Painting Your Own Masterpiece

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Lauren & her dad

Lauren Seago, Gregory Seago.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

Contributing Writer: Lauren Seago

Introduced to the crowd as the daughter of the late Gregory Seago, my hands grasped both sides of the podium and I started to cry in front of hundreds of people. In that moment, I looked up to not only see a gym full of people, but to embrace the feeling of grief that had overcome me. I wiped my cheeks and apologized to the crowd because this ‘life’s first moment’ for me was hard — really hard.

I have always heard the first anything is the scariest.

The first moment you step in a classroom full of new faces.

The first time you ride a bike without training wheels.

The first time you jump into a pool without someone to catch you.

Your first date.

Your first kiss.

Your first heartbreak.

I could tell you those ‘life’s first moments’ without your parent get easier over time, but that would be a lie.

My high school graduation was one of my ‘life’s first moments’ that my dad would not be attending. I stood with my graduating class and watched as families flooded through the doors. Moms, dads, grandparents, siblings all filed in to celebrate their soon-to-be graduate and indulge in a huge life moment.

I went on to finish my speech and left the podium to return to my seat. But before I did, I realized that, my life would continuously be filled with many more ‘life’s first moments’ that my dad would not be at. And not just in my life, but my siblings’ as well.

This thought of my dad missing my whole life was extremely overwhelming and discomforting. It was a painful confirmation that my dad was really gone.

There have been so many different ‘life’s first moments’ my dad has missed. From graduations to first days of college, move in days, first days of middle school — the first of everything and anything my dad had missed.

Moving throughout the years, Father’s Day has become like any other day for me. But I don’t avoid it or pretend like it is not there.

One of the biggest things I struggled with was the idea that people paint this canvas of grieving as this terrible ugly picture. Filled with blacks and greys, grieving is portrayed as an emotion that when expressed is a weakness.

See here’s the thing, there’s power in the process of grieving and painting your own grieving masterpiece. You have the opportunity to fill a canvas with mistakes, doubts, and fears, all crafted by your own hand.

Those feelings and emotions come to life when you reach one of ‘life’s first moments,’ or when you finally let lose the words you’ve buried, and it hurts. But it also starts to paint your road to recovery and your very own masterpiece. The colors may bleed together, it may be dark, it might be sad, and anger could radiate throughout, but the thing is, it is not like anyone else’s.

It is your own.

For the longest time, I believed the lie that crying is a weakness, that grieving is a weakness, expressing how I feel is a weakness. Now I know it is apart of my masterpiece.

 Painted and crafted in my own time.

As you celebrate Father’s Day or any of ‘life’s first moments,’ just remember crying, talking about past memories are all different pieces of your own masterpiece, and it will be okay.

Lauren Fathers Day Profile


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to Lauren Seago for contributing to this blog. More than a million people viewed Lauren’s post An Open Letter to Every Kid Who Has Lost a Parent. 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.

Support for Students Who Have Lost a Parent: The Family Lives On Foundation

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Posted May 27, 2015 by Erin Flynn Jay in Featured Stories

BoyholdingsoccerballMore than two million children in the United States are grieving the death of a parent.

“When a student’s relative or loved one has died, teachers wonder, perhaps worry, what do I say? Out of our own personal discomfort, or with good intentions, they often say nothing at all,” said Christine Cavalieri, executive director of the Family Lives On Foundation.

“Saying nothing says a lot, particularly to a child who has experienced the death of a parent,” she continued.

Losing a parent puts children at risk for mental health, behavior issues

Studies have shown that bereaved children are between two and three times more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. As they grow up, they’re also more likely to engage in high-risk behavior and have criminal records.

However, these risks can be lessened when children and teens maintain an emotional connection to their late parent. Finding healthy ways to adapt to loss is key to providing bereavement support.

Shakespeare said it best: ‘Give sorrow words’

Cavalieri said that people’s discomfort with grief makes them attempt to ignore it and hope it will pass quickly. As a result, families — especially children — often suffer alone and in silence without sufficient understanding and support of relatives and teachers.

“It is normal and necessary to understand and grieve the death of a loved one. And the process does not end with the funeral,” said Cavalieri. “For a child, it continues their entire adolescence when grief is often re-ignited by developmental milestones.”

Family Lives On serves children and teens ages three to 18, regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or cause of the parent’s death. The non-profit organization supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children and teens whose mother or father has died and is entirely funded through charitable donations.

Continuing traditions can help children after a parent has died

Grounded in research and clinically-identified needs for healthy bereavement, Family Lives On’s Tradition Program makes it possible for children to continue activities or celebrate traditions that they used to do with their mother or father.

“We don’t do it with them, we just provide everything the family needs — tickets, ingredients, crafts, and so on. And we do that every year, for each child in the family, until they turn 18 and graduate out of the program,” said Cavalieri. “Then we ask, how will you do this for yourself, for the rest of your life? Because the relationship never ends. Your mom is always your mom.”

How educators can support grieving students

Cavalieri said that educators should understand how family traditions provide a natural context for communication and connection, and help children to maintain a healthy emotional bond. “Celebrating the life story is a powerful holistic approach that focuses on moving forward and the future. It isn’t therapy but it is therapeutic,” she said.

When educators provide support for these grieving children and their families, they are more likely to move from being survivors to thrivers. “The vision is that, someday, the practice of keeping traditions alive after the death of a parent will become mainstream,”said Cavalieri. “And no child will grieve in silence, or alone.”

Bereavement support resources for teachers

For comprehensive resources to assist students coping with parental loss, Cavalieri recommends the Coalition to Support Grieving Children. Both national teachers’ unions are members of the coalition.

“This is a user-friendly site that provides practical, accessible information about the issue of childhood grief and how best to support a grieving child,” she said. “This online resource uses a dynamic multimedia approach to present current best practices for addressing grief at school as well as supplemental information for parents supporting their own children.”


YOU CAN HELP! Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization entirely funded through charitable donations. Our services are provided at no cost to the families. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here.


Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.


Helping Kids with Grief, Loss and Death

“Even though someone’s body dies, the love we feel never has to die. Our love remembers them forever.” – Anonymous

“Those who can’t weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.”
–Golda Meir

Learning to mourn, and to be comfortable with the grieving process, might not seem like a parenting skill. But grief is a part of every life, and how we handle loss has a huge impact on the richness of our family’s emotional life. Our comfort level with loss also gives our children an important role model.

At times, there will be nothing we can do for our child except to sit with him and let him experience his grief: over a sports defeat, an inconsiderate peer, a dead pet, or even an ill or deceased loved one. To work through his grief, our child needs what therapists call a “holding environment,” and we are the ones who do the holding, both physically and emotionally.

If we are so uncomfortable with loss that we cannot allow our child to mourn, we give a destructive message that is far reaching. Accepting loss as a normal part of life is important for optimal mental health for all of us. The more we allow ourselves to grieve when necessary, the more joy we can feel.

Thankfully, grief is never interminable. Like all feelings, if we let ourselves feel it, grief swamps us, and then, eventually, diminishes. Not that grief ever disappears, but we can think of it as a slice of the pie of our lives:  at first an important loss pervades the entire circle of our life; but gradually the slice of our life in shadow becomes smaller and smaller.  Eventually, we can go on with our lives in a healthy way, although we may always revisit the pain of our loss.  But if we fend it off like an unwelcome visitor, grief doesn’t leave. It takes up residence like a shadow in our psyches, and we become stuck in its bitter influence. Unresolved grief compromises resiliency, threatening to burst out at even minor provocations, leaving us fragile and prone to depression.

Our children, therefore, not only need to grieve sometimes, but need our help to do so. Give children ongoing opportunities to ask questions and to talk about their loss. Create large and small rituals of remembrance, and to honor the deceased and help them keep them alive in your child’s heart.  As the months go by, make a point of mentioning the lost loved one’s name in conversation when appropriate.  Don’t insist that your child grieve when he or she is trying to be happy, but don’t act as if the loss didn’t happen, either.

Be aware that children grieve differently from adults. They need rituals that offer safe space for grieving, and then a defined end point so they can play again and go on with their lives without guilt.

The kids who successfully live through loss are the ones who find ways to feel connected to the person they’ve lost AND to go on with their lives.  Even children experiencing severe losses need time off from grief.  They need safe space, such as school, where they will not be reminded of their loss and can forget for a time.  They need to hear that we are there for them when they want to talk, and they need us to normalize talking about the loss, but they also need our permission to go on with their lives.

Books to help you talk with children about death.

More resources for griefcounseling needs: National Alliance for Grieving Children

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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 enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page.

Twitter: @familyliveson

Instagram: @familyliveson

email: info@familyliveson.org

8 Important Things that Children Never Forget.

smiling cute kid_thumb[3]Re-Posted from Parent and Child Magazine

My twin daughters, Anna and Emma, are 16 years old, but they still love to relive and retell stories from their early childhood. Emma often asks to hear about how she greeted everyone with her first word, “cookie,” rather than with “hello.” Anna recounts the time she was struck with a shovel full of ice and had to go to the emergency room. “I remember being there!”; she says. “I remember lying on the bed and hearing you go, ‘Ohhh!’ The doctor was a woman, and everyone came to visit me.” She was only 2 at the time! What will your child remember from her earliest years? And what meaning do these specific memories have for your child?

For one thing, memories connect our pasts, our present, and our futures — and they connect us to one another. Our children’s memories can also lend insight into their rich inner lives, and can help them develop what Eric Neisser, founder of the Rutgers Special Education Clinic, calls “the extended knowledge of oneself across time.” Knowledge of oneself is power, and you acquire it by looking inside and at your external experiences. It is one of the ways we find meaning in our lives.

What Children Remember

Jerome Bruner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, suggests that retelling events is a means for children to use narrative to reconstruct their life experiences. Bruner considers storytelling the most powerful way that people organize experience. The youngest “reminiscers” rely on others to help them create a description of the past. The language that accompanies visual imagery and experiences makes them that much stronger in our minds.

Several years ago, I embarked on a study with a colleague at the Early Childhood Education Center at the University of Vermont to capture children’s salient memories. We wanted to find out what the 5 year olds remembered at their school. We hoped to gain insight from them in order to make school a better place for our students. We wanted their memories to be part of the history of our school and to convey what had challenged them and what had brought them joy. We hoped the memories would include some of what the childrenÂ’s parents and teachers held dear. What we discovered about childrenÂ’s memories was even more profound.

We explained to the children that we wanted to help them make stories (visual memoirs) of their years at school before they left for kindergarten. We asked them how they thought they could tell a story in pictures that related what they remembered about life at school. Initially, the children met outside under a shady tree, and their teacher read stories about adults recalling moments from their own childhoods. Then everyone shared memories from school with one another.

Over the course of the project, the children spent time talking about the past and drawing the things they would “never forget.” We went on walks and took cameras with no film in them so children could practice looking at objects, places, and people through a viewfinder. Soon, the children were ready to do some photography. Throughout the process, we were constantly reflecting on the stories they spoke about.

Two hundred and eighty-eight drawings and photographs later, we noticed certain themes running through the memories the children had represented in images. We searched for common threads and patterns, and what we found became the title of the project: Children Remember Important Things.

8 Important Things

In the end we culled eight areas of memories that make an impression on young children. Here’s what children will never forget:

Being dropped off at school. The most frequent memory that children reported was the experience of being dropped off at school each morning. Many children had rituals they shared with their mothers and fathers. For example, Collin remembered this: “Mommy and I would say goodbye with a hug and say, ‘I love you more than anything.’ Then, Mommy would kiss the birds on the door to the center.” In many cases the children wanted their portrait taken saying goodbye to Mom or Dad in their particular way.
Their natural environment. Children generated stories, memories, and rich conversations with one another about classroom pets, gardens, the nearby woods, and the fountain on the University green, where they enjoyed playing freely. They also mentioned places where they sought refuge from storms. The children dramatically retold stories about changes in the weather, the excitement of big winds and rainbows, and the nervous, surprised, even frenzied emotions those changes produced.

Jumping, swinging, climbing. Children often focused on the experiences of active play, such as running, jumping, swinging, climbing, and playing hockey (which is a major pastime in Vermont and a source of real-life superheroes). A typical morning greeting among these children was, “Hey! Want to be on my team today?” Some of these memories included working and playing together and the necessity of having order, rules, and leaders.

Being good at something. The children conveyed a desire to capture images of things they had created. These memories highlight a sense of competence with processes and representation. They wanted to be viewed and known by others as being “good at something”: sewing, papermaking, block-building, painting, sculpting with clay, writing, or playing favorite games.

People I like, and who like me. Friendships are important developmentally, but it was deeply moving to listen as children described having connected with others who shared their interests, who they looked forward to spending time with, who they trusted, and who they imagined would always be part of their lives. They wanted to photograph not only the people they loved, but also the people they knew liked them in return and the people who had been kind to them.

The babies and toddlers. The children wanted to leave a legacy for the younger children they had grown fond of, or, in some cases, for the younger siblings that they would be leaving behind. They remembered eating with them, watching them grow, and understanding what they like to do. Five-year-old Finley put it most eloquently: “I want to take of picture of Rowan so he’ll remember me when I’m gone.”

Being part of the community. There were a lot of feelings the kids wanted to express about the connections they formed with people in the community. This included teachers, people on the campus who had shared food with them, people who allowed them to visit special places, and the bus drivers they were friendly with.

Places and structures. Places were often unforgettable to the children. They documented buildings and destinations that represented areas of meaning for them: the first potty they used, the cribs they slept in, and the slides in the toddler room they ventured down.
Strengthen Your Child’s Memories

Talking with your child — especially thinking out loud about what is happening, what you are doing, and why — goes a long way toward building language skills, which play an important role in remembering. We can also help by narrating as we play with children, thereby offering them a context in which to remember the lessons that play can offer.

It’s also beneficial to revisit favorite books repeatedly and to tell stories from your own life. One of the important things we offer children when we talk reflectively with them is the process of making connections between the moment they are in and previous experiences.

Looking at photographs, home movies, and past schoolwork provides opportunities for talking about what these moments represent. You can ask your child, “What feelings did you have then? How do you feel about it now? Why was this moment important?” We save so many things that our children make at school — drawings, writings, collages, photographs, and more. This adds tremendous value to the children’s experiences. It’s also helpful to write a brief anecdote that your child shares with you on the back of drawings and photographs to aid in keeping the events in our minds and reminding us of the context.

We can learn so much from understanding what moments, events, places, and people are important to young children. We should be mindful of how we say goodbye to our children and give time to creating rituals and traditions. We should find ways to ensure that our children have opportunities to spend time in nature and connect with a variety of important places that they can revisit throughout their lives. Supporting our children’s early friendships — and the enjoyment they feel from being social with other people — is an important way we help them to know and remember that they are loved.

Share your feelings and your point of view as well. Telling stories about yourself is more than just interesting to your children — through your stories, they learn that you believe it is important to give voice to memories, impressions, feelings, and events that may otherwise be held inside and eventually forgotten. They learn how to recount their memories and, more importantly, that you care and expect them to talk about their lives and what matters to them the most.

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Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

 

A Child’s Eye View of Death: The Power of Picture Books to Explain

Death and bereavement are difficult facts for parents to teach small children, made harder still if they are grieving themselves. But many authors have found elegant ways to start the process.

Re-Posted from: The Guardian

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Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? Written by Elke & Alex Barser,             Illustrations by Anna Jarvus

By Imogen Russell Williams

Dealing with death, in picture books and early readers, is a challenge for parents and publishers alike. There’s often a knee-jerk feeling of revulsion to contend with – “That’s a bit dark”, or “Surely they’re too young for that?” – the readerly equivalent of the sign against the evil eye.

But toddlers and pre-schoolers are likely to encounter some form of loss, even in their early lives – whether in animal form, or when a grandparent or even a parent dies. For a choked-up, grieving adult, or for one who wants to prepare a child for life’s only inevitability, a well chosen book can speak volumes.

Books dealing with the loss of someone close, especially a parent, are probably needed only in the dreaded specific situation, since reading a story in which a parent dies (outside the safely formula-bound, once-removed world of fairytale) is likely to induce fearsome anxiety in young kids. They’re hard going for adults, too: I only have to hear the title of Elke Becker’s Is Daddy Coming Back In A Minute? to feel a nose-prickling urge to stick my head under the pillow. But Becker’s book, which uses her son’s own words to ask and answer questions about death, is extraordinary, laying out with clarity and tenderness the anxiety, curiosity and unavoidable, drawn-out sorrow that a parent’s loss brings in its wake. Her second book, What Happened to Daddy’s Body?, also deals directly and sensitively with the realities of burial and cremation.

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Missing Mummy, by Rebecca Cobb

Similarly, Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mummy, for the youngest children, and, Holly Webb’s A Tiger Tale, for slightly older readers, focus clear-sightedly on children’s fears, curiosity and feelings of being cut adrift. Webb’s book, about a little girl who’s lost her grandad, deals sensitively with the discomfort of grief’s etiquette, too: Kate is bemused by adult mourners laughing at fond memories, unsure whether and when she is allowed to feel happy.

But what about pre-emptively dealing with death, in more general terms – is it a good idea, or one that generates more anxiety than it allays? Personally, knowing that a much-loved but ancient Jack Russell was soon to be no more, I prepared the ground with my two-year-old, who had already begun to ask questions about what memorials meant. I found myself floundering when I tried to answer these, either overcomplicating matters or abruptly changing the subject (“Oh look – a squirrel!”). I am not a Christian, and didn’t really want to suggest dog heaven (or human heaven, for that matter), but I didn’t trust myself to find the solid middle ground between bald fact and emotional comfort. I tried Goodbye Mog, but I couldn’t read it myself without dissolving into strangulated sobs, which defeated the purpose. (I grew up on Mog myself, and am frankly not yet ready for her to be dead.)

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Lifetimes, The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children Written by Bryan Mellonie & Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

So I ordered an American book first published in the 1980s, called Lifetimes. This has a calm, inexorable tone throughout, and illustrations which evoke the beauty of death in nature – broken shells, ants, butterflies – as well as the vivid joy of being alive (although the pictures of people are a little dated now). “It is the way they live, and it is their lifetime,” is its refrain. I won’t say it’s a firm favourite of my daughter’s, but it provided me with a solid foundation, a simple, straightforward script – and it did seem to help when the poor old dog disappeared.

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Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch: making peace with death.

There’s a still more thought-provoking approach in the German book Duck, Death and the Tulip, in which Duck becomes aware, one day, that someone with a skull for a head, and a rather natty tartan coat, is following her everywhere. Eventually, she chums up with friendless Death, talking to him about the afterlife, and what will happen to her after she dies. Then she does die, and Death tends to her body, placing it gently in the river which carries it away.

Making peace with the idea of death as a constant companion, something that awaits everyone, and which is better reconciled with than feared, is an uncomfortable prospect for many parents; unsurprisingly, perhaps, since adults struggle with the idea too, sometimes till the end of their lives. But it might lessen the seismic nature of grief and fear a little, for both young children and adults, if we grew up with the idea of death as both inevitable and essential, instead of keeping it at arm’s length.

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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 enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page.