles on grief under the Article section, some of which may be helpful to you.

 

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Question:

My Aunt is a hospice patient and asked for help in creating a holiday letter. I am shocked to find so many guides on what to write to a dying person, but none on what a dying person can write to friends. She wants to let friends (some who are remote) know she has cancer and doesn’t expect to be here next season.   She noticed some people in her senior community stare and appear to talk behind her back. This is annoying.   I took a nice photo of her with a Santa hat and looking healthy.  She plans to include this with her letter.  Please suggest appropriate words to be honest, but cheerful about her prognosis.  

Helen:

This is a tough letter to write but it will be better all around if she can be open about her illness and prognosis.  She might consider some of the following:   I am looking forward to celebrating this Christmas.  Since my caner is advancing, I am not sure I will be here next year.  The gift I need from you this year is the gift of your friendship.   Please feel free to ask me anything you would like to know regarding my illness.  I want us to be open about it.  I can talk about it and it helps me to talk about it. I am learning to live in the "present" since I don't know what tomorrow will bring.  I love you guys and you are special to me.  (Here she might list some of the things she likes and appreciates from each of them.)

 

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Question:

 

I'm having trouble coping with the death of my Dad.  I'm not sure if it's a combination of recently retiring and the death, but I've been more emotional, crying more and withdrawn.  How can I pull myself out of this?  

Helen:

I think you are right—the combination of your father's death and retirement has made this more difficult.  One feels "grief" whenever you have a loss.  Retiring, even though it might be seen as a happy event, is a loss. Working offered a routine which you no longer have as well as friendships.  Time will help you work this out, meantime, look for ways to fill your day.  For example, I am an artist, and in preparing for my retirement, I started taking watercolor classes as well as giving classes in my home for neighbors.  I also think that perhaps joining a grief group or even seeing a grief counselor for awhile might be useful.  

 

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Question:

My daughter lost her fiancé in a car accident.  Both my daughter and her fiancé were 19. They had a 9 month old baby at the time of the accident.  It has been horrible for the whole family, but my daughter has spent the last two years just going through the motions of raising her son without Max, her fiancé.  She recently had to move from the home her and Max and the baby shared.  When Max died, she kept all of his things exactly as they were the day he died.  When she moved, which was also very hard on her, she brought all of his things and hung his clothes in her closet exactly the way they were. Just recently, I found she even has his toothbrush next to hers and the baby’s in the toothbrush holder.  She refuses to go to counseling.  I am fearful that she cannot move forward.  Is this healthy?  

Helen: 

I support your concerns.  It seems clear she could benefit from some counseling with someone who specializes in grief or at least attend a support group; however, it might be hard to find a group for young people who are living together but not married.  You might try to impress upon her the importance of her working through this grief for the benefit of her son.  A child growing up with a perpetually grieving mother is going to be affected by this.  Or you might also consider going to a grief therapist yourself to get help in dealing with your daughter.

 

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Question:

My stepfather died 3 months ago and my siblings and I are concerned about my mother.  I was looking for resources for her to get some counseling.  She began to drink alcohol and at times stumbles and has even fallen while under the influence. We are trying to find a way we can address the issue with her without upsetting her.  If you can give me any helpful information it would be greatly appreciated.

Helen:

Your concerns are real.  I would call the local mental health center to see if they have a therapist who deals with alcoholism and grief.  If so, that person will help you confront your mom in a loving, but realistic way.  You might also see if there is an AA group near you.  They will have a resource list for you as well as groups for family members where you would have a lot of support and good advice since they have been where you are now.    

 

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Question:

My mother passed away from Alzheimer's.  I miss her so much but I feel very calm and almost like I'm sleepwalking through my days.  I cried so much during this journey, but why am I so calm now? Is this normal or is this just part of the rollercoaster that is Alzheimer's and grieving? I have a history of depression and am worried that it will resurface.

Helen:

Grief works in many ways.  Since your mother suffered from Alzheimer's, your grief started a long time ago—even before she died as she began slipping away from you and reality. There might be a peaceful time now that it is all over.  I think seeing a grief therapist would be helpful to you to help monitor your grief and your depression.

 

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Question:

I'm seeking good reading material for young adults who just lost a good friend to suicide.  The young man was 24 years old, had a job that he disliked, had a mortgage that he found overwhelming, and lost his father to cancer at this time last year.  These people are experiencing the loss of someone so young for the first time in their lives.  They don't understand their own feelings and are worried about the closest friends of the deceased.

Helen:

I think the most useful thing would be to get these young people together with a therapist so they can talk and support each other.  There are now larger groups available called "Suicide Survivors," but I think a group with just these friends would be a good start.  Contact your local hospice or community mental health center for resources.  You might even be able to find such a group online.

 

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Question:

I lost my best friend and living companion in October.  He died suddenly from an aneurysm.  We had a perfect morning together, he was feeling fine and then he was dead.  How long will it take me to believe this actually happened?  He’s not here, but I just can’t get it in my head that he's not coming back.  I have to keep saying the words and I’m worried my friends are sick of me by now.  Any suggestions on how I can better get through this?  

Helen:

A sudden death takes a lot longer to work through than one where death is expected.  With an expected death, grief starts as the ill person slowly withdraws from loved ones.  Have patience with yourself.  Be direct with your friends-ask them if they are getting tired of you saying the same stuff over and over.  Let them know that talking is helpful to you and that you need people who will just listen.  I would also suggest you find a grief therapist or support group where you could be with folks who can really understand your loss.  Contact your local hospice to inquire about such a group or therapist.  You might also get some materials to read on sudden death which will normalize what you are going through.

 

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Question:

We run a grief support group for children ages 4-adolescence.  Our children range in ages from the very young to 16 with varying stages of grief and circumstances.  Most of the children have experienced the death of a parent - some experienced it over a year ago and some experienced it a month ago.  A very few have not experienced a death but are coping with the cancer treatment of a loved one.  We are trying to think of a "spring" theme/activity that we could do with them.  Do you have any suggestions?  

Helen:

I wonder if this would work-How about building a path of "peace and hope".  You would get baseball size rocks that the kids could write the name of their loved one on and start to build a path and talk about the meaning of "peace and hope".  "Peace" that our loved ones who have died are at peace and "Hope" that the ill ones would get better and we can go on with our lives.  On the AHF website you will find activity books for kids.  Some of the activity books deal with death for all ages, including pre-school to teens, as well as books for kids who have a loved one suffering from cancer (also aids). These activity books can be found in the Articles section under “Grieving Children.”

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