A child grieving the death of a parent generates care, concern, and empathy. The grief of a child who loses their parent to incarceration or deportation however, is often misunderstood and overlooked. Though still living, the parent is taken from the child’s life, leaving no, or little understanding of how to process the loss. Dr. Nicole Ausmer states that “When a parent goes to prison the child is left behind to mourn the dream of a different life.” She shares her story in this five-minute Ted Talk.
The grief work necessary after losing a parent to incarceration is not different from that of losing a parent to death. Understanding what this work entails is how mentors can help. Psychologist, J. William Worden’s framework of four tasks, helps us understand how people journey through grief. Healing happens gradually as grievers address these tasks, (in no specific order), going back and forth from one to another over time. The four tasks are:
- To accept the reality of the loss
- To work through the pain of grief
- To adjust to an environment in which the person is missing
- To find an enduring connection to the person and move forward (understand that you can remember the positives while adjusting to change)
Director of Clinical Education at the Christi Center, Erin Spalding, LCSW-S, thoughtfully explains loss, grief and empathy in our December Mentor Training.
It is important to note that kids “re-grieve” at every developmental stage. They work to make sense of it, and process it with a new understanding each time.
These resources can help mentors support their mentee: