Grief Network Niagara, an umbrella group of professionals and volunteers who provide bereavement support throughout the community, hosted a Children’s Grief Awareness event at Brock on November 12. The event was catered to both increase awareness and provide support to help parents understand the needs of grieving children and those around them.
“We wanted to be able to highlight the fact that children grieve differently,” said Melissa Penner, a Bereavement Advisor with the Hospice Niagara Support Groups. “They’re often considered forgotten,” said Penner, explaining that “children can only handle intense grief for short periods of time, so often people will look at children and say ‘oh they’re doing pretty well’ but really it’s just that children have these moments when they just can’t handle grief.”
In terms of the event itself, Penner said that Grief Network Niagara came together “to educate people about how to help and how to talk to children that have had somebody close to them die such as actually using the proper words like ‘death’ instead of having to be gentle since we do need to be more clear with our wording.”
The Children’s Grief Awareness event was separated into two different portions of the day; the first half of the event was catered to children and the second half focused on educating adults such as parents, teachers, students and professionals.
From the morning into the afternoon, the movie Inside Out was screened for children and their families to watch. The movie highlights the importance of children sharing their feelings, so that their emotions aren’t closed away and built up negatively. The event provided free popcorn and refreshments to guests, including free gift bags for children that contained toys, colouring pages and more, and featured a prize draw with three different prizes encouraging students to utilize their skills and talents.
In the afternoon, adults were invited and welcomed to participate in presentations offered by professionals that focused on topics regarding children’s grief. The presentations opened the floor to genuine dialogue and discussion between participants. Some of the various issues that were discussed included bullying after loss, working with nightmares, how to deal with pet loss and the significance of grief dreams.
Joshua Black, a PhD student at Brock researching grief dreams, said that his journey into studying grief began when his father suddenly passed away. The death occurred while Black was completing his undergraduate studies at Brock and he didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.
“When my dad passed away I really didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t know anything about loss because I’d never experienced it before and I really bottled up my emotions and just went back to school to do my own thing,” said Black. “I started feeling really numb and I wasn’t enjoying life anymore. Then I had a dream of my father and I finally had a chance to say goodbye to him. I finally acknowledged his loss.”
After the dream, Black described that he felt changed. Upon completing his degree, Black decided to take some time off and volunteer. He then decided to begin his research in grief dreams due to the lack of prior studies on the topic.
Black, who helped organize the event, said that “this event is for people to start asking important questions and begin really thinking about the ways in which grief affects everybody.” For kids, Black explained, “there are different concerns in terms of grief, that you don’t really get with adults,” one example he shared was that of a young girl who stated that she was constantly pressured to be her best because she felt that her deceased love one was always watching her and she didn’t want to disappoint.
This event comes just in time for National Children’s Grief Awareness Day on Nov. 17, in order to highlight its importance and provide adults with the right opportunities to make sure that children receive the support they need.
To learn more about grief styles, dreams and support methods, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as check out their various bereavement support groups such as Bereaved Families of Ontario. To learn more about Joshua Black’s research of grief dreams, you can visit http://www.griefdreams.ca/