Coping with the loss of a loved one

Amanda McDaniel was a single mom. Her world revolved around her little girl, Ashlan, but when Ashlan was just five years old, her mother suddenly died.

"She will come up to me and she will say, 'I miss my Mommy' and I'll say, 'You do?' We will immediately talk about it," said Rhonda Coldren.

Now Amanda's older sister, Rhonda, is raising Ashlan. It's a transition but it's been easier with the help of the Kaleidoscope Grief Center at Methodist Family Health. Both Rhonda and Ashlan attend counseling sessions where they meet other kids and parents going through the same thing.

"You are there with people who truly understand how you feel. They truly do and you can see it," said Rhonda. "You can feel it and you have that connection that you would otherwise not have."

Janet Breen, a licensed therapist specializing in grief, believes counseling is important following a family death because the adults and the children are each dealing with the emotions surrounding their own loss.

According to Breen, most kids start out not wanting to come to therapy, but after a few sessions they feel a difference.

"They can relate to the other kids and they have a sense of trust here and there is safety and comfort when they start to bloom and they may be more quiet and vulnerable but we'll see them in the coming months where they smile more, make eye contact, they talk more openly," said Breen.

If a tragedy strikes, Breen gives several suggestions including:

- Wait at least a month before starting therapy.

- Children under the age of 6 or 7 will have a hard time processing the finality of death.

- Do not shield kids from funerals or events surrounding the death.

- Watch to make sure grieving children don't isolate themselves at school or at home.

- Try your best to keep up with family routines and schedules.

- Keep the kids talking about what happened and about the person they miss.

"The most important thing you can do with a child of any age is listen to them, validate their feelings, ask them how they are feeling. Tell them if you don't understand that you wish you could help them but if you can't you're here. Those are the most important things you can do," said Breen.

"I think the more we talk about it, the better it is," said Rhonda.

It's been more than two years since Amanda died. Rhonda and Ashlan talk about her as much as they can. Ashlan loves looking at pictures, asking questions, and telling stories about her mother. It makes them both realize that love can be stronger than death.

"My sister would be happy about that... that we're talking about her and we're keeping her alive the best way we can."

The group counseling services offered at the Kaleidoscope Grief Center are free. If you're interested in helping some of Arkansas' bereaved children, you're invited to an auction being held Thursday, October 4. For more information, call 661-0720.