Media, Kids & Grief: Different Ages & Stages of Loss

billannie2.jpgBeloved Billabong (immediate left) died in my arms yesterday, leaving behind his littermate sister who is a canine basket case, as much as I am a human one. Can dogs die of a broken heart?

As my remaining 9 year old (dog) and 12 year old (daughter) curl up in Bill’s spot to be near his scent, whimpering intermittently with woe, I realize life lessons usually take the form of media moments in this house, so I began to source excellent grief support sites, learn specific tips for children and unearth thoughts I’d never considered, like this correlation, “Dogs Eye View of Older Child Adoption.” Fascinating.

As William Shakespeare said, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” For me, writing and learning become helpful distractions, enabling me to work through layers of sadness, sharing media resources that might help others, from pet loss to beyond.

Can we use books and media forums for sensitivity training so we don’t blurt out blunders in our attempts to help healing? Some adults are the worst offenders, belittling kids’ pain with dismissive ‘perspective.’

How can kids help kids through troubled times and learn early on how to be there for one another? How can parents help by ‘getting it?’

pawprint.JPGIn preschool days, poetry, painting, and books like Dog Heaven, or I’ll Always Love You, or For Every Dog and Angel worked magic to convey ‘first loss’ experiences, segueing into prepubescent books like “Are you there, God? It’s Me Margaret” edging toward the spiritual abyss. Dog movies, poetry and celebrations of life/memorials can help with closure and catharsis too…

As this article from the National Assoc. of School Psychologists points out, even classmate reactions need deconstruction when it comes to kids dealing with grief…whether it concerns a pet, human, or current events.

kara.jpgI found some interesting sites on fostering kids ’emotional EQ,’ like this article on kids’ grief…And loved the Kara site which had some wonderful kids and teen educational resources and a fully searchable database with ideas, and pragmatic hints like these ‘dos and don’ts’ which work for all ages.

What To Say/What Not to Say:

How to Help Someone Suffering from Loss (per

DO let your genuine concern and caring show, be available… listen or to help with whatever else seems needed at the time, say you are sorry about what happened and about their pain…allow them to express as much unhappiness as they are feeling at the moment and encourage them to be patient with themselves, not to expect too much of themselves and not to impose any “shoulds” on themselves…talk about the special, endearing qualities of the person they’ve lost. (and remember they continue to need your caring and support after the first few weeks or months have passed)

DON’T let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out…avoid them because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already painful experience.)

DON’T say that you “know how they feel,” or say “you ought to be feeling better by now” or anything else that implies a judgment about their feelings.

DON’T tell them what they should feel or do.

DON’T change the subject when they mention their loss or their loved one.

DON’T avoid mentioning their loss out of fear of reminding them of their pain (You can be sure they haven’t forgotten it).

DON’T try to find something positive (e.g. a moral lesson, closer family ties, etc.) about the loss.

DON’T point out “at least they have their other …”

DON’T say they “can always have another …”

DON’T suggest that they “should be grateful for their so-and-so…”

DON’T make any comments which in any way suggest that their loss was their fault (there will be enough feelings of doubt and guilt without any help from their friends).

Wise words…great site…worth a bookmark for sure.

Since I’m a swollen-eyed puffy red mess already, and teen transitions can amp up the ante on trauma into much deeper territory, pondering ‘what ifs,’ and the larger human condition, I figure I might as well explore the larger spectrum of children’s pain too…

Like? Mental health tips for parents and kids coping with traumatic events, as well as tips for media producers themselves in terms of handling topics that require heavy-lifting…(important to know before you shove that microphone in a traumatized child or bereaved parent’s face, people).

I wrote this ‘media tips’ piece about breaking news coverage such as the Virginia Tech shooting…and this one with a gazillion links on dealing with kids’ fear of terrorism, but grieving a personal loss takes shape in different dimensions.

From sudden event trauma, (accident, drive-by/crime scene) to chronic illness (family member or kids themselves) ages and stages of grieving are as individual and varied as the children themselves…

Then there’s the complex grieving often with stigmatization associated in death by substance abuse, gangs/drive-bys, teen suicide, drunk driving, eating disorders and such that can leave parents and peers crushed with debilitating guilt, blaming themselves for the loss of others. Whew.

Not exactly the chipper holiday spirit I’d hoped to write as part two of my ‘marketing mindfulness’ ideas, but I promise I’ll be back with that continuation for holiday cheer shortly..Meanwhile…

This social workers site, “Help Starts Here” had a great capsulized age snapshot on How Children Grieve at Different Ages:

“Three to Five Years Old: Children at this age often think death is reversible. Magical thinking is common. If the princess can awaken from a long sleep, so can grandfather awaken from death. It is important to tell children that death is permanent, and that their loved one will not come back.

Six to Ten Years Old: By this age, children understand that death is final. They begin to realize that they, too, can die. They need to be told that just because a loved one died, they are not necessarily going to die. Children in this age range are media-savvy and are aware of murders and kidnappings committed against children. They need to be made to feel safe and protected. They need simple, honest information.

Eleven to Thirteen Years Old: Children in this age range have a realistic view of death, but refuse to believe death can happen to them. They share adult grief emotions, but often are overwhelmed by these feelings. They tend to move in and out of grief.

Teenagers: Teenagers may either internalize grief or act out grief emotions in inappropriate or dangerous ways. Those who internalize grief may lead adults around them to think they are handling grief well. Look for grief emotions to sneak out, expressed in poetry, art, and music. Some teenagers act out their grief in destructive ways, such as driving recklessly, fighting in school, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and engaging in sexual behaviors. Regardless of how a teenager grieves, help from an adult is needed. If grief becomes pathological, seek counseling with a trained mental health professional.”

Here are a few links of some worthy sites on children’s grief, ranging from pets to parents/peers…

Here’s hoping you won’t need them anytime soon.

Kara: Education & Grief Support (including grief database)

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Children’s Complicated Grief (Unexpressed, locked in ‘frozen blocks of time’)

National Association of School Psychologist Tips For Helping Children Cope With Loss

Healing Stories: Picture Books for the Big and Small Changes in a Child’s Life

Podcast: Using Stories to Help Children Understand Their World from Rona Renner’s Radio Show, Childhood Matters, 8-12-07

Network for Good: Comprehensive List of Animal Welfare Orgs

Ted E. Bear Mending hearts of children/teens since 2001

Kidlutions: Book Picks For Handling Kids’ Grief (exc selections)

And here’s a lovely poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye 1905-2004

“Do not stand at my grave and weep–I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush– I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there; I did not die.”

Now, back to hugging my hound…



  1. Oh, Amy, I am so sorry for your loss! And for your daughter’s! I lost my beloved dog at age 12, was overcome with grief, and had no idea how to handle it. Thank you for these wonderful resources and my thoughts are with you and your family.

  2. Amy,

    You’re a great mom and role model…Your loss is our loss too…I was lucky enough to know Bill…to throw the ball a gazillion times for Bill and Annie…I miss him too…keep up the good work/words/blog/deeds.

    –(the other) bill

  3. Amy,
    When a pet or person leaves us for good, a part of our heart will always be with them. Tears can drop in an instant from thinking of all the sweet tender moments that made us bond. I’m so sorry you and your daughter are hurting. (And Annie, too.) Me and my kids love your dogs. I can see them diving into the water to happily and eagerly fetch a ball. Surely they are your family as much as any person could be.
    Grief and loss resources in the media are not marketed with any frequency. Your search for comfort is helpful to all.

  4. Thanks for the kind words…it’s a wild time no doubt, but as Jackson Browne would say in The Great Pretender, “And when the morning light, comes streamin’ in I’ll get up and do it again, Amen.”

    Call me a ‘happy idiot’ but I can no longer struggle in silence, pretend the pain doesn’t hurt, or put a lockbox on my heart just to shield. The joy at the other end of the spectrum of heartache is far too much of a privilege to ignore…so rest assured, whether it’s tragedy or triumph, I’ll be back in the ring regardless…and blog my fool heart out in the hope it helps others on some level of sharing and caring.

    As Emerson said, “Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.”

    That’s for sure. I’m humbled by a hound. And a very noble one at that…Appreciate the warmth, –a.

  5. Checked into your blog today, figuring on some new take on crass commercialism, the latest media fiascos, mishaps,etc., only to get jolted back a number of years to my OWN experiences, coping with loss of people, animals, other things too numerous to mention….You have a succinct way of ‘phrasing things’ that touch the heartstrings of young AND old, and for that I commend you. I join all the others who’re expressing their care & sympathy, just in the off-chance that it somehow helps lessen your sadness. With respect, Adam F.

  6. I am sorry for your loss.

  7. All the best to you, Amy! My thoughts are with you and your fam… Bless your daughter’s heart. I can still remember– with ultimate clarity– how my broken heart felt as a 13 year old when my dog (and childhood playmate) passed away.

    These are fantastic links and great sage advice from you– the ultimate guru.

    We’ll talk this week or next week, yeah?

  8. Would love to talk soon on the correspondent/content swaps, Izzy, so ‘yeah.’ Had to cancel all mtgs. due to the family front last week so am playing catch up a tad, but will be back atcha soon! About to post ‘part two’ on the marketing mindfulness & kids/philanthropy piece to revisit perspective/joy in the playbook of life…sheesh, wonder how so many kids seem to lose their dogs at the preteen 12/13 age? You’re about the 20th person that has mentioned same! Serendipity I guess…but kinda wild…

  9. My heart goes out to you and your daughter… yet leave it to you to find the power of language to express your loss so candidly, while sharing valuable insight with others. We lost our family dog six months ago (in a tragic car accident) and I feel my three-year old son never fully got closure — do you ever? These resources and words of wisdom may help us (all) better get there. Hang in there. Kirsten

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