journal response to class 10-7-98 : LUSENET : M.Ed. Cohort II : One Thread

Hi Class,

I'm trying to follow through on using this web page, so I'm posting our assignment here. Hope you all find it.

My guess is that there will be things from tonight's (10-7-98) featured presentation that will grab you. I'd like you to react to it in a couple of ways. One, personal e-mail to me. Two, messages to each other regarding content, use for us as master teachers, so we can talk to each other publically (between us) over this medium. Understood?

-- Anonymous, October 07, 1998


Well, I thought the forum was great! I really liked the first and last presentors. The material is heavy, but needed. I plan on talking with my school and staff about our procedures, and policy plans.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

In thinking about the first session of the toxic child one of the things that comes to mind most is the need to talk. It seems that in our culture we do not like to deal with sad or pain. We want to move out of those places as quickly as possible. It doesn't seem to be politcally correct to bring up sad or difficult life circumstances. This nite of information told me that as an educator I need to be more open to hearing and speaking in these difficult situations.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Gina Dixon has come to my ECFE sessions as a guest speaker in one of my parent groups. Talking about death to children is a very difficult thing for most adults to do because they, too, have fears and questions about death. Bringing an expert into a parent group is a great way to get information out to families.

The information from last night's presentation can be very useful in my work as a parent educator. Using correct terminology--he died--she is dead--etc. is very important when working with young children. If a family experiences a death, the parent group could be a great source of support, but not necessarily a great source of correct information. Having this information can help me in facilitating by being able to quote Gina or Ben--easy to say some things when it is coming from an expert in the field. By knowing about Ben, Gina, and the Grief Support at St. Mary's I can provide my parents with a resource for getting help and support.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

The presentation on suicide and death gave me new insights on why others and myself may experience grieving years after a death of a family member. It was also helpful to see how the grieving changes as we move through different stages of our own lives. I use to think time would heal and make it hurt less, but I think now it just hurts differently. By understanding this I feel I can understand my own feelings and reactions to death and those of others. I find it hard to talk about death with second graders. I know they need to do so at times and that I may need to allow them to do so at times. I realize how important it is to be aware of how it may affect others in the class and myself. Do you know of any good books to use with young children that would help me be a resource to them? Thanks for listening.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Just practicing. Since I didn't attend last night's class. I had more important stuff to take care of.It sounded like a good session.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Last night's class reminded me of the need to be present in our children's lives. We need to be aware of what is happening in their lives and be open to communicate. By showing that we are interested and care, we can hope to reach out before suicide is attempted or completed. We need to stop soft pedaling the realities of death and be more frank (sorry, Frank!) and honest about the issue.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Hello Cohort 2, Peg Mold last night certainly made a strong impression on everyone, even the jaded people in the class. She only gets better each time she lectures, and even though I have taken her class before I still learn and hear new things. The mark of a very good teacher. We all need to keep going to the well to replenish ourselves, to reflect on things and this class of Peg's is certainly going to keep us thinking and it will deliver some strong medicine.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

I have listened to Ben Wolfe on a number of occasions on a number of grief issues, including a discussion with parents of children with autism and their "shattered dreams". I was able to use some of last nights information in a situation I was involved in today with a 2nd grade youngster, who has been on an IEP all of his school career. The student has been in and out of a number of residential placements (in his rather short educational experience) and was hauled out of his elementary school by the police last week and taken to the psych. unit at the hospital. Three days later he is back in the classroom, medicated, and having difficulty. In discussing with the school staff what behavioral interventions may be helpful, I was able to ask questions of the team which lead to information concerning the death of his grandfather about a year ago, which then led the school social worker into a whole area that needs to be addressed. All of the presenters were excellent, providing a wealth of information that will be very helpful in my job.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Much of what I gained at the presentation by Ben Wolff dealt with the fragility of the human being in conjunction with the incredible strengh of the human spirit. How a parent could survive the death let alone the suicide of a child and still remain relatively normal to me is an amazing feat. The inner strengths we all have when we are faced with non moveable realities is truly amazing. One question I was left with as I was leaving the building was that mother's two living children are now off building their lives and apparently doing it quite successfully but, they both live far away - Colorado and New York. How does she feel about that? Was it hard for her to see her children spread their wings and fly? The thing that I was VERY pleased to hear from that mother was that the high school principal had a open door policy for her daughter. He made himself available to that student any time she needed to unload and talk. That's a great administrator and educator

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Have any of you actually ever asked a student if they were considering hurting themselves? As an English teacher, I frequently get student writing that sounds suicidal -- especially poetry, where everything is left vague and ambiguous and, with adolescents, is often gloomy and pessimistic. It is so hard for me to approach a student and say, "Is this poem about you? Are you feeling this bad?" Every single time I've worked up the nerve to do it, the student has laughed and denied feeling depressed. I'd be interested in hearing about others' experiences. I liked Ben Wolfe's philosophy about being open with students rather than trying to cover up unpleasantness. Do your school administrators try to shield students from information that they already have, as I have experienced at my school? For instance, last year a former classmate of my students was severely brain damaged in a bicycle accident, and our administration told us not to discuss the specific circumstances of the accident with the students, by request of the parents. I had no idea how the accident occurred; my STUDENTS told ME! Answering questions about a crisis seems like questions about sex: if they're old enough to want to know, they should get an answer.

My 15-year-old son made a (fortunately) weak suicide attempt a year and a half ago. He showed many of the signs that the mother of Ross described last night. I know a lot about suicide and depression, and he was under the care of a psychiatrist, being treated for depression, and he still swallowed five dozen aspirins. I wondered if anyone else had similar experiences with their children they were willing to talk about. Every time he gets down in the dumps, now, I ask him if he's thinking about hurting himself. Every time he seems groggy when he wakes up, I ask, "Did you take a bunch of aspirin?" He's going to have to live with these questions for a long time, and I'm going to have to live with the fear.

Looking forward to seeing others' responses.


Answered by Georgia Swing ( on October 08, 1998. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ----------

This is an area wher very few people have what they would consider a whole lot of experience. To deal with death is something that all of us are fully aware is coming, but most of us say (or feel) that we don't know what to do, what to say. Some of the hardest things that you will ever have to do is to approach a fellow human being and tell them 1.) Their loved one is dead or 2.) Know what to say to someone you care about when someone common to both of you dies. Uncomfortable ...yes, but that is only because of the way we treat the whole process of death. Most of us can find resolution in the death of someone who is "old" (Which begs the question 'What's old...') and yet we fail to deal successfully with our feelings when the person is young. The best, and yet hardest approach is to be honest in your expression of your feelings...Consider how YOU would want someone to deal with you if the situation is reversed?? To say you are sorry for the loss is a good start and you can gauge the rest of the exchange from the return message from the person, and everyone will react differently. The common thread is our humanness..."I can't imagine how this must feel to you, but... With kids we can guide them along to express fears and concerns. Of all the years I have worked in or around the funeral industry (and I don't agree with all of it!) kids present the most interesting dynamic when contrasted with older people. You have to see it to understand what I mean, but they BEHAVIOR is different. With suicide there will be a million questions, most of which will not have answers and its ok to say "I don't know...but what do you think" and share as much of the grief as you can, some more than others. We have an obligation (I think) to help kids navigate these waters and to keep the "net" out there so no more slip through. Regards, Dave Answered by Dave Sarazin ( on October 08, 1998. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ----------

Dave-- I'd like to hear about cases where you had to notify families about suicides. Can you give examples of how you approach them, what you say, what a "typical" reaction is, if there is such a thing? Answered by Georgia Swing ( on October 08, 1998.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

I thought last nights class on Depression and suicide was a real eye-opener. My father died Aug. 18 on his 61st birthday from a heart attack. There were a lot of things that I never thought about until after the fact. I can see how students mental and emotional challanges can have a huge affect on their classes (as well as their social life also). I learned about childrens concept of death and I liked how Ben Wolfe described death as death, no half-truths. I found (probably along with everyone else) the "mother" was very hard to hear. I only heard bits and pieces.. But she let us know that suicide can to happen to anyone regardless of their status. I believe they could have had a better closure. I think everyone left feeling morbid and at the best a little depressed. (But maybe that was what they wanted us to walk away feeling...)

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

I felt the presentation by Ben Wolfe was very informative, thought provoking and valuable. His personal comentary that coincided with his slides and hand-outs made his presentation easy to follow and presented a clearer explanation of the points he was trying to make. I found it particularly helpful that he kept refering fo how his material could be used by teachers when interacting with students. I have contact with a student at my school who is dealing with her sister's suicide during the summer of 1997. I was told about the incident my first day of teaching at the school and then realized I had the student in class. I was told the she was to be allowed to talk with staff at any time of the day when she felt it necessary. I understood the importance of this and allowed her to do it. But as the school year progressed, my thoughts and feelings about this changed to "enough is enough." I began to feel that whenever she didn't want to be in class or didn't want to work she would say that she needed to be excesed to go talk to her confidant (another teacher) I started to wonder if she was abusing the opportunity or did she really need to talk. I frequently felt that I couldn't deny her access but I did start challenging her requests. My question is "How do you handle a student who you feel is abusing the attention being received because of a death in their family?" I have had very little personal experience dealing with death so I wonder about my level of compassion and empathy. Good stuff in this session.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Journal Response 10/7/98 Toxic Child Series: Grief, Depression & Suicide

Ben Wolfe has a reputation in the area as being the person to contact when dealing with these issues. I have heard his name many times, but this is the first time I have seen him in person. My first reaction of disappointment that I was not going to see Dr. Carlson shortly gave way to becoming involved in the fact I was seeing such a well respected and effective counselor. Since time is so very precious I feel strongly that I do not want to waste my time listening to information I am already familiar with. Or, if I am familiar with it, I want it to be presented in such a way as to provide me with new insight. "We are never done dealing with grief" took on new meaning from both a professional and personal level.

One thing that kept going through my mind was that death is not the only cause of students' grief, and that remembering stages and anniversary notations could be helpful in other situations.

I have had a few students who were writing suicidal thoughts(5th grade). In one case the parent took the information seriously. In another, I am not sure that the message really got through. When I see this second child in the halls now a year later, and look at his face, I cannot help but think that the time will come when he will find a way to ease his emotional pain one way or another. One wonders what more one can do...

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Last night was so heavy, yet this morning I woke up with a renewed outlook on life. Last night I went home sobbing because my son is 13, a quarterback on his football team, he plays in the band, and I felt a connection with the mother who lost her child. This morning I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders because I have been given some information that I can use both in my personal life with my family, and also in my professional life with my Head Start families. Last night I went home feeling stressed out. This morning I woke up feeling like I have some coping skills, some good information, and will make a difference somehow. Professionally I work with parents and their preschool children. I am a home-based educator, coming into homes at the beginning of the year as a stranger, and by the end of the year have forged relationships with these families. During my seven years with Head Start, I have dealt with adults with many problems, including depression, and attempted and completed suicides. When I come into a home, I have made it my first priority to forge a professional relationship that is warm, friendly, and hopeful. I come with armloads of resources for parents and if they share their problems, I may be able to steer them in the right direction, and sometimes give them a gentle nudge. I have also encountered a few children with depression. This is particularly sad because I work with 3,4 and 5 year old children. The children I encountered had already exprienced things in their short lives that they should never have. I liked Ben's statement that 10% of life is what happens to us, and the other 90% of life is how we respond. I feel it is my job when I am in the homes to help these families access the resources and develop coping skills to use in their lives.

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

After reading all these comments about the 10-7-98, I will look at the video (when it is available) with anticipation.

I do have a question, though. My daughter's boyfriend's mother died from cancer two years ago on October 24. Her boyfriend's dad is a quiet, laidback man who doesn't talk much, even though he is friendly when drawn into a conversation. I wonder if "honoring" the anniversary date with a phone call or card is appropriate or do I not remind this man of the death of his wife? After Donna's reply, I tend to think that acknowledging an anniversary is a good thing.


-- Anonymous, October 12, 1998

Rebecca, I think that acknowledging the anniverary is the right and human thing to do. It lets the person know a couple of things: You have some feeling for their loss, that you can overcome the "social barriers" (read silence) to reach out for them, and perhaps most importantly, you reaffirm that the person they loved so much was real and that a part of them still goes on in more memories than just their own. When you ask yourself the questions about should I do this particular thing remember that yesterday is gone, that is why it is called the past, tomorrow is not here yet, that is why it is called the future, and today is the only thing we really have that is why it is call the present-so celebrate it! It is a gift to all of us. We really shouldn't let some kindness go undone because of some convention we learned a long time ago (not to speak of the dead) someone celebrate that "present" by letting them know the memory the hold so dear is real and important to more than just themselves. Like they say: "You go, Girl!"

-- Anonymous, October 18, 1998

I am finally able to respond to the tape from October 7. I checked out the video tape to watch over last weekend and now know what you all have been discussing. What an impact the video has had.

I began to watch the film. My husband was on the computer and glanced at the television. His comment was that he had heard Ben Wolfe speak and knew him to be "worthwhile." Indeed his presentation was meaningful and had a lot of useful information. I am glad I got to see it. I even rewound the tape a few times to listen again to what he said.

Ben made clear the idea of stating "the person didn't pass away or get lost"--the person died. I have always felt most comfortable using the word died because that is what happened, but felt that "passed away" was more sociably acceptable. I never considered how those words would have an effect on children. I have not been to very many funerals; my parents didn't feel it "necessary" that I go with them. Now I can see that children need to see all aspects of our life cycle and be able to ask questions.

A long time ago an organization of which I was a member organized a presentation by our local mortician to explain the process of setting up funeral arrangements. I didn't anticipate that he would also talk about the need for most people to view the body--to say goodbye, to realize the person is really dead (for those living far away, for example), and to honor the person. I am so glad that I had the chance to see his presentation.

I was also glad to see people in "industry" haven't hardened their emotions. I imagine Ben has had to deal with hundreds of people and needs to distance himself to a certain extent. However, to really empathize, a counselor must be able to understand the feelings and emotions of the grieving clients.

Ben talked about the need for people, especially children, to talk about death and the surrounding circumstances. At Grand Rapids High School three weeks ago a student of mine and his girl friend were in a hunting accident. When the students began talking about it, they sounded like a hive of bees buzzing with the latest update. I quickly hushed them and began my instruction. Two people continued to talk about the condition of the two students since they were hurt and not in school. Thinking about this episode, I realized that I could/should allow some discussion to "calm their fears" as long as I weed out speculation and simply have them stick to the information they know is true.

With two daughters as teenagers, I have watched them grow and flourish. But know I will also watch for those signs that indicate changes in their behavior and question them about it.

-- Anonymous, October 22, 1998

Rebecka and I are probably the last two cohort members to see the video of Ben and the women from Hermantown. It was so sad. There is this thing about sharing the sorrow of someone else, that makes us appreciate what we have in our own lives. I spent a great deal of time last night,thanking God for my two sons and crying for Ross and his family. As a mon, I know that the only thing in this life that I could not endure,would be the loss of my children. I can not believe how horrible that would be. I have had a number of teenage children that I worked with talk about suicide. I always got the whole team going...parents, counselors,etc. because I was so very scared by the fact that they were talking about killing themselves outloud, to me! Kids think of suicide as a solution to their problems, but they don't realize that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem in their life. I remember a parent of one of my students who gave her daughter an example of temporary problems. She asked her daughter if she was "still upset about not going to Sue's slumber party?" "When was that?" the student asked. The mom reminded her of how she had cried for two days and refused to speak to her mom for an entire week, because she was not allowed to go to this party. The mom had worried and stewed about if her choice was right and about what her daughter might do because of her saying no. Now,one year later, the daughter did not even remember the event. If she had done something permanent as a reaction, how terrible that would have been.

-- Anonymous, October 22, 1998

Moderation questions? read the FAQ