Loved ones can be a source of comfort, memories for grieving ch

April 30, 2004|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who is raising his 5-year-old granddaughter. The little girl's mother died when she was a baby. Now she's starting to ask questions about death, graves, where mommy went and why everybody else has a mommy and she doesn't.

Her grandfather asked for help in finding a book or publication that deals with losing a mother you never knew.

After browsing through several titles, I sensed his frustration.

Most books on childhood grief are for children who knew their parents - not for children who were babies when their parents died.

Faye Altizer, bereavement and social services director for Hospice of Washington County Inc., and Larry Crawley-Woods, bereavement coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle Inc., shared recently what they would recommend to grandparents in this situation.

A grieving child may want to make her own book, featuring drawings that express her feelings and photographs of the deceased parent.


People who knew the parent - perhaps her friends while growing up - could write what they remember about her, Altizer says.

"I think one of the best ways is to just tell family stories in normal conversation," Altizer says. "When your mother was a little girl, she liked to do such and such. Or, your mother used to do it just like that."

Sometimes a child will ask surviving relatives, "When are you going to die?"

"What they're really asking is, 'Who's going to take care of me?'" Altizer says.

Tell them you plan to live until you're very old, but if something would happen to you, arrangements have been made for "Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary" to take care of them. Make sure you designate this in your will.

Answer only what the child asks and always tell the truth.

"Kids are very concrete. Their understanding of language is different from ours," Crawley-Woods says. "We have to be careful about the language we're using.

"A 5-year-old doesn't need long, extended conversations."

It's hard for young children to understand death except in the sense of abandonment - wondering why Mommy left, Crawley-Woods says.

A child who never knew a parent should be told how much the parent loved her.

"She does have a mother," Altizer says. "She will always have a mother. Her mother isn't living."

Another female relative, perhaps an aunt or a grandmother, could step in to be there for the child and help at school functions. Male relatives also can help in the classroom.

"There's no way you can make her situation as if her mother were living, but you can still make it a wonderful life for her," Altizer says.

Hospice of Washington County Inc.'s Loss of a Child support group meets the third Tuesday of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. There is no charge. Call 301-791-6360 to register. Ask for Faye. Many people attending have lost adult children.

"The best prediction for a good outcome for the child is a good outcome for the parent," Altizer says. "If a parent is coping with grief in a healthy way, that's a good predictor for the outcome for the child."

After reading last week's column, Cindy Hoffman, who lives near Boonsboro, sent in a suggestion for those doing genealogical research. There are quite a few details noted in the Census about the lives of our ancestors, and she recommends accessing the Census through the Western Maryland Public Libraries' Web site, Online records include the years 1790 to 1930. You need a library card to access the online databases.

From the main page, click on the blue and red area in the center of the page marked, "Connect to Online Information." From the next page, scroll down to "Heritage Quest Online." Now you can enter your library card bar code number. Enter that and click "Proceed to Heritage Quest."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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