News and Events

How to Talk to Children and Teens about Suicide Loss

It can feel daunting to explain suicide to a child, particularly if you are already coping with confusion and shock. The following are tips about how to discuss this type of loss with your child.

Share the News Quickly.

It is ideal for you to share the news immediately, if possible. Delaying the conversation can sometimes mean that a child will hear the news from another source outside the family, which can add to the confusion or distress of an already difficult situation. Older children and teens may also feel angry or upset if they feel that they are “the last to know.”

Explain in a Simple and Truthful Way.

Give an accurate but simple explanation about what happened. Teens and some older children can understand all or most of what is known about the event. For young children, answer their questions briefly and with simple terms. For example:

  • “She used a lot of pills to make her body stop working, and she died.”
  • “He died by suicide. That means he made his body stop working on purpose. His mind was very sick, and it made him not want to live anymore.”
  • “It was not your fault or anybody’s fault. We don’t know exactly what she was thinking or feeling when it happened. Maybe she was so sad or confused because of her depression that she didn’t know she could get help.”

It’s Never Too Late to Talk about It.

Sometimes we don’t know what to say or feel pressured to give a different explanation for the death, such as saying the person died of a heart attack. You can always revisit the discussion with more accurate information and explain why you chose to say it differently before. For example: “I wasn’t sure what to tell you when your aunt died, but I feel that it’s better if you know exactly what happened. I understand if you feel upset or mad about how I told you before.”

 Be Open to Processing Over Time.

Regardless of your child’s age, the discussion of suicide loss can be a series of ongoing conversations rather than a one-time event. It’s normal for young children to ask the same questions repeatedly to seek reassurance. It isn’t necessary to provide the perfect answer, only to validate what they are thinking and feeling.

Ask a Kids Path Counselor.

The children’s counselors at Kids Path are available by phone at no cost to offer professional guidance on how to discuss grief and loss with your child. Call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any Kids Path counselor.

Social Media and Grieving Teens

Kids Path counselors often get questions from the caregivers of teenagers about whether social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram are unhealthy for their child. Common concerns include “Is my teen using their phone to avoid ‘real life?’” and “Will my teen be bullied on social media?”

Although these concerns are understandable, social media can be a useful social and expressive tool for teens who are coping with grief.

Below is an overview of how social media can be beneficial for teens who have experienced loss, as well as suggestions for how families can encourage safe and healthy engagement in social media.

Memorializing Their Loved One.

Teens who are accustomed to sharing their ideas and experiences on social media may find comfort in sharing memories of their loved one online. Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, allow users to preserve their loved one’s profile so that friends and family can look at old posts and pictures. Some teens may choose to post on or send a message to the profile of the person who died, which stems from a normal desire to maintain communication with that person.

Strengthening Social Connections.

Social media apps provide a built-in sense of having a teen’s grief witnessed and validated through likes or heart reactions. In addition, receiving posts and messages about the loss from peers helps alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness that the teen may be experiencing. Many teens’ primary mode of communication with peers is through social media apps, so even though your teen may be spending a great deal of time on the internet, it is likely that they are expressing themselves and talking to friends. It is important for your grieving teen to keep these channels of communication open.

Providing Opportunities for Self-Expression.

In the same way that younger children might benefit from creating a photo album or story scrapbook about the person who died, social media can be an ideal platform for teens to use creative self-expression to process grief emotions. Grieving teens may benefit from engaging in a complex project such as designing, directing and editing a video in honor of the person who died that can then be shared on social media. Even with a brief and simple experience like adding Instagram filters to favorite photos, teens can have the opportunity to make creative choices and feel a sense of mastery over a situation that has otherwise been out of their control.

Age-Appropriate Monitoring of Social Media Use.

In general, it can be a good idea to keep an eye on your teen’s use of social media in accordance with your parenting approach. Your teen may need to be reminded to limit their privacy settings and practice safe boundaries with individuals they have not met in person. Additionally, the online environment can enable bullying or harassment. Parental monitoring can provide a safeguard against the escalation of harsh words springing from the intense emotions of grief, particularly when a sudden loss affects many in the community.

Consult a Kids Path Counselor.

For a no-cost phone consultation about how your teen is coping with death or illness, call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any Kids Path counselor.

Hospice versus Palliative Care: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between hospice and palliative care? For patients and families facing serious illness, this is a common question. Ultimately, the goals of both hospice and palliative care are very similar: to relieve symptoms of a serious illness, provide comfort from pain and improve quality of life for the whole family. Yet how these goals are achieved and when a person is eligible for each type of care can be very different. If you missed the March 15 Lunch & Learn, here is more information on this frequently asked question.

Eligibility

Patients in both hospice and palliative care have similar diagnoses. Frequent illnesses include cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, kidney disease, liver disease, dementia, stroke and many others.

Yet where you are in the course of your illness makes all the difference in whether you’re eligible for hospice or palliative care. In order to be eligible for hospice, a doctor must certify that, if the illness runs its natural course, death could be expected in six months or fewer. The individual must also not be receiving curative treatment, such as chemotherapy.

On the other hand, palliative care can be used anytime during the course of a serious illness—starting with the diagnosis—and patients can be receiving curative treatment for their illness. See the “On the Road of Life” image below.

Services Provided

One of the biggest differences between hospice and palliative care is what specific services are provided. The hallmark of hospice care is its interdisciplinary, comprehensive approach. The patient and family has a whole team of professionals assisting them on a regular basis, which can include a nurse, hospice aide, the patient’s primary care doctor, hospice doctor, social worker, chaplain, volunteer and grief counselor.

The “Circle of Care” image below demonstrates this hospice team approach. Patients are seen frequently by different members of the team, sometimes multiple times per week, and sometimes 24-7, as at Beacon Place, HPCG’s inpatient hospice home.

Yet palliative care is less comprehensive and more consultative in nature. After the patient’s health care provider requests a palliative care consultation, one of HPCG’s nurse practitioners meets with the patient to assess the symptoms of their serious illness, whether its pain, nausea, coughing, delirium or anxiety. They then recommend medications or therapies to treat those symptoms. The palliative care team also helps the patient and family better understand the illness, review advance directives and make choices for their future health care decisions.

Where They are Similar

Whether a person is receiving hospice or palliative care, HPCG meets patients wherever they call “home”—in private residences, retirement communities or nursing homes. Moreover, both palliative and hospice care are usually covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, though the way they are billed can differ.

When a Death Changes Everything: Supporting Children Through “Secondary Loss”

For kids and teens, grieving the loss of a loved one can sometimes be further complicated by related changes. The death of a parent or guardian might result in the child moving to a new home or school or even having a new primary caregiver. Some children are strongly impacted by the death of a grandparent or other extended family member if the person played a significant role in their daily life.
Secondary loss is a term that counselors use to describe the changes in a child’s life that result from a loved one’s death. Often, the disruption in daily routines or family traditions can be as painful as the loss of that person. It takes time for anyone to adjust to these kinds of major changes. Below are a few ways that families can support children and teens as they transition to a “new normal.”

Getting Back to a Routine.

When possible, focus on reintroducing consistency and routine to the child’s weekly schedule. Major loss or change can create a feeling of chaos, which sometimes manifests as anxiety or other emotional responses. You can reestablish familiar structures such as mealtime and bedtime routines. In addition, consider adding a reassuring new tradition such as setting aside a day of the week to do something fun together.

Giving Space for all Types of Feelings.

It’s normal for a child or teen to experience sadness, anger, confusion or other strong emotions in response to loss and change. Let them know it’s okay to have a range of emotions or to feel “mixed up” sometimes. You can offer ways to express feelings such as pounding play-doh, engaging in physical activity, painting an image about the changes or writing in a private journal.

Finding Ways to Communicate.

Families may find it challenging to communicate during a time of upheaval and increased stress. Consider initiating a routine family meeting during which children can voice their opinions and settle conflict in a fair way. Older children and teens may prefer to communicate in writing, such as by texting you or leaving a note, instead of talking face-to-face. No matter your method of communication, focus on maintaining connection and finding ways to problem-solve together.

Grief Counseling May Help.

Does your child or teen seem to be struggling with changes related to the death or serious illness of a loved one? Kids Path counselors are available for phone consultations at no cost. Individual grief counseling and age-specific support groups are also available at Kids Path. For more information, call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any Kids Path counselor.

Stronger Together: Update on Merge with Alamance-Caswell

As of October 1, 2019, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro and Hospice and Palliative Care of Alamance-Caswell have merged into a single legal entity.

At this time, however, we will continue to operate as Hospice and Palliative Care Center of Alamance-Caswell and Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro.

You should not notice any changes in the care and services provided to you or your loved one.

Our merger is a wonderful opportunity for our two mission-driven, not-for-profit organizations to better meet the needs of more than 3,000 hospice patients each year and thousands of others who seek palliative care, Kids Path support, and grief counseling services in multiple North Carolina counties.

In January, we will announce a new name for our organization, and you will notice changes to our logo. Until then, know that we remain committed to keeping our patients and families at the center of our work and connecting them to the best care available.

Click here to read the original announcement about the merger.

Click here to review Frequently Asked Questions about the merger. 

Why Grieving Kids Get “Clingy”

Separation anxiety can be a common response to a significant loss for preschool or elementary-age children. You may find that your child has difficulty letting you out of their sight and may even seem to be in your personal space all the time. We see this most commonly in children whose parent or primary caregiver has died, regardless of whether the loss was expected or sudden.

Many families want to soothe the worries of their “clingy” child but also feel frustrated by trying to meet these increased needs following a loss, at a time that is difficult and stressful for everyone in the family. Here is some guidance about ways to address behaviors related to separation anxiety.

Recognize the Need for Connection.

Let your child know that it makes sense to want reassurance from loved ones when a special person has died. You can reassure your child that they will be taken care of and that even on hard days when big feelings are coming up, you are in this together. When it’s necessary to be apart, you can offer a tangible reminder to help your child feel connected to you—for example, a family photo to keep in their book bag or a special voicemail message they can listen to when feeling anxious.

Provide Sensory Comforts.

Children sometimes have strong emotions without the capacity to verbalize them or self-soothe. You can work together with your child to make a “five senses” list of sensory items that make them feel safe and happy. Some examples include wrapping up in a soft blanket (touch) or using a scented lotion that is relaxing for them (smell).

Keep Things Routine.

Although this may feel like a topsy-turvy time for your family, it’s important to maintain familiar routines, such as bedtime rituals and mealtimes, as much as possible. When this is not possible, try to institute a new routine for the time being so that your child knows what to expect. Some families find it helpful to post a written schedule or calendar in their home as a reminder of what will be coming up next. Be sure to include important family rituals and special time together whenever possible.

Consult a Kids Path Counselor.

Children as young as four years old may be eligible for individual grief counseling at Kids Path. For a no-cost phone consultation about how your young child is coping with death or illness, please call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any Kids Path counselor.

My Child Hasn’t Cried — Are They Grieving?

Kids Path counselors often hear from parents or caregivers that their child has not cried after a significant loss. Some families worry that a lack of tears means their child is “bottling up” or repressing emotions in a harmful way.

Often, grief in children and teenagers looks different from what we expect. The range of feelings and behaviors tends to be broader in kids and teens than typical grief in adults.

Here are some of the most common grief responses for children and teens.

Sadness may not look like crying.

Certainly, some children react to a death by crying. Children who don’t cry after the loss of a loved one might express their grief in other ways. They might have less energy than usual or become distracted because of sad thoughts or memories.

Teenagers, perhaps due to feeling self-conscious, might cry in private rather than around family or friends. It is also typical of teens to express their sad feelings in creative ways, such as through writing or music, and to share more detail about emotions with their peers than with family members.

Anger is common after a loss.

One of the most common reactions to loss is anger. Younger children may be able to talk about feeling mad, or their anger may take the form of frustration, impatience or general “acting out.” Teens might also demonstrate angry behaviors or seem irritable. Regardless of how it is expressed, it’s important to let kids and teens know that it is okay and normal to feel angry when someone has died.

Children may worry about others dying.

Some children worry that something might happen to another person in their life. While some kids verbalize these thoughts, others experience anxiety in the form of nightmares or being fearful of separation from family members. It is also common for older children and teens to experience separation anxiety after a significant loss. Some children or teens ask questions about death or seem anxious about minor illnesses and injuries.

Families can support grieving kids and teens.

There are many ways to provide support at home after a loss. Adult family members can model talking about feelings and validate whatever is verbalized by a child or teen. Families can also offer safe and healthy ways to express grief emotions through art, play or movement.

Consult a Kids Path Counselor.

The licensed counselors at Kids Path provide no-cost phone consultations about how to support a grieving child or teen. Call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with a counselor.

United Way Eliminates Funding for HPCG Counseling Programs

In the United States, the rate of suicide and death by overdose has reached a level not seen since World War II. In fact, for those aged 10 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Left in the wake of these heartbreaking statistics are the loved ones who are devastated. Their sorrow is often compounded by stigma, guilt and isolation. They require help navigating the complicated grief associated with traumatic loss.

Thanks to generous community support, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG) has been able to respond to this growing need, regularly offering suicide and overdose loss-themed grief support groups. In fact, diverse programs that address challenges like these have been a hallmark of HPCG’s mission.  Whether it’s through these specialty loss groups offered by the Counseling and Education Center or kid-friendly grief counseling offered through its Kids Path program, HPCG’s work has been driven by the needs of this community.

HPCG’s Suicide Loss Support Group made these rocks depicting messages of hope. Donations make groups like this one possible.

The core charitable support that has underwritten these efforts has been the United Way of Greater Greensboro. Unfortunately, after 20 years of partnership, United Way’s support of HPCG has ended. HPCG is no longer considered a Strategic Partner agency and will not receive its annual funding allocation.

While the loss of United Way support seems sudden, it is not completely unanticipated. For several years, United Way has shifted their strategic focus to eradicating poverty—a worthy goal indeed.

United Way leaders assure us that HPCG’s grief support programs remain valuable, especially for families living in poverty. However, with limited resources, the United Way must invest in organizations that more directly influence the cycle of poverty in Greensboro.

Although HPCG’s annual request of $210,735 wasn’t funded, United Way will honor all donor-designations to their fundraising efforts. Therefore, we anticipate a revenue shortfall of about $110,000 for the current fiscal year.

We are committed to making sure services continue uninterrupted. However, we need your help to keep this commitment. Every donation—large or small—will be needed to fill this funding gap.

Please consider making a gift to support our 2019 Annual Campaign:

Make A Gift

The Importance of Peer Support for Grieving Teens

The middle school and high school years are a unique time in life. Teenagers are outgrowing childhood but have not yet fully developed in a social, cognitive or emotional capacity. Because of the developmental challenges faced by teens, they have specific grief needs that are distinct from both child and adult grief.

Grief counselors who work with teens often recommend strengthening their support network. This can include time with not only family, school and faith community, but also time with peers. Teens who have experienced a loss sometimes feel that although family members care about them, it is only other teens who can truly understand how they feel.

Ideally, teens can participate in grief programs that allow them to learn about grief and share experiences among people their own age. These programs normalize grief emotions through expressive activities and provide a chance for teens to mingle with grieving peers in a low-pressure environment.

“I Thought I Was the Only One”

An important part of individual grief counseling for teens is normalizing the emotions and behaviors that can be triggered by loss. However, teens are most likely to believe that other teens go through similar situations when they are able to meet those others and hear their stories for themselves. At a time when teens need peer support the most, they may not know anyone at school or in their community with a similar loss. Teen grief programs offer a chance to bond with other teens who have lost a loved one.

A Safe Place to Talk About Grief

For teens, it often feels important to fit in and seem normal to peers. They may minimize or hide their experience of loss in an effort to avoid having to discuss what happened with people at school or in the community. A grief program designed for teens can provide a safe space for teens to express grief emotions, speak their truth about their experience or simply just be genuine without having to put on a mask of normalcy.

Kids Path counselors design and facilitate programming to meet the unique grief needs of teens in 6th through 12th grade. These include frequent Teen Night events featuring specific activities or speakers, as well as an annual Pathfinders four-week support group with an expressive arts focus.

Kids Path provides grief services for children and teens from age 4 through high school. To learn whether your child or teen may be appropriate for Kids Path programs, call 336.544.5437.

What is Palliative Care?

Learn about this invaluable resource before you need it!

Most adults will suffer from a serious, life-limiting illness in their lifetime. However, despite the prevalence of these illnesses, over 70 percent of the US population knows little to nothing about palliative care services[i].

Palliative care is specialized, holistic care for people living with serious illness. Unlike traditional medical care, palliative care as a philosophy does not aim to cure illness. Instead, it focuses on the patient’s quality of life.

Traditional medical care is hyper-focused on treating an illness. With some illnesses, such as cancer, treatment methods can be uncomfortable, painful or even traumatic. The goal of traditional medicine is, first and foremost, to preserve life, sometimes at the expense of the patient’s comfort.

In contrast, a palliative care team’s focus is quality of life and patient comfort. Palliative care does not seek to treat an illness, but it can be provided in combination with curative treatment. For example, a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy might choose to add palliative care to their treatment plan. The chemotherapy is meant to treat their cancer, while the palliative care is meant to alleviate distressing symptoms from both the cancer and the chemotherapy itself.

The palliative care team assists in improving quality of life by establishing “goals of care.” To do this, they find out what is most important for each individual patient. Perhaps the patient wants to remain mobile for as long as possible, or maybe they want to be able to comfortably sit and watch their favorite TV show. Whatever matters most to each patient’s individual definition of a “good life” will become the driving force behind their palliative care treatment plan.

In addition to nurses and a doctor, the palliative care interdisciplinary team also includes a social worker to help the patient and family cope with emotional or mental distress. The palliative care team can also assist the patient in creating advance directives so that their medical wishes are well-established.

Some people are afraid of palliative care because they associate it with hospice care and death. However, unlike hospice care, an illness does not have to be terminal for a patient to receive palliative care. Anyone suffering from a serious, life-limiting illness may be eligible for palliative care services. Palliative care becomes an option when a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness and can be provided continuously until it is no longer needed or until the patient enters hospice care.

Palliative care can be given anywhere: in the patient’s home, a hospital or an assisted living facility. It is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, contact Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro for more information about palliative care.

[i] Awareness and Misperceptions of Hospice and Palliative Care: A Population-Based Survey Study.
Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2018 Mar;35(3):431-439. doi: 10.1177/1049909117715215. Epub 2017 Jun 20.