When someone close to a child dies — whether a parent, grandparent, sibling or even a friend — kids often have difficulty processing the loss. And the younger the child, the harder it may be for them to understand what happened to the person they cared for because, in many cases, their loved one was simply there one day, and gone the next.

Parents sometimes soften their words to try to lessen the impact of the death on their child. While the intentions behind this are good, the reality is that kids need to hear the truth. Telling them things like, “Grandma went to sleep” may instill unnecessary fear. They might become afraid to go to sleep themselves, or feel compelled to watch over Mom and Dad when they sleep to make sure they wake up.

Also, in this age of “screen time,” kids often see characters die and come back to life in movies, game and TV shows. It’s important that children understand that death is permanent. They also need to know that death is a part of life for all living things, including plants, animals and people.

Some parents and guardians may not have the time or resources to seek out individual grief counseling for their children. That’s why the Hosparus Grief Counseling Center offers a program call Grief Relief on site in area schools. We believe that all children who have experienced a death can benefit from grief education and support. Thanks to generous grant support, Hosparus is able to provide this program at no charge to schools and student participants.

Our Grief Relief Workshop is a 6-week education and support group held in six, one-hour sessions at local elementary, middle and high schools. By combining grief education with interactive and expressive techniques, students are able to join with their peers to tell their stories of loss in a safe, supportive environment.

During Grief Relief, kids are encouraged to share what happened to the person who died, as well as their thoughts and feelings about it. They learn that grief is not all about sadness — it’s OK to feel happy when they look back on great memories they shared with their loved one. They also learn healthy coping skills, including breathing exercises and mindfulness.

Since we started the program 20 years ago, schools all over Louisville and surrounding communities have welcomed us, and we’re seeing positive results.

“Hosparus is a real gift in reducing barriers to academic success,” said Megan Hatter, Youth Services Coordinator at Mount Washington Middle School. “Implementing a grief group allowed us the opportunity to help students heal and empower them with knowing they were not alone.”

Hosparus “brought a variety of lessons which allowed the children to open up, share and deal with the death of their loved one on a totally different level,” said Rolanda Williams, Family Resource Coordinator for Indian Trail Elementary. “It is amazing the amount of understanding and coping (skills) my students have gained.”

Most recently, grief counselors had the privilege of speaking with about 350 students in all grade levels at Bridgepointe Elementary in Jeffersonville, IN, over the course of two days. The school’s social worker contacted us a few months ago to request an educational response to the numerous losses the school experienced last year, as well as proactive support for students and staff. We paired grief education with focused activities, discussion and lots of opportunities for practicing emotional regulation and relaxation skills, including an activity we call a “silent scream.”

We received great feedback from both students and staff for this mini-workshop and are now working on implementing a full, six-week Grief Relief program at Bridgepointe in the coming months. We are also looking forward to developing relationships with many other schools in need this year.

If you are a school counselor or know a child who could benefit from Grief Relief and would like more information, please call the Hosparus Grief Counseling Center at 502-456-5451 or 1-888-345-8197, or email griefrelief@hosparus.org.