Episode 46: How to Help Children Cope with Grief with Michele Benyo of Good Grief Parenting

Apr 15, 2022 | Podcast Episode

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Even out of unspeakable grief, beautiful things can take wing which has been the case for this week’s guest, Michele Benyo. Michele loved the motherhood journey so much that she decided to go back to school after the birth of her two children and receive her masters in family education in order to become an Early Childhood Parent Educator. It was shortly thereafter that grief began when her son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 4. The experience ultimately led to her current role as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist™️. Michele’s younger daughter also played a pivotal role in her career path as she experienced her own grief alongside her 3.5 year-old when her son died.

Today, Michele helps families heal and “live forward” with grief after the death of their child. With the Good Grief Parenting Approach, parents get in touch with their parenting wisdom so they can be confident that they are helping their bereaved young child grieve well and can be hopeful about a future for their family bright with possibilities and even joy.

Episode Highlights:

  • Michele’s experience and journey with grief and how it’s shaped her life and career path
  • Answering the question “are kids resilient?” (and why sometimes having resilience is besides the point)
  • Why childhood is the best time to teach about grief
  • Mistakes that adults often make when it comes to children grieving
  • Why Michele and her husband decided to include their young daughter in many of the experiences that came along with their sons cancer journey
  • The Good Grief Parenting Framework
  • What it means to “live forward”
  • Continuing bonds
  • Finding permission to grieve in a society that tells us to move on

Mentioned in the episode:
​​Grieving mom is comforted by her 5-year-old article

Connect with Michele:

Transcripts (Please Note: This transcript was computer-generated so please be mindful of errors):
[00:00:00] Michele: Hi.

[00:00:00] Gianna: How are you? Nice to meet you too. Where are you from?

[00:00:04] Michele: Minnesota

[00:00:04] Gianna: Minnesota? I have been to Minnesota. I went there for the 2018 Superbowl. When it was held there. Yeah.

[00:00:13] Michele: Well, all righty.

[00:00:14] Gianna: Yeah. But everybody in Minnesota was lovely. I think they handled the super bowl very well. The people were very nice. I had some wonderful food, so great experiences in Minnesota. Well, thank you for being here. I mean, an incredibly important topic that we’re going to talk about today in terms of grief with children.
And I mean, I, as a fully functioning adult, well, most days fully functioning, so I’m not sure I find it really hard to figure out what the hell to do in grief. I cannot even imagine. How a child can process all of this. It’s very hard to understand, you’re going to help us with that today. I know that you have a personal story connected to this, which is what got you in this space in the first place.
Can you tell us about your children and your, your beautiful son, [00:01:00] David, that you lost?

[00:01:00] Michele: Yes. Thank you for having me Giana. Yes. And your first statement is absolutely the place as adults that we need to place ourselves is imagine being a really little person and having to face grief, because I think we just don’t really think about that.
And I started thinking about it because when I became a mom in my mid thirties, I. I changed careers at the same time, went back to college and got my master’s and family education, because I just really loved that journey of being a mom and got a master’s and became an early childhood parent educator so that I could spend my days with other moms and dads who were raising children.
My children’s ages because I was an educator at heart, and I just really loved that journey of being a mom. So [00:02:00] when I started that work, my son was Four and a half, my daughter was 15 months. I had her just a few months after getting my masters and stayed home for a year and then launched what I thought was a perfect situation.
I got to go to work every day and spend time with families with young children. But just a few months into my first year of doing this work as an early childhood parent educator, my son was diagnosed with cancer. And so I had just gotten my master’s in early childhood education. I was prepared, I thought, but this was a, a huge detour that I didn’t know anything about.
And that was, you know, just at the outset, it was this loss of dreams of what I thought was going to be this perfect life with. I had a little boy and he had a little sister and to me that was perfect. And we went through his journey for two and a half [00:03:00] years, and then he died. And when my son died, my daughter was three and a half.
And at that tender age, she actually said to me, mommy, half of me is gone. Oh my gosh. Yes. And so and I. She was my perfect little case study. I call her because she was, as I said, 15 months old when he was diagnosed and the very first night that he had to spend overnight in the hospital, his dad went with him and I stayed home with her and she was 15 months old and she wandered upstairs and downstairs around my height.
Just, she was just wailing. She was making this inhuman sound. It was alarming to me because I’d go to her and try to comfort her. And she wouldn’t let me, she’d push me away and throw herself on the floor. Wow. So I knew. [00:04:00] Right then and there this little, or she was feeling in every cell of her little body, what our family was experiencing.
And over the next two and a half years, when we went, my son was in a children’s hospital. It was you know, the best possible environment. And we met other families there. Rarely did we meet siblings because the choices that most families made was to leave the siblings at home, you know, leave them with a neighbor, leave them with an aunt or uncle, you know, somewhere away from this.
But we knew because of that very first night, there was no way that we were going to leave her. Even though we lived in a neighborhood where there were many people who would have loved to take care of her and she would have been happy, she would not have been In the know about what was happening in her family, that she could feel with every cell of her body.
So this was really my first learning about, you know, how to do this as a [00:05:00] parent, we just said there are four of us in this family and we’re going to be four in this journey. She had already shown. This was her journey as much as it was the rest of ours. And I really feel that that was the first best decision that we made in our journey was to have her,

[00:05:19] Gianna: with us, respect to you for using that mother.
Intuition that you had to say, this is what I think is the right staff, that this is what I should do. And I’m wow. I’m sure that was a difficult decision to have to make, because you feel like, should I be bringing my child around this thing? Should I be exposing her to that? But yeah, like you said, she showed you that that’s kind of what she needed.

[00:05:40] Michele:
Yeah. Yes. And I have since Jan of this was 21 years ago, this little three and a half year old, who said half of me has gone is now 25. And you know, she started me after her brother died. She started me on that journey of you know, [00:06:00] the whole question of how can she be whole, you know, how real resilient can this little one who says half of me is gone really be, and now I’ve, I’ve been through that whole journey.
And it’s been just in the last few years that I’ve started my work of good grief parenting to share what I learned and discovered along the way with other parents who would begin the journey just as I did not knowing at all, you know, what’s the right thing to do. We have. We have this in our lives.
We don’t want it. I don’t want my three and a half year old to have to deal with this. Let alone my precious son who endured what he did for two and a half years. And so now I am sharing that with other families based on, on what I learned from my journey.

[00:06:48] Gianna: And that’s amazing that you turned it in to something that is so beautiful and helping so many people.
And, you know, that’s really this journey that I’m on is trying to turn my grief into something that can help people. [00:07:00] So before we get into your good grief parenting and some of the programs that you have with that

[00:07:05] Gianna: I want to ask you what your thoughts are in grief with children. You hear people all the time say, oh, kids are so resilient.
Oh, they’ll be fine. They have so much more life to live and everything will be okay. Are they really as resilient as people think.

[00:07:21] Michele: They are resilient, but that’s beside the point. You know, the whole reason that I focus on early childhood, because I work with families in these early years is because this is when children are learning all of their skills.
They are resilient, but they don’t come equipped with all the skills. They need to have a good life. And so they learn everything that they learn from us as the adults who are caring for them in their lives. And so, you know, as I said, when. And you, you started talking about being a fully formed adult.
It’s interesting [00:08:00] because that’s the statement that I often make is that, you know, when my son died, I wasn’t adult with all of my skills, all of my life experience, all of my resilience, all of my understanding of grief. And I had to cope with this devastating, unimaginable situation. But beside me was this little girl who had to deal with everything I did without the experience, without the skills.
You know, she showed me that very first night that she felt all of this and, and we do need to equip them. And I really say that childhood is the best time to teach children about grief because they’re going to have to face it for their whole lives. And so yes, that’s why I say it’s beside the point.
Can children recover well from situations? Certainly. And sometimes they do it with the, without the help of adults, but [00:09:00] really they need our help to build the skills. And so I think it’s more the you know, the ideas like, like you mentioned, when we had to decide. How exposed will she be to this? The default for most of us as adults is I don’t want this little, little person to be exposed to all of this pain and all of this hurt, but you know, she, she had that in her life, no matter what.
So the next best thing is to help her face it and cope with it. And, and that’s, that’s where we need to come from. As adults is recognizing that even when we don’t want this for our child, when it presents itself, we need to not protect them from it. But to help them go right

[00:09:45] Gianna: straight through it. Yeah.
That is a great, great point. I think that that’s what happens is people think that they’re protecting others from grief when really it’s just a hindrance because as you know, and as I’ve said, the only way to [00:10:00] get through it is to take it head on and go right through because there’s no getting away from it.
You’re just delaying when they have to have to handle it and have to deal with it. Did you find yourself, you know, you’re grieving right alongside your daughter, did you find yourself learning from her in the ways that she was coping with it? Are there things that adults may be, can take from children in terms of grief?

[00:10:25] Michele: I think the, the, the things that I learned at, and I learned some things later, you know, I would say to her, I wish I’d known right then that three and a half when you needed it all. Of what I know now, because I had learned what I saw in her. That she said to me, mommy, half of me is gone, but then she grieved, but I didn’t see it.
And this is the mistake that we as adults often make it, you know, you hear parents say, well, they look like they’re doing okay. So I think they must be [00:11:00] fine. That’s the way children typically process grief is simply by carrying on, you know, I, she would, she would play, she didn’t cry a lot. She didn’t talk about it a lot.
We talked a lot. The guidance that I got early on was you know, don’t hide your feelings and your grief from her. If you cry in front of her, that’s okay. Talk to her about it. So I did that, but the thing that I learned later that I like that is a huge part of what I share with parents is you need to allow, you need to invite, not just allow, but invite your child to share their grief.
And I didn’t do that with her when I would, you know, acknowledge that we were grieving. I didn’t say to her. I really missing David today. Are you missing David today or when do you Ms. David the most or, you know, what are the [00:12:00] things you miss about David and letting her tell me, I did a lot of telling her so that I was open about what grief

[00:12:10] Gianna: looks like, mirroring for her to see that this is okay.
Yes. Thoroughly engaging and making her respond. Yeah.

[00:12:18] Michele: Interesting. Okay. So I did half half of it. You know what I, we need to, as parents learn that we can be open about our grief. That’s a great start, but the other half is really making it normal for your child to tell you about theirs. There was one incident that stands out for me because it was so, because it was kind of unusual and yet, so point and poignant and pointed.
And that was one time when she was. I don’t know, maybe five. Not a little while after her brother died, we were at the playground and I couldn’t find her. [00:13:00] And I went and found her hiding sort of in a corner of the playground crying. And she said to me, mommy, nobody can know the pain that we feel. Oh my gosh.
You know, that was one of the rare times that she showed me her grief. I would sometimes hear her playing in her room and I, if I listened, I could hear her singing while she played. Oh, how I wish my brother were here, you know, and she’d be singing. And I did have her working with a therapist doing play therapy, which I think is really important.
But when you ask what I learned from watching her, the main thing I learned was that that children don’t show us their grief, the way that adults do. And they don’t talk about it the way that adults do, they really need to be invited into grieving with us and. [00:14:00] Whether we see it or not. I think it’s pretty, you know, I think in any situation where a family has experienced a loss like this, whether they see it directly or not, they can assume that their child is grieving it and is feeling the feelings that we feel.
don’t feed that to the child, you know, don’t assume, you know what they’re feeling. Just give them opportunities to tell you and for you to be honest with

[00:14:30] Gianna: them. Yeah. That’s a good point because I think what happens too. I mean, you certainly see this with adults. I can imagine it’s there with children.
If they’re not talking about it, they’re probably not feeling it. Therefore I shouldn’t bring it up and make them feel it

[00:14:46] Michele: right. And it’s the same thing with us. I mean, we are not good as a society with grievers at any age. Most of us who have no someone who’s grieving, don’t want [00:15:00] to bring it up. I remember I would see people somewhere and they’d say, oh, I’ve been thinking about you, but I didn’t want to bother you.
So I didn’t call you. And I would

[00:15:10] Gianna: think, or I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. So I said nothing at all. I just yelled at somebody for this the other day there’s always get so, so worried that I’m going to say something bad or say something to make them very upset. So I just don’t do anything. And I was like wrong.
That is the.

[00:15:27] Michele: Yes, that is another one of those things we believe. And, you know, and the idea of calling someone or letting them know, you know, they are sad, whether you, they are feeling this sorrow in this grief, in this depth of despair, whether you’re talking to them or not. And there were times where I think, boy, I really wished that person had called me.
I would’ve loved to have had someone to talk to someone that called and said, I’m thinking of you. And the other thing is, if I didn’t want to talk to them, I just didn’t have to answer the phone and they could leave me a message saying, I’m [00:16:00] thinking of you. And isn’t that what we as grievers appreciate more than anything is just knowing that someone hasn’t forgotten that we’re grieving and there’s nothing anyone can do.
So all of these people who want to do the right thing or say the right thing, Forget it because you can’t, there’s nothing to say. It’s just being present with the griever and letting them know you’re thinking about them. That that’s all you can do, but that’s priceless.

[00:16:29] Gianna: Yeah, absolutely. So you have, then now gone down this path of creating a framework.
So would you call the good grief parenting framework? Can you walk the listeners through that? And w what is it that you hit through this framework? How can it help them? There’s like four, is it four or five healing?

[00:16:50] Michele: Okay. Yeah. And the, the way that, you know, people who encounter me often think that I’m first of all, I’m not a [00:17:00] therapist or a counselor.
I’m a certified grief specialist and an early childhood parent coach. And my focus is on the parenting piece. How do you, how do I take this little early childhood age child from this loss to adulthood? Because that sibling relationship, what I learned that I didn’t know going into this, but what I’ve learned in my 20 years and when I started out.
I thought, okay, I’m in early childhood. I can find the resources that exist, but there were not any. And so I’ve kind of known for 20 years that I would need to create this myself. And the focus is on parenting, which is different than a grief support group, because, and I kind of think of it as grief informed parenting.
And so that’s what the good grief parenting framework is. And I call it good grief parenting because. If [00:18:00] it starts with an understanding of what grief truly is, we want to avoid it. We don’t want to face it. We think it’s this horrible thing, but grief is a normal, natural human experience in response to loss or change of any kind.
And that’s why I say everyone experiences grief first in childhood for me, I remember my situation when I was probably five or six and it was the loss of a floating toy that got away from me on lake of the woods, and nobody could reach it. And I stood on the beach and watched. Writing floating toy, float away from me off to the horizon.
And I still can feel how that felt to me. And that was my first instance of losing something that I knew I would never get back. And it was grief. And how do [00:19:00] adults respond to that? So so the first, the first piece that I look at in my framework is really recognizing that grief is good. It’s necessary.
It actually is the way that we heal.

[00:19:15] Gianna: Yeah. I love that. You say that

[00:19:17] Michele: yes, people who don’t recover or, and recover is one of those words that people argue about because grief never goes away.

[00:19:27] Gianna: I look at it as there there’s like an acute phase and chronic like chronic grief. We’re always going to have grief, but you can recover from that acute yes.
Distinct horrific pain. And just when it’s all encompassing and now there can certainly be phases of your life where that acute, you know, you have a flare up of grief, so to speak. But you don’t necessarily have to live with that being your life. That’s one of the messages that I try to get out there the most too.
I think I was scared [00:20:00] into thinking that the way that I felt at the funeral was how I was always going to feel. And that is that acute grief phase. Right? So to your point, no, Recover. There’s no cure to grief. And you know, that in itself is a whole other discussion. Like good. I’m glad there’s not because then does that mean, I forget that it happened.
Does that mean, I forget my person. You don’t ever want that, but you don’t want to be living in that acute pain all

[00:20:26] Michele: the time. Exactly. And that’s such a good, such a good explanation because people do get hung up on that word. I have four heartbeats of the good grief parenting framework.
And the first one I called good grief beliefs. And it’s really reframing all of those ways that we look at grief. The, and you use the word earlier talking about how adults are with children. You use the word hindrance and you’re absolutely right. That’s the word I use to not only are the ways that we cope [00:21:00] with grief, not the best ways and not the healthiest ways they actually do hinder healthy healing.
And so I think that’s really important to recognize that it’s not without without Consequences that we handle grief the wrong way. So first in my in my approach, we look at what grief really is and how it’s good, and a lot of the myths and ideas around grief. Like, you know, don’t, don’t talk to children about it.
Don’t protect children from it. Be strong, don’t show anybody how you’re feeling, keep busy. You know, a lot of these things that we, that we do right. People around us do the idea that you’re supposed to, at some point, get over your grief and sort of move on. I use the term live forward because I want to accentuate the fact that we are living and that we want to live [00:22:00] fully after we’ve lost our loved one and that we’re going to progress forward.
But and it’s more intentional than just moving forward. And so I try to sort of start with that framework in the first heartbeat, good grief beliefs of recognizing how we kind of give grief a bad rap and you know, what its purpose really is and the truth about it. So that because griever. Are so often made to second guess themselves, because most of us who grieve it’s our, you know, especially the first time we do it.
It’s like, I remember worrying that I was doing grief wrong because I heard about the five stages and I wasn’t doing the five stages. So I thought I was doing grief

[00:22:45] Gianna: wrong. And because like you were saying, people don’t like to talk about it that often. Right. So you feel like you’re the only one and you feel like you’re doing something wrong in that sense.
Right. Because you haven’t heard anybody saying, oh, this is what happened to me. I used to cry [00:23:00] all the time. So when you cry all the time, you’re like something something’s off like crazy. This is going nowhere. Yeah. I like how you say w how did you phrase it live forward? Yes. I think that is very important in terms of this differentiation of move forward, because there is a life.
After the acute grief. Again, I don’t want to say there’s life after grief because grief is forever, but there is a life after that initial. Coping with the loss that you have and it’s there and it’s beautiful. And you know, how, what a justice to be able to do to the person that you lost to be able to go on and carry their memory in so many different ways in, without, throughout

[00:23:47] Michele: your.
Yes. Yes, exactly. And so, you know, we often, and the advice that we get about how to do it often comes from someone who doesn’t have a clue. And so they will tell us to move forward, [00:24:00] but we can live fully and live beyond the loss and something that I found early on in my work. And it was so perfect because people do, when they hear what I do, they, they compare me to what they know, which is a therapist or a grief support group.
And I’m not either one of those, there’s a quote by an author. And Roy who wrote a book after her husband died. And she says there are two parts to grief. The first part is loss. And the second part is the remaking of life. And I love that because. I say grief support groups are there for you when you’re in the loss, you’ve had this loss, you need to cope with it.
But then for the rest of your life, your, especially if you’re a parent with young children, you have to figure out how am I going to remake life? My dreams been shattered. But there are new dreams and you just, and [00:25:00] you remake life. And so that’s the purpose of the good grief parenting approach is I can remake it.
I, you know, we, we don’t want to leave our child behind. We just, we really want to. Clinging to that reality of that child having been there for however long they were, even if we were just carrying them and never saw them, you know, born. But we can. We need to recover those, not recover our dreams. We need to recognize that we can have new dreams and live forward.
And so I talk about a good grief mind view. That’s one of the first things I have. My my families that I work with look at is, you know, don’t, don’t stand where you are saying, I don’t know how I can possibly go forward. And, and you just, you can’t let go of the memory of your child and what you wanted.
You need to lift up your face and you need to look out in front of you and see that there’s [00:26:00] a horizon. And you get to decide what that horizon holds and be intentional about that. And the other thing that’s important, and I know, you know, this Giana is that grief doesn’t have a certain time timeframe.
And so when I taught, when, you know, when I encourage people to look out to the horizon, I’ve had, I’ve worked with some families that say the best I can do right now is look at the next step. And then I’ve had others who have felt it’s really helpful to say, you know, I can look down the road and have a new vision for myself and decide that I want to get there and how I’m going to get there.
So however you want to do that. And in whatever timeframe you want to do, that is, is great. And the good grief parenting approach can help you no matter where you are or how you need to process your grief. And so we started by looking at that and looking at what grief really is. So the second heartbeat is continuing bonds. Are [00:27:00] you familiar with the idea of continuing bonds Janna? Not necessarily. I
[00:27:03] Gianna: don’t think I’ve heard

[00:27:04] Michele: it phrase. Okay. You know, I, I mentioned that when I, when I encountered grief, I heard about the five stages as the way to go through grief.
And and of course I knew what people say about. You know, isn’t it, time to move on, which kind of comes from Freud’s perspective as one of the pioneers in the grief in the grief field where he just really believed the purpose of grief was to let go of the relationship and move on. But there’s a newer approach to the idea of grief called continuing bonds.
And it is so powerful, especially because of what I learned about sibling loss. And that’s the idea that when we continue bonds with our loved one, we can take them forward in our lives in ways that are really appropriate either. Seen in some places where people who have lost a child have been [00:28:00] kind of chastised by their family members because they haven’t gotten rid of things yet, or haven’t haven’t dismantled the bedroom yet, or those kinds of things.
And they’re kind of made to feel that that’s kind of a obsessive approach to grief, but the continuing bonds theory acknowledges. Death ends a life, but it doesn’t enter a relationship. And so what are the ways that we can carry that relationship forward? And it may be just what we do. We get a, we still, you know, 20 years later still get a French silk pie on July 18th, every year on David’s birthday because he loved French silk pie.
So we enjoy it in his honor on his birthday and just the different ways that we remember our loved one. And I say that this is so important for siblings because the thing that I’ve learned is. That there is just [00:29:00] something so powerful about the sibling bond and that bond is formed. The moment that we become a sibling, no matter how young we are.
And one of there really isn’t that much out there about sibling loss, particularly in the early years in the 20 years that I’ve been looking for resources. There have been more people who have written about their own journey as a bereaved sibling that may be lost their sibling in their teen years or even their adult years.
But there was a woman in the 1980s named Betty Davis. Who wrote a book called shadows in the sun. And she really studied this idea of sibling loss and sibling grief, and really learn from the people she talked to that some adults would say, I grew up with this feeling that something was missing, that something wasn’t quite right.
And I didn’t know what it was, but when they became [00:30:00] familiar with Betty’s work, they realized that what they were feeling was a connection with a sibling who had died and that no one in their family had that memory for word. And so it is so important. And, and what she also found in her work was that that bereaved siblings would say remembering my sibling and carrying them forward is a positive thing.
You know, it’s been a good thing for them to have this relationship and it’s helped them to adjust to their own lives. And they’re, you know, they’re growing up and being an adult by having this relationship. And I’ve certainly seen, you know, that my daughter has carried her brother’s relationship forward in her life.
And so the second the second frame, the second heartbeat in the framework is acknowledging continuing bonds and all the ways that that may be [00:31:00] exhibited in a family, you know, between the parent and the child and the child and their sibling, and then how to. Address that in a society that keeps telling us to move on because that’s the other thing we need as grievers is permission to grieve the way we’re grieving, because all these people who try to tell us how to do it, do not know better than we do.
We really do not know how to do our own grief.

[00:31:27] Gianna: So I am so happy that you brought this theory forward, this continuing bonds, because it is something I learned about recently, in other words, or however it was put to me, but it’s been one of the most important factors that I’ve learned in grief and exactly what you’re saying.
That relationship doesn’t end. I will always be my father’s daughter. I will always be my friend and my friend will have had that relationship. Your, your daughter will always be David’s sister like that doesn’t [00:32:00] end. And so when we look at grief, The product of a death and of the, the end of something and that something has disappeared in that it’s gone.
I mean, that is just, yeah, that, that makes it so. Daunting and so final, but it’s not, it lives on that. Love continues. And if the love continues, why can’t the relationship? And so it’s been something that, you know, my husband and I certainly both try to continue to talk about our parents as if they are around so that our daughter.
I can start her relationship because just because they weren’t here when she was born, doesn’t take away the fact that they’re her grandparents. Exactly. So let’s continue that bond and talk about them and have her remember them in different ways. So now I have a name for all of this continuing bonds. I like.
I can see how that would be very important in a family [00:33:00] structure to say, okay, let’s, let’s talk about how we’re going to continue the siblings memory and keep him or her a part of our life and a part of this family, because that is a bond that’s going to continue .

[00:33:14] Michele: And for my daughter, she had no other siblings.
And so then there’s that question? Are you still a sister and yes she is. And when she started school, I would tell her I would tell her teachers when she was young that she had a brother who died, his name was David. She would talk about him. And if she talked about him, they would talk about him with her.
I really had to educate them that it was totally normal for her to talk about her brother, that she is a sister. She’s not growing up with her brother, but she is a sister. And just really do some educating around that. And that’s another big piece that you know, that we who are, have more of an understanding of grief as you do, and your listeners and I do.
And those of us who, you know, are facing it by [00:34:00] learning more about it to, to help others who may be very well-meaning. I had A a client recently who said that her child in preschool was being corrected about the number of members of their family, because they were saying there were six and the teacher was saying, no, they’re just five.
And you know, and so the, and the teacher was, you know, supposedly well-meaning, but the parent had to say, no, we have six members of our family, you know? And so there’s a lot of this that, that needs to be normalized in our society, but it, and the other thing that. That I say about all of these things that people tell us that are off base is that we, as grievers instinctually know the right things, we instinctually know that continuing the bond is healing for us, but others will tell us it’s not.
And so then we second guess ourselves. [00:35:00] So yeah. Yeah. So then third heartbeat is really focusing again on this child and it’s essential messages. And it’s the idea that when we have a child that we’ve lost, of course we focus on that child. You know, we remember that child, we talk about that child.
We cry about that child. And meanwhile, our living child is there observing this. And if they are not careful. Oriented to the reality of, of our, you know, what grief is and why we’re behaving this way. They can start to just really feel like maybe they’re not as special as the child who died. So part of this child growing up this bereaved sibling growing up is for us to give them essential messages.
And this is good parenting for any parent, whoever raised a child, but in this context, it’s, you know, really making sure they [00:36:00] know I’m so sorry, your brother died. But I’m so glad you’re here because I love you. You are so precious to me. And this goes back to the you know, some of the things that I, that I encourage parents to do is just really have this open conversation.
I already kind of talked about that with you. And that’s one way of helping the child really get these essential messages because they understand why you’re feeling the way you are and your. Well to also give them a lot of positive messages about who they are, because you’re having conversations about these really real emotions that are going on in your relate family relationships.
And that is such an important thing for a child to grow up with. So we look a lot at how grief can sometimes mean that our children are getting messages. We, you know, that we’re not intending for them to get [00:37:00] right. And to focus on these essential messages that every child needs. And it goes back to that resilience piece as well.
This is an opportunity for helping our child build resilience by saying, yes, we are so sad right now. Yes, mom is crying a lot. It’s not always going to be this way. We can handle it. We can feel better, you can handle it, you know? And so really helping them to build the resilience skills of what do you do when something horrible happens and you need to go through it anyway.
So that’s part of what essential message is do as well. And then the final heartbeat is what I call choice actions. And it’s simply the idea that once you learn these things, you learn the truth about grief being good. You learn the truth about how to. You know, carry on this relationship with your loved one [00:38:00] and how your family is going to look different because you’re maintaining this relationship with someone who isn’t physically there and then how you’re going to really be focused on what you as a family need to be telling each other about how you matter to each other and making the choices to back up these things that you know about how to do grief in a healthy.
Yeah. You know, one, it, because there, along with, I mean, the, the underlying piece of everything I do is the fact that as a parent, you are doing two of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. You’re you have to parent a child, which is under the best of circumstances. One of the most demanding, challenging, rewarding, yes.
But demanding and challenging. And then grieving the death of a loved one is the other hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. And when you have to do both of those at the same [00:39:00] time, and you’re grieving someone that you used to parent, or you were looking forward to parenting, so that loss is really directly tied.
Your grief is directly tied into your parenting. That is really, really tough and sometimes hard, you know, you can feel, I remember in some of the early days having less patience with my daughter and it bothered me so much because I knew it was my grief, but it came out toward her. So this is why, you know, choice actions are one example would be just recognizing.
That I could be irritable with her when it isn’t her fault. So what action am I going to take? And it would be to do do overs. One of the things that we did was I’d say, honey, this isn’t about you. This is about me. I’m really sorry. I, I spoke to you that way. Let’s start over. And we would, I mean, we actually [00:40:00] learned to to let go of the emotion that caused the whatever.
And she learned to do that. I learned to do that, but it had to be an intentional choice action early on that I was never going to allow something between her and me. She didn’t deserve to, to stand without me owning that I had made a mistake. And so that’s just one example of a choice action. You know, a lot of the continuing bonds pieces and, you know, identifying essential messages that you might give your child every morning or every evening before bed.
Just what are the choice actions that are gonna really reinforce a good grief approach to parenting in your family and keeping those relationships strong.

[00:40:49] Gianna: Wow. That’s really powerful. And it’s really smart. It’s really good. I mean, that’s definitely one of the barometers that I have that I can tell how I’m feeling on my grief.
When, when I start to [00:41:00] feel I’m losing patience with my daughter over like things that she’s doing, because she’s a kid or, you know, she’s a baby. That’s when I’m like, all right, let me, let me check in with myself for a second. You know, is, am I, what am I feeling? Am I feeling something? And this, this do over concept is good.
You know, my daughter’s not quite at the age she’s 17 months, so she’s not quite at the age where she would understand that, but I. In part that in the future. And quite frankly, it’s something that my husband has taught me to do. I am, he likes to call me his fiery Italian. We are from a long line of people that don’t have patients whatsoever and I can fly off the handles every now and then.
And. Yes. And my husband will then be like, oh, you know, maybe we can we stop for a second? You know, what is it that you’re feeling? I don’t think that was supposed to be directed at me because I didn’t do anything to deserve you speaking to me like that. So like, let’s unpack that for a second. So he’s kind of, you know, and now I do it without him [00:42:00] having to do it, you know, I’ll be like, I want to apologize for the way I just snapped about this.
Like, I’m just feeling a little uncomfortable with my grief and, and other things. So yeah, I can see firsthand how that’s certainly helpful because I’ve done my grief both with, and without that, and just for the relationships of everyone around you, it’s certainly good to have that, that do over approach.
So those are fantastic. Your heartbeats, that’s all listed on your website, which we’ll get to a little bit before we do close out, I want to talk about the, this video that’s gone viral this week of a mother and her daughter conversing over walkie talkie. Did you get a chance to look at that?
[00:42:38] Michele: Yes.

[00:42:39] Gianna: Yeah. So I will link to the video in the show notes, if you haven’t seen it. They, this family lost their 14 year old daughter. And they have another five-year-old. And one of their ways they communicate with each other throughout the houses, through this walkie talkie. And she calls it her therapy sessions with her five-year-old.
So she chimed in saying that she wasn’t really feeling well and she was [00:43:00] missing their 14 year old daughter page and the five-year-old comes back and says, well, do you want to come upstairs and watch me play? Like, will that make you feel better? Don’t be sad. And it was just so sweet and I think a really cute display of how kids can be tuned into that.
And can be tuned into that grief and say, well, here let me, can we do something that’s going to make you feel better? Why don’t you come upstairs with me right now? So I wanted to hear your thoughts on that video

[00:43:27] Michele: as well. Yeah, well, I, you know, it, it really does point to what kind of, where we started in this, which is, you know, our kids resilient.
And I think the point is they’re going to learn what we teach them and they come ready-made with a lot of wisdom that we lose. One of the things that I tell families is to use the words dead and dying. And, and just be honest with that terminology from the beginning with kids, because the reason we don’t as adults is because we [00:44:00] carry baggage with that word.
Not because our kids do, oh, I do

[00:44:04] Gianna: it all the time. I still have a problem with saying. My dad died, you know, it’s like, we water it down. And like I say, my dad passed away or I lost my dad. I’m like, I didn’t lose him. I know exactly where he is. Like, why don’t we do that? It’s so it’s uncomfortable.

[00:44:20] Michele: Yeah, totally.
Yeah. It’s uncomfortable for us. And it can create confusion for kids. And, and that’s, you know, that’s another point from, from where we’re, we’re going with looking at this video, but yeah, it’s just such a good example of children are wise more than anything. And they can really help us to heal.
It goes back to letting them in on what our experience is. And then this shows what a role model, you know, that child Of course has their natural tendency, but they also should, that child also learns something from mom and you know, [00:45:00] and the other thing I would address about that video is just another way to look at that.
Wanting to make people feel better because going beyond this whole idea of being honest with children is the idea that when we grieve if we decide we’re not going to protect our child, then the next thing we do is wanting to make them feel better when they feel bad.
And we can’t do that either. And part of grief is different from sadness. Part of grief is recognizing that you just can’t cheer somebody up and make them go out of it. We often handle it with kids by distracting them by saying, oh, let’s go to the playground. Let’s make your favorite cookies. And it’s all well-intentioned.
But if that’s all we’re doing with our child, then we are really just teaching them to not right. Not face the fact that when you grieve. It hurts and you don’t always [00:46:00] have to feel good. You won’t always feel good and that’s okay. I don’t need to make you feel better. I do want to be with you. Come, come to my room while I play, you know, be with if maybe close to me.
And so of course, you know, that’s such a wise and healing thing. I just caution us as adults to approach children’s grief or to approach anyone’s grief as just let’s do this and you’ll feel better because we can’t do that

[00:46:29] Gianna: with grief. Yeah. It’s interesting. I was talking with somebody about that last night and how, like I remember in my acute phases of grief feeling like when you would be excited for something or looking forward to whether an event or a visit with a friend or something that you were doing, because you thought, oh, that’s finally going to make me feel something it’s gonna make me feel good.
And then when it didn’t and that disappointment that you would feel, so it’s like, you’re almost setting children up for this phase of disappointment. If, oh, we’re going to take you to the park and that’s [00:47:00] going to feel so much better. And then when it doesn’t, I think this fear comes in. I’m, I’m never going to like this again.
I’m never, the park just doesn’t feel the same anymore. I’m never going to be happy. This thing that used to make me really happy. It doesn’t, this is really scary.

[00:47:15] Michele: Yeah. And the other message is the adult thought it would make me happy. So if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with me. And then I better act like I’m happy because that’s what, how they want me to act.
And so then it really just does open the door for children, not to be honest about their feelings for whatever reason. And the other thing when we’ve lost a child is that your child is seeing how it affects you. And if they think. It makes you sad and they want to protect you because children often do.
My daughter became good as gold. That was part of my, I think not recognize, you know, not being able to see her grief. It was very [00:48:00] clear that the way she handled her grief was to be really, to not rock the boat. She went through her, a terrible twos and three, her terrible, I call them terrific. But she went through those twos and threes while her brother was in the hospital and she was as good as gold.
So good that we would talk to her and say, honey, it’s okay for you to be mad sometimes because she just, she felt like she had to just be this stable balance because there was so much turmoil in our family. Yeah. Wow. That’s something to be aware of about kids too, but yes, they will learn. We are their role models and, you know, for this mom to create that kind of lifeline between her and her child, that’s also teaching her child that, you know, this is what we can do when we, when we want a lifeline between us, this is how we can stay connected at a moment’s notice, you know, those are [00:49:00] all really wonderful for us to give kids.

[00:49:03] Gianna: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, thanks for your perspective on that. And thanks for all of this today, this was wildly informative, so helpful. I hope that so much of the audience will really be able to take some of your steps moving forward in terms of the heartbeats and, and just your perspective on grief with children.
Anything else that you want to add to.

[00:49:22] Michele: I just want to let people know that I have a good grief guide that’s available on my website. And one of the things I sometimes talk about is really kind of how to have conversations with children that are different from the wanting to make them feel better conversations that comes so naturally.
And I speak to some of that in the good grief guide. There’s some good examples in there. So I would just encourage your listeners to go to my website. They actually can get it at one of two places. My website is good grief, Good grief. Right on the [00:50:00] homepage. They can get this good grief guide also.
Instagram I’m at good grief parenting. And if you follow my link tree link, you can get my good grief guide. You can also schedule a free conversation with me if that would be helpful to people. So so yes, those are really the two best places to find me. And I would encourage people to get the good grief guide and share it with other parents of young children, because it would be wonderful if we have some of these insights before we needed them.
And so I just encourage that as well. So,

[00:50:39] Gianna: yeah. Wonderful. Well, thank you so, so much for being here today. I really appreciated it and hopefully we can connect again or figure out some way to collaborate again in the

[00:50:48]Michele: future. Yes, I would love that Giana. Thank you so much.


All The Skies

There’s no magic pill that can take away the pain of grief
But there are some pretty, little things that can help