Meeting with widowed families
Each year in Finland, approximately 4,500 people of working age find themselves widowed, and about 2,500 minors lose a parent. The association for young widows, widowers and widowed families (Suomen nuoret lesket ry) is a support organisation that provides peer support, counselling and guidance on dealing with matters related to widowhood. It endeavours to address all grievances related to the legal and financial position of widows, widowers and widowed families.
What should a professional take into consideration when meeting with widowed families?
Losing a parent is a traumatic experience for the family and shakes the foundations of the family’s sense of security.
For a surviving parent, widowhood also signifies a shift to single-parenthood.
In addition to grief, a widowed spouse must also carry the burden of the legal obligations and everyday matters concerning the spouse’s death, widowhood and the guardianship of the child/children.
Grief has a holistic impact on the person in mourning (on the body, behaviour, emotions, way of thinking, social relationship) and consumes a lot of time and energy for both the adult and the child.
Support needs to be available for a sufficiently long period of time.
Those in mourning appreciate professionals that can reach out to them and share their ordeal.
Be in touch with the family and offer information about available sources for support.
Survey the family’s support network.
One important form of support for widowed families is concrete assistance in their daily lives; domestic work and child care.
Before a child returns to day care or school, it is important for employees of these institutions to discuss with the child and parents and agree on the practical aspects, such as how the death will be explained in their setting and how the employees will keep in touch with the parent.
Speak honestly with the child about death.
Encourage the child to talk about the issue.
Children often worry about the surviving parent’s ability to cope and may “spare” him/her by holding in their own grief.
Reinforce the child’s feeling of security through daily routines and ensuring an adult’s presence throughout the child’s day.
Play, stories and drawing are all active methods for processing grief.
Help and encourage the child to express different emotions and to remember the deceased parent.
Give the child space to mourn.
Information about children’s grief process and a support booklet are available from www.nuoretlesket.fi/lapsen-ja-nuoren-suru (in Finnish).
Activities for widows, widowers and widowed families are organised by the Nuoret Lesket association as well as, for example, the Finnish Association for Mental Health, the Evangelical Lutheran parishes and Eläkeliitto (union for pensioners – courses for widows/widowers). The website of the Nuoret Lesket association contains information about the activities of different organisations (in Finnish). In the public sector, support is also available from health care psychologists and personnel at the family clinic.