Coping with grief

HOUGHTON – Children feel grief at the loss of a loved one, but often adults around children don’t understand that grief can be as intense or more so than their own, according to Dr. Larry Skendzel.

Skendzel, who is a family medicine doctor working at Lake Superior Hospice in Marquette, will be the featured speaker for the Community Coalition on Grief and Bereavement lecture series from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton. He will speak about helping children and teens cope with loss and grief.

If the grief of children isn’t recognized and dealt with quickly, Skendzel said it could have seriously negative results for the community in the form of behavior problems and drug and alcohol abuse.

“When we turn away as adults, it’s pay me now or pay me later,” he said. “Paying on the front end is sometimes easier than paying on the back end.”

Skendzel said adults often have difficulty dealing with their own sense of grief and loss, and don’t want to or don’t know how to help their children. Being able to help children requires being OK with grief.

“There’s a tendency for us to want to make it go away,” he said.

Although health care professionals around the country have been working with children and teens trying to cope with grief for many years, Skendzel said it’s a fairly new concept in the Upper Peninsula, and his talk at the PLDL will address that. He’s also working with the 2-year-old Camp STAR (Sharing Together and Remembering) bereavement camp for children and teens located at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay.

During his presentation at the PLDL Oct. 9, Skendzel said he will talk about the effectiveness of the camp.

At Camp STAR, Skendzel said children are helped with the grieving process by being able to talk to other children going through the same situation.

Skendzel said often parents of children who are grieving ask him what is normal as far as understanding what their children are going through. Trying to avoid grief is not a proper behavior.

“You can’t go around grief,” he said. “You have to go through it.”

The counselors at Camp STAR are volunteers, and Skendzel said many of them are former campers. Each camper has a “buddy” who understands the grieving process assigned to them for the duration of their stay.

“We try to help them develop a language around (the grief),” he said.