Sunday, January 15, 2012

Helping Some Children in Grief; Turning Away from Others

After reading with hope Stacey Burling’s excellent Philadelphia Inquirer pieces last month on the resources now available for children coping with grief, the January 5th Inquirer article by Kristin Graham on the Philadelphia School District’s decision to cut its special representative from the payroll challenged my optimism.

In 1973 when I was 11 years old, my teachers were notified before my return to school that my mother had died—and they’d already long known of her illness—yet my science teacher raised his voice in front of the other students, asking why I’d not completed my week’s work.  “Because my mother died,” I yelled back, mortified but too angry to stay quiet though I'd never previously been one for outbursts in the classroom (nor for slacking in my work).  That was the extent of faculty’s and staff’s interaction with me about my loss.   And this was at the private school my parents chose so I’d receive personal attention, given my mother’s terminal illness.

I had tremendous support at home, and I Remember Mommy's Smile, my memoir for children to read with their caregivers—along with the accompanying video guide for adults—models a path while providing a means to dialogue, honesty and hope.

It is through this lens that I consider the dismissal of the special representative as Philadelphia School District struggles with many layoffs in an attempt to grapple with significant budget issues. I appreciate the economic pressures. But in a school district serving many communities where so many suffer losses, removing the one individual who helped them cope seems shortsighted.  If the district’s goal remains the education and safety of its children, then should we not help them and their families cope with loss? If not because it's the right thing to do, then at the very least so the children are able to learn and to avoid lashing out in school.