When my brother died, my middle daughter was only 8. As we stood in the cemetery watching them lower his ashes into the earth, she held tightly to my hand and, dry-eyed, asked “how did they fit Uncle Tony into that little box?” I explained that when Uncle Tony realized he was probably going to die, he told everyone that he wanted to be cremated afterward. I also explained that being cremated means your body is heated until it turns into ash so it can be carried more easily and will fit into smaller spaces like that box.
At the time, she didn’t ask anything more about the uncle who had been so present in her life, but even through my own grief it was easy to see signs that she was grieving too, in the unique and sporadic way that children do.
Although it is often hard for adults to notice, children do grieve when their life changes due to a family member’s death. Unfortunately, surviving adults often assume that the family’s bereavement has little impact on children; or they may assume that if they avoid talking about the death, the impact will be lessened. According to certified thanatologist Helen Fitzgerald, however, this assumption hits far wide of the mark.
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The last decade has seen great strides in understanding some of the brain science behind emotions like sorrow and joy—at least of the mechanics. Using the latest technology, scientists can see some of what goes on materially in the brain when we have certain feelings, but there is much more to explore. One area that begs further study is that of grief and bereavement. How can we use the discoveries of neuroscience to help those who are grieving avoid the pitfalls that often lead to depression? First it's important to understand some of the ways bereavement affects us. (Full story . . . )