The Dougy Center, Host of the 19th Annual NAGC Symposium
This past month, the Dougy Center was proud to host the 19th Annual Symposium of the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC). For those who may not be as familiar with it, NAGC is the oldest professional organization focused on children and adolescent grief. NAGC was launched in large part due to the diligent work of The Dougy Center in training 200 other grief centers throughout the country and also to the specific efforts of our very own, Donna Schuurman, who is a founding Alliance member.
Reflections on Mother’s Day
“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
There are many expressions of motherhood; likewise there are many relationships surrounding ‘motherhood’ that can complicate a seemingly benign holiday. Mother’s Day is typically about honoring and remember our mothers, but the day can bring up mixed emotions, anxieties, and a sense of isolation for those children and teens whose mother has died. For women who’ve had a child die, Mother’s Day may hold painful associations. The ‘Hallmark card’ pressure to celebrate on that day may contribute to feelings of being different from peers and friends.
Who Am I Now? Losing and finding yourself in grief
When someone dies, we grieve not only for the person and who they were in our lives, but also for who we were before the death. People can be both surprised and disoriented by how the death changes them. No one tells us that the death of someone else can lead to grief over the loss of self. As a parent in one of our grief groups remarked, “I had no idea I’d change so much, I knew I would be devastated and miss my daughter, but I assumed I’d stay the same person I was before she died.” As Joan Didion writes in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her memoir of the first year after her husband’s sudden death, “We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”
Worrying about other people’s grief
“I’m really worried about him! He’s not working through his grief.”
I recently overheard an adult make this comment about a teenage boy whose father died by suicide six months ago. What stood out to me was not the mode of death, nor that this young man “was not working through his grief,” but that judgments of this kind are made frequently. “She doesn’t seem to be grieving.” “I don’t know if he’s doing his ‘grief work’.”
While the comments may sound harmless, even genuinely caring, they can be dangerous if left unchecked. They set up the commentator as an evaluator and a judge, begging many questions. What is too emotional or not emotional enough? Can you grieve too much? Too little? What is the right amount of time? What is the wrong amount of time? What is the right way to grieve? What is the wrong way? Where and when is it appropriate to express one’s grief? With whom should one express it?