This essay was written by Candida Rodriguez, a Family Development Worker in Camden, New Jersey, where I am a school nurse.
Grief is a complex issue, now imagine grieving in our Black, Brown, Asian and Native communities. Imagine grieving for children whose expressive language is in its beginning stages or for those who have an expressive language delay. Imagine if you will, already living in the fringes of society such as belonging to a family of multiple dwellers, being transient, subjected to abject poverty and or lacking legal status: living in the shadows of society. Regardless of what our political views are, we as a community, need to make it our business to ensure that we do all that we can to support our families and children have an equitable chance at growing healthy and happy.
The complexity of grief can be observed in the silence of children or their acting out. Temperaments and the nature of the grief lend their energy to this force that even as adults we face alone. Our older and more verbal children may choose to speak of that loneliness and the need to not lose the connection with those they have lost while at the same time creating positive connections with those that are left behind.
But how do we help our children who are younger than 5? How do we give them grace to grief and memorialize those they’ve lost in the midst of this Covid and Racial crisis’s? Awareness, attunement and empathy of the school community are key in the support of our families. Embracing our families where they are at, and recognizing that their strengths are paramount. This supportive experience begins before a child’s first day of school. It begins with the motivational interview at enrollment, as we explore and learn our families’ experience in the larger community and in the greater world. It begins with school partnership of staff, ongoing specialized training and reaching across the corridor and into that large community. It means at times that we as school staff may need to support families with their most basic needs, it means that a referral to an outside agency may take a backseat while a family is triaged.
During the lockdown, we spent many hours traveling from household to household to get food, diapers, formula and sometimes cash to our families which during that time had lost their incomes and their already fragile stability seemed to be on the line. It meant, pulling together as a school community and the larger community resources, friends and families who were in a better position to service as many families as possible. It meant grieving freedom and financial independence alongside illness and death.
We have suffered many loses during these times and our children bare the brunt of it in their little bodies, they carry their invisible bookbags full to brim and we must give them grace to express all that they have lost.
If you and your family are having difficulties with grief, please reach out to your child’s school.
There are also resources available through https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.