May is Mental Health Month – a time to focus on taking care of our mental wellness.
Almost everywhere we look, there is news of devastating events and deaths. These stories can weigh heavy on our minds and hearts. It may even compound or resurrect our own experiences of loss and grief. We may feel the need to talk to someone or seek professional support.
Kathy Quance is a senior counselor for our Empath Health Community Counseling program. Our counselors specialize in grief counseling and support for unexpected and traumatic deaths and loss.
In this Q&A, Quance discusses what grief can look like, the effects of repeated viewing of tragic news, talking points and care for children after a traumatic death and our community counseling services that can help.
Q&A: Senior Counselor Kathy Quance
How can grief present itself?
Grief is everywhere. Grief doesn’t have a set time, it will interrupt whenever it pleases. Sometimes you are in the grocery store looking at the pears, or you are sitting at a red light too long or someone bumps into you at church. Sometimes it’s a memory or a situation and you are at your threshold.
Sometimes people come in and they’ve had multiple deaths, and they haven’t had counseling because they felt they had the support they needed. Then they might run over a squirrel and lose their mind because it’s really all those other losses that have come up.
How can continually watching tragic news affect grieving people?
Every time you turn on the news about natural disasters, like the California floods and fires, it can be a secondary trauma. It can even be the recent news of the Notre Dame church going down, which is supposed to make us feel safe that it’s there. I find that my clients come in with those stories. Some say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I can’t turn away.”
It’s important to know what’s going on in the news, but you can’t sit and stare at it. It can get consuming. It’s really important that people find their balance with the world. Find something meaningful, like maybe donate and help those people impacted or focus on something good in your life.
When should families talk about a death and grief?
Just make the conversation available. Sometimes people will have a certain time to talk about it. For some families, it’s just “off the table,” and they say, “We are not talking about it. We are sad.” Every family is different.
A lot of times traumatic news triggers and brings up things that people are going through. When it’s bothering and overwhelming you, that’s a great time to talk about it. Don’t let the moment pass.
What types of loss do your clients face?
These days our clients mostly have had an unexpected loss, from a heart attack, to a car crash to a homicide. We have a lot of overdose, with all that’s happening with Fentanyl. Other deaths might be those who had a terminal illness but they never accessed hospice care because it happened so quickly.
Just because someone died due to a heart attack doesn’t mean a person is traumatized. And a person may have lost someone to a homicide and be devastated and grieving, but not traumatized. It resonates with the person. We all can be present for the same event, but we all have a way of recalling or processing that event. Perception is always reality for each individual.
How should families talk with and treat children dealing with a traumatic death?
• Honesty. Even with difficult situations, it’s important to be as honest at you can with kids about what happened. You don’t have to get into every detail. Kids are really good at letting us know how much they want to know. You can share a little bit or they might come back later with more questions and you can share a little bit more. It’s also okay to say, “I really don’t know,” if you don’t have the answers. Honesty is huge with something traumatic to help kids be able to trust you.
• Safety. Kids’ sense of safety might feel rocked. They might regress a little bit. They may now need an extra blanket, a light on in the hallway or to make sure doors are checked and locked. They may ask mom or dad, “Can you put on your seatbelt?” or if they sneeze ask, “Are you going to die?” You should try to make them feel safe. Tell them that you are eating right, are taking care of yourself and are there to protect them.
• Routine. Very often when there’s a trauma, people will say a kid can watch TV or not do homework. It’s very confusing for kids when routine changes and all of a sudden they are allowed to get away with whatever. Rules make them feel safe because they know what to expect. It’s important that rules stay as consistent as possible.
• Talk. Give kids the opportunity to talk. You can say, “We can talk about it any time you want. If you want to share a memory or something that you are not feeling comfortable about, it’s okay.” Kids are afraid they are going to make their parents cry. It’s important that caregivers don’t hide their emotions from kids because that’s confusing. It’s okay to say, “I’m having a sad day today” and then you can share your grief together.
What counseling and support services do you offer for adults, children and families?
Our counseling is available at our three service centers. It’s $20 a session for a person or a whole family that comes in. We offer groups and day camps throughout the year. We pull from the kids and families we work within community counseling and the Suncoast Hospice families. It’s awesome to be able to do this.
We are here to help
Visit us online or call us at (727) 523-3451 for more information or to request community counseling services.