An Open Letter to Every Kid Who Has Lost a Parent

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Originally posted by The Odyssey Online. Written by Lauren Seago

Written by Lauren Seago, reposted with her kind permission. Originally appeared on The Odyssey

A letter to tackle different aspects of losing a parent.

Dear Sweet Child,

First off, I just wanted to start by saying you are strong, even when it feels like the world is crumbling beneath your feet.

Secondly, I wanted to say how sorry I am for the loss of your parent in your most crucial years of needing love and words of encouragement. A piece of your world was stripped away from you, and that will never be replaced. Which I know personally, stings so deep.

As you continue to grow throughout your life, I wanted to address some aspects that I have learned on my own are not the easiest to conquer; that in most cases people do not understand.

1. It’s okay to cry, on the real: Forget those people who tell you crying is for the weak. You go ahead and cry; you probably need it.

2.Every holiday is like ripping a Band-Aid off over and over: Your family will laugh about memories from the past when everyone was all together. Reminiscing what your parent was like, their favorite desserts, or how they would laugh a certain way. With a smile plastered across your face, you’ll nod as family members tell you stories and you’ll think about what you would give to have them there with you.

3. Graduating, moving away to college, first date, first real job, any big event will cause a sting of pain: In the moment, you are so happy and excited as these new chapters open up. But later on, once alone, you think about how awesome it would be to have them carrying boxes into your dorm room, questioning your first date, looking out into the crowd at graduation, and seeing them with a camera recording you with a thumbs up. You’ll get chills as you think about how different life would be with them around.

4. You question everything and ask over and over why?: Whether it was a natural cause of death or some accident, you question everything you know and what you believe in (if you believe in anything). You will replay moments in your head questioning your actions asking what if? But if anything, the re-occuring question is why? An answer that is one to be continued.

5. You will be jealous of kids who have both their parents: You will see kids who have both parents and something inside you will stir; a sense of resentment. Because at one time; that was you and the world wasn’t perfect but it was lovely and everything you knew was great.

6. Watching your other parent heal is one of the hardest things you will ever watch: Though extremely challenging and frustrating at times, watching your parent cry to the point of exhaustion will be really hard, but the grieving process does get easier. So hang onto that small nugget of gold.

7. Family traditions will never be the same: Summers of camping and spending endless days on the water, baking rum cakes together, Saturday mornings spent watching cartoons just become a memory that you hold so close to your heart.

8. You become extremely protective of your siblings and whoever makes fun of them for losing a parent: No one messes with your squad but especially when someone brings up how you lost your parent; you go into protective mode. Just remember to breathe and walk in love. Kill ’em with kindness.

9. Heartbreaks hurt just as much, if not more: You will want that one parent to embrace you in their arms with snot running down your nose and tears streaming. You will just want to hear them say, You’ll be all right, kid. I love you and that’s all you need.”

10. The word “sorry” becomes numb to you: People don’t know your story and openly they don’t know what to do besides say sorry. After awhile, you smirk and softly whisper, “Thanks.” The word sorry no longer has meaning after you have heard it over a million times.

11. Pictures and old family videos are possibly one of God’s greatest gift to you: One day you will come across a tub filled with pictures, and as you sit on the basement floor looking through them, you’ll start to cry. Your mind will take you back to that exact moment and right there alone on the cold floor, you encounter a special moment of what life was like then.

12. Death will change you and your outlook on life: Seemingly the small stuff isn’t so bad anymore. You stop complaining and you really take a check of what is important in your life.

13. You wonder if they’re proud of you: When no one was looking and you did the right thing, or when you ace that test you studied so hard for. You stop to think I wonder

14. Hearing old stories from relatives and friends is a great thing: Shocked and trying not to laugh, you can’t believe what your uncle just told you about the one night they all snuck out and crashed a car. These stories will warm your heart, take the time to listen to them.

15. Lastly, you grow in ways you never thought possible: There will be moments where your whole family will be together and you’ll think to yourself how in a weird way everyone has a quirk of that parent. Then looking at your own heart, you realize how much you’ve grown.

As you continue to grow, just remember wherever you are in life, that parent is right there with you, cheering you on and flashing you thumbs up as you graduate throughout the stages of life.

All my love and tears,

A girl who lost her dad

Lauren E. Seago in 500 Words On on Aug 19, 2015

Authored by Lauren Seago

Author’s photo (Lauren Seago)


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Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to Lauren Seago for her kind permission to repost this blog in it’s entirety. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @llaureneunice

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

 

When Words Fail, Grieving Children can Find an Outlet in Music

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Arvis Jones describes a music therapy technique during a conference for teachers, social workers and counselors. “You have to feel the joy inside yourself to be able to reach kids,” she says.

To help them cope with loss, therapist Arvis Jones uses music as a way to help children express how they feel.

Re-Posted from The LA Times

by Sandy Banks: sandy.banks@latimes.com

Arvis Jones describes a music therapy technique during a conference for teachers, social workers and counselors. “You have to feel the joy inside yourself to be able to reach kids,” she says.

How do you help little children, too young to know what death really means, cope with the feelings of grief and pain that the loss of a loved one brings?

If you’re music therapist Arvis Jones, you let them bang on a drum, do the hokey-pokey or join a choir and sing.

Jones is part of a growing professional field that taps the restorative power of music to help traumatized children heal.

For 20 years, she’s been going to crime scenes, hospitals, funerals and schools, reaching out to grieving families with a bin of unorthodox tools — keyboards, claves, jingle sticks, tambourines, djembe and tubano drums.

Music is a right-brained activity, she said. Listening, playing, dancing and singing all engage the mind’s emotional sphere.

But it’s not just neurobiology that makes the medium a valuable tool. “With grief, the pain is sometimes so deep it hurts too much for kids to talk about what they feel,” Jones said. “Music breaks down their defenses. They think they’re having fun.”

That helps counselors like Jones create a safe space to address the anger, confusion and fear that loss generates in young lives.

For the children who survived a car accident that killed a sibling and left their mother in a coma, that meant dancing around her hospital room with wooden rainsticks and percussion rings. “They’d been too traumatized to even look at their mother,” Jones said. “Getting comfortable helped them reconnect.”

For the little boy who hadn’t smiled since his father died, that meant singing with Jones’ children’s choir. “Suddenly you’re up there on the stage and everyone’s clapping for you,” Jones recalled. “He was beaming, bowing to the crowd.” He’d realized that his father’s death didn’t mean the end of joy in his life.

For the 8-year-old who’d been fighting his classmates since he found his brother’s body after a suicide, that meant pounding a giant drum. He might not have been able to describe his rage, but he could hit Jones’ drum as hard as he wanted.

And he could hug it to his chest and cry when Jones asked if he loved and missed his brother.

::

I’d always considered it airy-fairy; the notion that music can heal something as profound as grief.

Jones said that’s not an uncommon view. “A lot of agencies don’t want to be bothered with music therapy. They consider it frivolous — until they see it,” she said.

She said it’s becoming more widely used to help children deal with not just their own grief, but with the trauma of public tragedies. Jones was asked after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to share music therapy techniques that might help families recover.

“Death is not something we can hide from,” she said. “But we have a hard time helping children talk about it.”

Without encouragement, children tend to stay silent; some act out their pain in destructive ways.

She remembers a visit to a South Los Angeles middle school to talk with classmates of a boy whose sister had been stabbed to death. “I talked to the kids about what to expect … and asked if anyone had a similar experience,” she said.

Hands all across the classroom went up. One boy said his mother had been beaten to death the year before. “The teachers didn’t know. They don’t ask,” she said. “No one knows what to say in a situation like that. Then you wonder why the kid causes trouble in class.”

On Thursday, at a conference on children’s grief, I watched Jones share her music therapy techniques with teachers, social workers and counselors.

She had volunteers from the audience role-play children, displaying the routes that music can take:

A tough teenager can use rap lyrics to reveal emotions that are hard to claim. A silent preschooler can signal distress with the vigorous shake of a tambourine. A withdrawn child can learn to trust by becoming part of a handbell troupe. A hurting child can learn to self-soothe by humming Grandma’s favorite tune.

Music isn’t magic, Jones made clear. “Recovery is a process, not an event…. But music is a way for us to begin to listen to what children feel.”

::

Jones is the assistant director of the Center for Grief and Loss for Children at the mental health agency Hathaway-Sycamores, which began hosting the grief conference 10 years ago.

Joan Cochran, the center’s executive director, financed the first conference with her credit card. “They said no one would come,” she recalled. Twenty people showed up. That was enough to keep her going. She had worked with hospice patients, and seen children overlooked in the mourning process.

This year, more than 500 people attended the Pasadena conference, where workshop topics ran the gamut from bereavement rituals to therapist burnout.

“People are desperate for answers,” said Deanne Tilton Durfee, director of the county’s Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, which helped organize the conference. “They want to know how to do the right thing for children. And they want to know how to manage that without damaging their own lives.”

Jones offered an answer in her workshop. “You have to feel the joy inside yourself to be able to reach kids,” she told the crowd, waving her arms as music filled the conference room.

By the end of the session they were on their feet, gyrating to a James Brown tune.

_______

Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page.

My mother was alive. She smiled, she laughed, she impacted.

Alumni Wisdom

On the Theme: Loss vs. Lost by Jacki W.

Jacki & Mom Dancing in the Rain

Jacki & Mom Dancing in the Rain


I have always found a great deal of comfort in the law of conservation of matter. This concept, in its simplest form, states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. I find this fundamental physical law phenomenally elegant.
When my mother passed away, I heard the phrase I’m sorry for your loss repeatedly. It made sense at the time. My mother was certainly no longer physically present. I couldn’t see her smile, I couldn’t hear her laugh, I couldn’t hold her hand or have a conversation with her. She was, absolutely, out of the range of my senses. Her absence permeated my life. And so, I thought, she was lost.
But I could still feel her. I can still feel her. The term “lost” is defined as something that has been taken away and cannot be recovered. Based on this definition, and based on how I feel, I refuse to brand my mother as “lost.”
The law of conservation of matter informs us that the contents of the universe cannot be lost. It may take different form, it may move, but nothing is truly lost to us. Perhaps the universe is just a chaotic jumble of energy or perhaps it follows a more meaningful pattern. Regardless, I choose to interpret the laws that govern it in a way that does not allow for absolute loss.
My mother was alive. She smiled, she laughed, she impacted. I do not believe that an energy like that could ever really be lost. So to address loss, yes I’ve experienced it; my mother is no longer physically with me. But she’s not lost to me. Her essence is still very much present.

– Jacki Westenmark


Jacki

Jacki

My name is Jacki Westermark. I am a 19 year old student at the University of Washington and member of the Family Lives On Alumni Advisory. When I was 9 my mother passed away from cancer. I was benefited by Family Lives On. Every year they helped me recreate a tradition that I once held with my mother. Family Lives On has had an incredible impact in my life and I know it can do the same for so many others.

For more information about The Tradition Program or to fund a tradition go to http://www.familyliveson.org.