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Needs of Grieving Children: A Sense of Safety and Security from Never the Same: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Parent

by Donna Schuurman

Death by definition shakes one's sense of safety and security, especially if the death was violent or seen as preventable. One of the first things young children wonder about after a parent's death is What will happen to me? Frequently young children, as well as older ones, regress in their behaviors. Toddlers who were potty trained wet the bed and demand bottles. Not uncommonly, children become clingy, afraid for the safety of their remaining parent, and aware in a new way not only that everyone will die, but that it can happen at any time.

If your parent died violently, you probably, like the kids in The Dougy Center's "Healing from a Murder" groups, had fears and concerns for your own safety, even if the perpetrator was caught and behind bars. You may have generalized that fear to a strong sense of feeling unsafe in the world, even later as an adult.

If your parent suicided, you may wonder, as many of those in The Dougy Center's "Healing from a Suicide" groups do, whether you also are "fated" to die by suicide, whether it is in your genes. You may have struggled over the years with depression or a generalized sense of meaninglessness. You may have felt (and probably were) ostracized and judged by those around you for having a parent die by suicide.

If your parent died from a disease or illness, you may have had fears (and still have fear) that you would also get the disease or not live past the age of your parent's death.

None of these fears are uncommon among children and adolescents. Nor are they uncommon among adults who had a parent die when they were children. There may be ways in which you have carried insecurity and fear, unknowingly, into your adult years. There may be ways in which this fear is preventing you from having the full and rich life you could have, even now. Many of your fears may have a legitimate basis. You may in fact have susceptibility to the disease that took your parent's life. If you were mistreated or abused in your living situation following your parent's death, your fear, insecurity, and anxiety may be well-founded. However you do not have to remain a victim of those who mistreated you. You don't have to live out of fear and protection.

*Donna Schuurman is the Executive Director of The Dougy Center, a children's grief support program in Portland, Oregon and the source of excellent resources on grief and loss. www.dougy.org

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