Michele Benyo is an early childhood parenting coach and mentor who is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. When Michele’s daughter was only three-and-a-half years old, her beloved 6-year-old big brother, who was her best friend and only sibling—died of cancer. She said to Michele, “Mommy, half of me is gone.” The loss was devastating, it left an unfillable void in her young being, and there was little available to help Michele, who was teaching early childhood parenting classes at the time, to navigate her family’s unthinkable new reality.
Today Michele’s precious daughter is all grown up and Michele is busy helping families to heal and live forward with grief after the death of their child. Her Good Grief Parenting Approach helps parents get in touch with their parenting wisdom so they can be confident that they are helping their bereaved young child to grieve well as they become hopeful about a future for their family that is bright with possibilities and even joy.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- Michelle’s heart-breaking story of losing her 6-year-old son to cancer.
- Michelle’s daughter’s experience growing up after her brother’s death.
- Good advice for how to raise a child with more confidence and less fear.
- Michelle’s Good Grief Parenting Approach which guides families beyond mourning to experience whole, joy-full lives.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS MICHELE:
- What inspired you to help families to heal and live forward with grief after the death of their child?
- Why do you call yourself a Discovery Partner instead of a therapist or grief counselor?
- Why is healing necessary for the re-making of life after loss?
Listen to the podcast here
Michele Benyo: You’ve Suffered “The Worst Loss” Imaginable. And When Your Child Leaves A Grieving Sibling, Your Heart Is Twice Broken.
I hope this finds each of you so very well. I’m speaking to you from my studio in West Orange, New Jersey. I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce all of you to Michele Benyo, an early childhood parenting coach and mentor, who is also a certified Grief Recovery Specialist. She will be speaking to us from Bloomington, Minnesota.
When Michele’s daughter was only three and a half years old, her beloved six-year-old big brother, who was her best friend and only sibling died of cancer. She said to Michele, “Mommy, half of me is gone.” The loss was devastating, and it left an unfillable void in her young being, and there was little available to help Michele, who was teaching early childhood parenting classes at the time navigate her family’s unthinkable new reality.
Now, Michele’s precious daughter is all grown up, and Michele is busy helping families to heal and live forward with grief after the death of their child. Her good grief parenting approach helps parents get in touch with their parenting wisdom so that they can be confident that they are helping their bereaved young child to grieve well as they become hopeful about a future for their family that is bright with possibilities and even joy. I’m eager to talk with Michele about early childhood-age children’s grief, particularly after sibling loss. Her daughter is a case study for her work, her good grief parenting approach, and more for what will surely be an insightful and very touching interview. Michele, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me here.
It’s such a pleasure. Why don’t we begin with this question? How about sharing your heart-wrenching story of losing your six-year-old son after his battle with cancer?
That’s where it all begins. David was my firstborn son. I had him in my mid-30s. I was an older parent ready to become a mom and had this beautiful boy. It was interesting because after he was born, I felt this sense of foreboding and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew it wasn’t baby blues. That was not what I was experiencing, but it was this feeling of foreboding that I was not going to see this child grow up. I didn’t understand that. I was able to focus on how beautiful, exuberant, and precious he was and to raise him as my son.
When he was about three and a half and along with becoming a mom and loving it so much, that’s when I decided to go back and get my Master’s degree and become an early childhood parent educator because my first degree was in education. I became an educator here in Minnesota. We have that program in every school district working with parents of young children. I thought, “I would love to do that while I’m raising my young children.”
What an inspiration he was for you.
He was. Having him shaped the direction of my life even before the outcome of his two short life, which was to lose him. When my daughter was about a year old, I had then graduated from college with my Master’s. I got my first job and just a few months into that first job as an early childhood parent educator, she was fifteen months old. Her brother was three and a half when he was diagnosed with cancer.
One of the things I encountered in my university years or courses was a teacher who talked about a family’s loss of dreams. That touched my heart. It impressed me that as a parent educator, I wanted to support families through their loss of dreams, and little did I know that a few months later, it was going to be me. I continued to do this work while we were experiencing this grief as a family because it was grief when my children’s normal, ordinary, and carefree childhood was taken away from them with my son’s illness.
May I ask what cancer he had?
He had rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer. He had it in his perineal area. He went through his treatment for two and a half years.
For a little guy, he must have been in pain with the chemotherapy and everything else.
One of the amazing things was when I was in the hospital with him. We were at a children’s hospital and we had a pediatric oncologist who had seen many children this way. It’s amazing how much stamina those little cancer children have. We would come home and he would hop out of the car and go run and play before he even went into the house.
In the end, he had a lot of pain. I don’t want to get too much down this rabbit hole. There’s so much in this because he was a tenderhearted child. When he was diagnosed, I thought, “I don’t know if this child can survive this,” because needle pokes were hard for him and many of those things but the way that he went through the treatment was awe-inspiring to me. The thing that was also interesting about the journey was the response of his sister, which it’s her story that has been what I have based my work going forward on.
She was only fifteen months old and the first night that David was in the hospital, his dad was with him. I was home with her. I was not a basket case. We had been through this trauma. She knew something big was going on in our family and I was in control, but that night she wandered around the house just wailing. The sound she was making was inhuman. It was alarming to me. I went to her and tried to comfort her. She’d push me away and throw herself on the floor. She knew that something awful had happened to her family.
As a result of that and seeing how this separation was so hard on her, we decided right then and there that when the three of us were in the hospital, she was going to be there with us. Unlike a lot of families who want to protect their healthy children from the environment of a hospital full of sick kids with bald heads and patches on their chests and tubes coming out of them, we said, “She’s not going to be in the neighborhood with loving neighbors not knowing what’s happening to her family.”
That was a good decision because she got to spend those two and a half years while he spent much of it in the hospital with him in a children’s hospital. I should say to you and your readers, this was many years ago. I think you mentioned that this little fifteen-month-old is now grown. Circumstances in hospitals are very different now, but at that time, she could be there and spend a lot of time with him and so she did that.
It should be good for him too also. To see her there was almost like bringing a little normalcy into his life.
It’s because they were very close. Before I even knew I was pregnant with her, he said to me one day out of the blue that he wanted a little sister, and he didn’t know that I was just then thinking I might be pregnant. I took a pregnancy test, and I was. As it turns out, he had a little sister. I always say children have a connection. They have a silver thread. They were each other’s biggest fans and were very close.
I am so grateful they were able to develop that. As you shared, he went through this illness. He did his first protocol which was a year and his cancer retreated very quickly. The tumor was gone, but they said we need to do surgery to make sure it was gone. They did the surgery, but then his cancer came back again very quickly.
Is it in the same spot?
Yes. This time, it was in his bone marrow. This is the nature of this cancer. It is a bad one, and if it comes back the chances of survival are next to nothing. When it came back, we knew that he was in for a hard road. He had one of the first stem cell transplants that they did at that children’s hospital. He had high-dose chemo which was worse than the regular chemo. He also did have radiation.
How heartbreaking and how hard for your husband too.
He started feeling down on himself about this. He started being very unhappy and I ended up getting a child psychologist to work with him because he was threatening to cut his stomach open. It was hard but one thing that happened in the midst of this, which was also a gift and ties in with that premonition that I had was after his cancer came back a second time, we took him in and the doctors didn’t think that was what it was because they thought it was too soon for it to be back, but it was back.
He didn’t know this because he had been so groggy from being put under for the MRI. We didn’t tell him that night that his cancer was back. He had always slept very fitfully as a little kid. He had night terrors and things. That night, we could hear him in his room talking to someone. We had the monitor on, and we could hear him. He was saying, “I don’t want to die.” He listened for a while, and he said, “All right. I will come.”
We heard this. I woke my husband up to hear this with me, and I thought, “How can I make this mean something else? How can this can’t mean what I think it means?” The next morning, we talked to him and he didn’t remember talking to anybody but he was a different kid. His spirit was lifted. He was helpful. I do believe that he was visited by an angel or a heavenly being that let him know what was going to happen to him and let him know that he was going to be okay.
Even though I didn’t like what I thought we had heard, we went forward with that in the back of our minds. Eventually, David did die. David died at home because after they had done all of those things, they got the cancer but it again, immediately came back a third time. They said that there was nothing more we can do. We kept him home with us. The night that he died, he had been unresponsive for a couple of days, and I was holding him and rocking him. I was singing to him.
I said to his dad, “You have got to get our bed so that he can come in our bed with us tonight.” He got the pillows and things arranged. We took David into our bed between us, and he died that night. When I was holding him and rocking him and told his dad to get the bed ready, he smiled at me. David smiled at me, and he had not been responsive.
To me, it sounds like not only that, but being spiritual the way I am now with all of my experiences, it feels like this was almost like a setup or an agreement you might have had with David, because this experience led you to what’s your sole purpose and what you are doing now.
It did very quickly and this is the gift that I think I was given to give to parents because I was in this field where I was attuned to my son when he got sick and to my daughter when she said what she said. I had to do whatever I could for their well-being like finding someone to work with my son when he was so distraught. When my daughter said, “Mommy, half of me is gone.” I thought, “She’s got her whole life ahead of her, and this is not okay. She can’t grow up with half of her gone. I’m going to have to take care of this.”
I’m in this field. I can find the resources, but I could not find anything that helped me know how to raise her through a life of being a sibling who had half of herself stripped away. Being in early childhood development, I knew when she said, “Mommy, half of me is gone,” that it was a true statement. That her identity was as her brother’s sister and to no longer have him living beside her at the age where she was just figuring out who she was.
She is in her most formative years. As she’s growing up, did you get her therapy? What did you do and how did her mindset change or develop as she matured? She also became a case study for your work. Tell us about that.
I’d say she was a case study because from the very beginning, to respond the way she did the first night he was in the hospital alerted me in the very beginning before we’d even figured out how we were going to go forward that I needed to always be looking at her as well as looking at him. That she was going through this too, and that I had to do what was best for her as well. I’m so thankful to have been given that insight.
When she said, “Half of me is gone,” how many three-and-a-half-year-olds would articulate their loss that way? I don’t know of very many. Again, that was a gift to me to say, “She’s told you. You don’t have to guess.” One of the things, Irene, is that even though she said that to me if you looked at this little girl, you didn’t see the sadness on her the way that we so typically see the sadness of a loss on an adult because children don’t do grief the way we do.
She would be playing. She’d be running. She’d be being Deanna, who was this little sprite. I could have missed her grief if she hadn’t shown it to me that way. Over the years and you asked it. Even before David died, I also found for her a child psychologist because I knew that she was going to need someone after her brother died. She had this psychologist that she would go see and do play therapy.
She got to a point where that was less and less, but in some of those early years, in her elementary years, I’m not sure when she last saw Susan, her psychologist, but there were times in her years as she grew when she’d say, “I need to go see Susan.” I’d take her to see this woman. She would check in on how she was processing her grief at that time. We had that relationship in the beginning and took advantage of it when Deanna felt like she needed it.
She became her troubleshooter.
Yeah, she did. That was a good understanding that I was able to identify from the beginning that she needed this. My son died in 2000, these many years later, I think parents are more aware of some of these supports and how important they are for kids but still, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing because I think a lot of parents do not understand that a three-year-old does need the support. They need more than they typically would get, even from a caring parent.
I think what you are doing is wonderful because I also observe children and parents. Sometimes kids are displaying problems that are going on or issues that they have. Sometimes because I’m more educated about how therapy helps and all the different ways that it can make a difference, I will sometimes see a situation and I will think of myself, “I wish those people were more enlightened,” because a counselor would be so helpful to that situation. It’s not about being afraid to share your problems with someone without being courageous enough to have your problems hit the air and clear them.
Before I lost my son, I didn’t know anything about grief. I’d had a couple of grandmothers die who lived far away that I didn’t see very often. I’d never had anyone close to me die. I didn’t know how to live with grief present in my life. Most of us don’t. The things that I had learned growing up were not helpful things, the things that most of us learn, which is not to talk about grief. When I went to visit my mother in Georgia after my son had died, she did not say a word to me about it. In fact, after dinner, she went to bed as quickly as she could and left me sitting out there alone. I thought, “I don’t believe my mother is not talking to me about my son dying.”
She didn’t know how to handle it herself. She could have used a counselor herself. She was bottling up all her feelings.
She wasn’t callous. She didn’t know how to deal with it. Her mother had not dealt with those things very openly or well and that gets passed on. That’s what we learn. Again, why I do what I do is to help parents who are struggling with what they are feeling versus the messages they have got about how okay or not okay it is for what they are feeling. That’s a big part of it. To go back to Deanna a bit, you asked about how she did over the years.
How is she now?
The other thing that she showed me and that I knew but got to learn with her is that every time a child gets more cognitive development and more understanding of death, loss, and relationships, then it’s going to come up in their lives again. As adults, we think that we cope with our grief and we know how to cope with our grief. We carry on our lives and we understand how grief has a role in our lives but with children, it continues to change as they grow. With her, I could see, for example, adolescence was a hard time for her. It’s hard for all kids, but she had on top of that the fact that she knew she should have had an older brother who was her advocate.
She once had a cool older brother.
He wasn’t there. Her friends had siblings, and she didn’t. She wanted someone to be hers. Sometimes the way that she tried to make friends and keep friends was a little too assertive. It was not appreciated. She didn’t always have good friend experiences because she was trying to replace this sibling that she’d lost. A lot of friends and friends’ parents didn’t understand her behavior or the basis for it.
I had to advocate for her in different ways and some cases, I couldn’t. I just needed to support her within the walls of our own home but I think it’s important for adults to know that when a child has had a loss, even in those early years, it’s going to impact how they do social relationships through the rest of their lives and I saw that with her through her years.
During that period, did that counselor Susan help her at all with what she was going through socializing with kids?
Susan didn’t deal with her on that. There were also times in Deanna’s life at some point when she didn’t want to go to Susan anymore. I think in those adolescent years, part of her thinking was too, and part of mine, frankly was not wanting to stigmatize this. One of the things I grappled with which I think is another thing parents need to hear is what part of what my child is experiencing is grief and loss and what part is normal development.
I don’t want to call attention to something. As an adolescent, I didn’t want to make her feel that something was wrong. I didn’t want to label her as something being the cause of the way that she developed and behaved. When you have grief in your life with a child, there’s always that balance of what I need to care about, and what I need to help my child recognize the growing pains. That was part of how I went through her adolescence with her. Part of what she had to discover was how to do social relationships based on who she is because of her experiences.
Who is she now? Is he doing anything that as she’s becoming an adult that is going to bring her into the arena with helping children or wherever or she’s going into the opposite?
She isn’t. One thing is that she is amazingly intuitive, perceptive, and empathetic with other people who are having challenges because of something they have experienced. She’s very aware and very intuitive. I say that she is the best friend that a person could have because she is thinking about people’s feelings in a positive way. She’s very smart about what to do with those feelings because she learned so much of this from her own experiences. However, she is not interested, for example, in working with me.
She’s not following in your footsteps.
No. She’s not interested in helping someone as a profession. I think she’s done so much.
She has touched this too closely.
She has done so much understanding and recognizing her dynamics and her inner workings. I know for me, one reason why I started my work as late as I did, is because I knew when I couldn’t find resources way back in 2000, I knew I had to figure out how to raise my daughter to be whole and happy. When I figured out what that entailed, I was going to have to share that because that wasn’t out there. However, I didn’t start doing it until my daughter was out of high school in 2015 and even after that because I could not put myself in a place to step into other people’s journeys until I was through mine. I didn’t know that in the beginning. I learned that along the way.
Isn’t that interesting? We don’t see it at the time, but there seems to be a certain timing that happens in our lives. Let me say that you are an early childhood coach and mentor and you are also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. Could you define those terms for us, and why do you call yourself a discovery partner instead of a therapist or grief counselor?
They are all good questions. Thank you for asking that because this is an area of confusion for a lot of people. A lot of people that I talk to about what I do immediately think I’m a counselor or a therapist. I’m not. I don’t have that training. I don’t have that licensure. An early childhood parent educator is an education license for the early childhood age, which is from birth to eight typically.
You could be teaching in school.
I could be teaching early childhood classes or parenting classes, which is what I did. Here in Minnesota, we have Early Childhood Family Education, ECFE in every school district. Those programs are made up of parent educators and children’s teachers. I was the parent educator part and I had the parents while their kids were in with a children’s teacher. I taught all of that.
That’s why I went back. I had a teaching license, but it wasn’t for that age group. I went back and got that. That was what immersed me in all of this awareness about what’s best for children. That was what I wanted to do because I had parents who were less than sensitive about young children. I will just put it that way.
That was part of my motivation too, was the role modeling I’d had and I wanted to do it differently. That’s where I was when I had my children. After my son died and my daughter said what she said, I knew that I had a lot of foundation that I needed. I knew that I could go out and do this work with families, but I wanted a credential.
I looked at what was out there for grief training or someone like me. I found the Grief Recovery Institute, which has several books that they have published including The Grief Recovery Handbook. They also had a book called When Children Grieve. I got certified through them to deliver their grief recovery method and their program for adults based on the book When Children Grieve.
I’m certified to do both of those, but what I do just takes information from what I learned from them. I learned a lot about healthy grief and the reasons why people don’t grieve well and the misinformation about grief. The things that are helpful for children that are to me the most important parts of what I do that’s different from what anyone else does are things that come out of my early childhood parent educator background and my understanding of child development. I am that and I am a coach. I also got coaching certification through two different programs. I call myself a coach, but I like the word mentor better because I want to share what I know about good parenting for any child, not just grieving children, and what I know from my experience.
I would imagine that if a person’s having some behavioral problems with their child, you’d be a great person to go to. Not necessarily for even grief, but like, “This is going on. How’s the best way for me if my child’s being bullied,” or whatever. Even something like that, you could probably help a lot.
That is not my focus. I do focus on the grief area, and it’s hard to stay focused there because yes, the things that I give to families are good information for all families. I do a lot with emotion coaching, which is an approach to helping children manage their emotions. That is not based on punishment and discipline. Limit-setting, yes but another approach to helping kids learn about emotions. It builds a stronger bond between parent and child to do that type of parenting. That is why I’m a coach and a mentor. I am the person that I wanted when my son died because I was grieving and I hadn’t experienced grief before.
I went to some grief support groups and got good information about grief. I did not need a therapist. I didn’t need a counselor. I wasn’t in this place where I could not function. I wanted someone to help me parent my child. What’s good parenting? What are the ways that I can raise my family and manage our household in ways that are going to help my daughter have the best foundation for her life experience and her loss as well as me? Parenting while grieving is doing the two hardest things in our lives at the same time.
If someone comes to you and there’s been an unfortunate loss. Let’s say you are their discovery partner and you used tools to equip them to discover their wisdom. Tell us a little bit about that.
I have what I call the Good Grief Parenting approach, and it’s the pieces that I discovered along the way that contribute to healthy parenting and healthy responses to grief. I say I’m a parenting mentor and I focus on parenting. I focus on the bereaved sibling. The truth is, when the family or parents come to me, they have their grief and I can’t work with them on their children’s grief without supporting their grief.
One of the things that I start with in the Good Grief Parenting approach, I have four heartbeats. The first one is good grief beliefs. I start with parents and helping them understand that growing up learning that you don’t talk about grief is not helpful. Talking about grief is what’s helpful. I help them understand that this is helpful with kids too. That we don’t need to protect them. My daughter knew what was going on. I couldn’t say to her, “You are going to be okay,” and expect her to be okay. She wasn’t going to be okay. Neither was I, but we were capable and we were going to get through it.
I understood how to have conversations with her. I helped parents with these kinds of understandings and give them ideas and approaches to counteract maybe what they learned in their own growing up. The second heartbeat is enduring bonds. It helps parents to be aware of their bond with their living child and their bond with their deceased child because that bond doesn’t end. Even though a lot of people tell us we need to move on.
If you kept your child’s bedroom the same, don’t you think you are obsessing? No. All of that is perfectly healthy. That’s the idea of continuing the bond with your deceased child. That’s important for a bereaved sibling. My daughter continued her relationship with her brother. We talked about him at home. She talked about him at home. We remembered him. We carried him forward.
How long did you keep his room set up?
She shared the room with him and one of the things that Deanna took away from that experience was a real aversion to change. I remember one time I bought a new table for the living room. Another part of my daughter’s loss is that my husband and I ended up getting divorced soon after our son died. It was not because of our son’s loss, which some people go to that conclusion. She came home and I bought a new table, and she was upset because I didn’t warn her.
It’s because she doesn’t like disruption in her life.
To this day, she doesn’t like change. The bedroom hasn’t changed that much. I have a pair of his shoes in my closet. I have his Pokémon hat sitting by my desk. I have his Pokémon sweatshirt on the back of my chair in my sanctuary where I go read books and do devotions. Those are some of the ways. We eat French silk pie on his birthday every year because, in the last days when he was dying, one of the few things that he wanted to eat was French silk pie. We let him eat all the French silk pie he wanted because we didn’t have to worry about his health at that point.
Let me ask you. Also, you have a wonderful story about lemonade. It was a boy at a lemonade stand.
To finish my Good Grief Parenting approach, the third heartbeat is essential messages and the fourth heartbeat is choice actions, which is choosing to do things in your family that are going to be healing and helpful.
Give us an example of that, for instance.
The essential message is that idea that your child needs to know and they need to get messages through your interactions and your words. That they are valued, cared for, they are capable, and that we will get through this. All of those things, those are messages every child needs but I have them as one of the heartbeats for the Good Grief Parenting approach.
Choice actions would be doing things that demonstrate that. My daughter and I have an understanding that we don’t go to bed angry. We always say I love you when we part and those things become non-negotiable. It’s a choice action that we are going to reinforce that essential message every day. That’s a simple example. Another example might be when families get in tune with how important it is to talk about things that we are going to talk about in our grief.
They might decide to have a signal or something that they do when they don’t want to talk now, but they will talk later. It’s things that you put into place that ensure that you are going to do grief in your family in the healthiest way possible that works for your family because that’s individual. There isn’t one way to do any of this.
You help people to choose what would be effective for them. A small example in my life is my grandsons are nine as of this time and they are getting very cool. They don’t always want to acknowledge their grandmother. I have a code with them. I say, “If you don’t want to let me know you love me in front of all your friends, tap on your heart and I will tap on mine.” I have seen them win at a baseball game, be surrounded by their friends, and look at me and just tap their hearts.
That’s perfect. I love that. I will share that as an example. Isn’t that a strong bond-building little gesture that you will have with them for the rest of their lives, and it’s such a simple thing? That’s a wonderful example.
Tell us about the lemonade.
The lemonade reinforces the essential message. It’s related to essential messages in that it is something that I did with my daughter. The hardest thing about me losing my son, the absolute hardest thing was that my daughter lost her brother, and she had to grow up without him. I still to this day, have my temper tantrum moments when I look at something in her life, either past, present, or future, and say, “I want David here with her for that. I want her to have her brother.”
When she was growing up, especially after her dad was out of the house, although he was still in her life, I would have these feelings a lot like, “I don’t want this for her,” but I would decide that, “It’s what we have and I have to make the best of this.” I would do that with her too. It’s the idea that when something is not the way we want it, I would sometimes say, “We are on an adventure. We are going to make some lemonade.”
It’s the optimism, the hope, and it’s the way of functioning in a family when you have a lemon. The way that I talk to my clients about this is to say, “When we lose a child or any loved one, we have this big fat lemon, and we do not want this big fat lemon, but we have it. We can either bite into it and it’s sour and bitter, and we throw it against the wall or we can say, ‘I’m not going to deal with this lemon. I’m going to put it on the kitchen counter.’” You leave it there, it sits there, and it rots.
You can also say, “I have this big fat sour lemon. What can I do with it?” I can slice it up. I can add some water. I can add some sugar. I can stir it and I can make some lemonade. Somebody said to me, “I could make something else with it.” Yes, you could. You could make lemon bars or you could make lemon cake, but you make something with your lemon.
It’s an attitude and a choice. I had one client and this is another thing that I want people to recognize with the work that I do, and that is that these little siblings have relationships with their siblings for the rest of their lives. I have coined the term sibling by heart. They are siblings by heart, not in their presence. I have worked with some parents who had, for example, a stillborn child. I worked with one mom who had a son who was born ten days after his big brother died. She had this little boy and she started working with me when her little boy was about the age that his brother had been when he died. He was two and a half or three.
They were two different kids and she was starting to recognize that she needed to deal with this living child who was more rambunctious than her other child. She thought, “I need to deal with the fact that he had a big brother.” She worked with me and found the work that we did to be very helpful to help her make her living son aware of his big brother.
One of the things that she was so excited about was that all on his own, this little boy, when he became three decided that he wanted to do a lemonade stand. He was serious about it. She was so excited about it because of our conversations about making lemonade. It was such an interesting coincidental or not coincidental tie for her. They built a lemonade stand and he was adamant about wanting this. He did his little lemonade stand, and it was an amazing success.
At three years old, everybody was like, “You have to see this.”
It was very healing for all of them because of the meaning that it had for her that he didn’t even recognize. It was a tangible reminder for her of what they needed to do to continue that bond with their son who died and to nurture his little brother who was growing up without him.
I know that a lot of people would love to hear your advice about how we can raise our children with more confidence and less fear.
I think you are referring to the book that I’m a part of, and it is so exciting. I would love for people to go out and get it. The book is called No-Problem Parenting(TM): Raising Your Kiddos With More Confidence and Less Fear. I am one of 21 authors in that book which was compiled by Jaci Finneman, whose business is called No-Problem Parenting. She has a podcast of her own and had me as a guest on her podcast. She wanted me to be a part of this book, which I was very honored to be a part of because she did a summit when this book was published.
I did a chapter on Giving Your Child the Gift of Good Grief. All the other authors in there are amazing. There’s so much good information in this book. I would encourage people to go to Amazon and get it. My chapter was Give Your Child the Gift of Good Grief, which is something that we don’t have to wait to have a big loss in their life to do with them because children experience grief over all kinds of things that are not the loss of a loved one necessarily.
The way we respond as adults make a difference in how we learn how to cope with loss and grief for later in their lives when they will have a loss as I had in my early 40s. When I talk about good grief, I talk about things like honoring grief when it happens. What Jaci talks about in her No-Problem Parenting approach is three things. The first thing is seeking understanding.
With our children, to be sure that we understand how they are grieving, you and I mentioned before the interview started and we are talking about me working with parenting that there might be behavior issues that I might be able to help families with. When kids are grieving, that can be a part of how they show their grief, and we may not realize that’s what’s going on.
That’s one thing I help parents with is recognizing how children show their grief and the second step in Jaci’s No-Problem Parenting is to be prepared for the worst. The way that I talk about that in my chapter is being prepared for helping your family with loss and grief, which is one of the worst things a family can encounter. That’s having the door open to have conversations with even young children, which adults don’t think we should do.
We should protect children from loss and not expose them to it. It’s quite the opposite. Good grief is being willing to say to a child, “Your brother died.” Use the D word because that’s the only word that accurately tells them what happened. Passed or went away doesn’t. A big thing for adults is to be willing to use that word when telling a young child what happened to someone they love.
Are you saying that telling a child, being authentic with a child, and telling them what is going on helps to raise them with more confidence? Why is that?
It’s because when we don’t understand what death is. We get hit by it. Telling a child when they are young that someone died is a lesson we don’t want them to learn yet but my daughter had to learn it at three and a half. That means her brother’s body stopped working. He couldn’t talk to her anymore. He couldn’t play with her anymore. We weren’t going to see him anymore.
That prepared her for the future going forward and learning from that point how we as a family cope with it and carry on anyway. When we help kids face the tough things in their early years, we are helping them to build resilience. When we do those things that are all part of the Good Grief Parenting approach, we help them experience loss and grief in healthy helpful ways.
You are normalizing it.
Yes. That’s such an important word. Normalizing it so they are not knocked sideways when they experience something later in life. They grow up with these skills of, “I have encountered this before. I coped with it then. I will cope with it now.” They can learn ways to cope. Children can learn that it’s okay to be off by themselves if that’s what they need to do and come back when they are ready. Certain things help them know, “I need to deal with grief this way.”
One of the other important things that I help families with is, you don’t have to grieve the way someone else thinks you should. You can say to them, “What you are saying to me right now is not helpful. This is how I need to grieve right now. This is what our family needs to do.” Imagine the confidence and empowerment that a child feels when they learn those kinds of responses as a child, too. Growing up with grief and loss and learning healthy life skills to cope is such a gift to kids.
Are those part of your coaching programs?
You said See Your Way Forward After Child Loss and Parenting for the Journeyould you like to add anything about those programs that you have?
I would say that Parenting for the Journey was what I came into Good Grief Parenting feeling like I wanted to do, which is, “This is what your child’s going to need from the time they experienced their loss in early childhood until adulthood. They are going to go through these different parts and experiences of their lives,” but I learned that I had to grapple with, “When is the right time to work with parents?” It’s because they have their grief and it’s devastating.
I talk to some parents that say, “I can’t even think about what my child needs yet. I need to deal with my grief.” That’s what See Your Way Forward After Child Loss does. It’s my comprehensive program that helps parents who say, “I have had this loss. I don’t know what to do with it, but I realize that I can’t sit in this devastation and pain, and I’m ready.”
You need to be ready because you need to have the devastation and pain. You don’t have to rush out of that. You need to experience that but when you are ready to see your way forward, then this course helps you look at all the pieces and gives you tools for all of the pieces. The Parenting for The Journey picks up where that one leaves off and looks more at all of the different aspects of good solid parenting going forward.
Do you do these coaching programs online or in person? How do people get ahold of you to do this?
It’s all virtual. I certainly could do it in person as well, but I do it virtually. People can reach me for anything at my website of Good Grief Parenting. I’m on Instagram @GoodGriefParenting. I’m at Linktree, where we are all having these link trees with all of these links. That’s @GoodGriefParenting as well. If you Google Good Grief Parenting, you are going to find a way to get in touch with me and you can inquire about my coaching and my programs. You can have a free consult with me.
Is this your offer for our show audience?
The offer is The Good Grief Guide which outlines a lot of what I have talked about. It’s introducing any adult who’s working with a child who may be grieving to the things they need to be aware of to support children. The Good Grief Guide is available at Linktree. There’s a link there for that. There’s a button to get it there as well. You can easily find The Good Grief Guide.
That’s a wonderful offer because if you are going through something like that, you want something to reach out to right away.
That’s not only if you have had a death of a loved one. It’d be nice to have that when you need it, instead of saying, “Now, where do I go get that,” when your child comes home tomorrow and their hamster died, or whatever they might experience.
Why would you say that healing is necessary for the remaking of life after loss? Why do we need to heal?
It’s because healing is how you see that your life going forward is different from the life you had. I came upon a quote when I was early in this work that was so perfect to explain the difference between me and a counselor and me and a support group. That’s the quote by the author Anne Roiphe who wrote a book after her husband died. In it, she said, “There are two parts to grief. The first part is loss and the second part is the remaking of life.”
Loss is that part of the devastation, the tearing away, and the big gaping hole. That’s what support groups and counselors help you get your feet back on the ground and cope with the loss. The remaking of life is everything that comes after that. The only way that you can take advantage of your life going forward is by healing from the pain that made that rift between the life you had and the life you are going to have.
Healing is an important part of being able to see that there are a lot of bright possibilities available ahead of you. Joy is what I want families who work with me to see their way forward toward and that requires healing. I will say this because I know you have encountered this too. You talked to so many people who are hurting from loss as we all do. It doesn’t mean you are going to stop having your grief or stop hurting from your loss. That’s not what healing is. That’s not what recovery is. Recovery and healing are the ability to live forward and realize that there are some good things ahead of you and you don’t need to leave your loved one behind in order to go toward the good things.
Recovery and healing are the ability to live forward and realize that there are some good things ahead of you, and you don't need to leave your loved one behind to go toward the good things. Click To Tweet
It’s a choice of staying in the swamp, suffering, and holding onto the story or doing it and moving forward as you have done. You are a role model. Look at what you did with your loss. Michele, thank you for your valuable work. That helps a grieving parent and his or her grieving child get beyond the immense pain of loss to enjoy good lives and even feel joy. I thank you from my heart for this insight-filled and very touching interview. Here’s a loving reminder to everyone. Make sure to follow us and like us on social, @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you are on YouTube, be sure to subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings and bye for now.
- Michele’s book: No-Problem Parenting™: Raising Your Kiddos With More Confidence and Less Fear
- Check out the Good Grief Parenting website
- Good Grief Parenting on Linktree
- Connect with Michele on Instagram and LinkedIn
- The Grief Recovery Handbook Referenced on this episode
- When Children Grieve Referenced on this episode
- Irene Weinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg on Twitter
- Irene Weinberg-Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube