Dealing With Death: Moving On After the Loss of a Loved One

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RENO, NV - Sitting in the Teen Room at the Solace Tree in Reno, 18-year-old Faith Rucker recalls a specific moment in the day that changed her life.

"I was sitting in P.E. and I look over at the clock and it said 1:30; he died at 1:32," she said.

That memory came from an October day three years ago when her dad committed suicide.

"Looking back, I can see warning signs," she said. "But I didn't notice back then. He had a a very dry sense of humor. He thought he was funny, and that's what made him funny."

Faith still drives around the car she built with her dad, but admits there are bad memories as well.

"That day, he came into my room and said, 'I love you, have a good day.' I just said, 'Yeah, you too' because I was mad at him. He and my mom had a fight the night before."

Rucker says the 'what if's' and the final memories with her dad were the hardest parts to deal with. In fact, it wasn't until a few months after his death, that Rucker could begin talking about what happened.

Dr. Jill Packman, a family therapist, says that's normal, especially for parents with young children.

"That's the hardest part about being a parent," she said. "Knowing that you have to put your grief on the back burner because someone is relying on you."

Dr. Packman says the important part about helping kids through the loss of a loved one is being open and honest.

"What's key is giving them direct information," she said. "We have to avoid using euphemisms like 'Grandma went to sleep'. When we say those things to children, they're so literal that they start to fear going to sleep."

Rucker was a teenager when her father died, and understood the concept of suicide. But many parents can find the subject difficult to discuss with younger children.

Emilio Parga, executive director of the Solace Tree in Reno agrees with Packman and says you can be honest without going into too much detail.

"They don't need to know all the details just yet. Just explain that person is no longer here. We don't ever want to underestimate a child's ability to grieve."

Parga says creating a lie to protect the child now, will only end up hurting both of you in the long run.

"Don't try to hide anything. Eventually they will ask details, 'How did Dad die again? It's easier to remember the truth."

He says if the child discovers you lied, they feel betrayed and can hold that anger in. It's also important to listen and make time for kids when they bring the subject of loss up.

"I always tell adults, 'You may be busy, but we don't know if this is the seventh time they're saying, 'Hey my dad died, I'm sad' or the first time,'" Parga said. "But if we brush them aside, they can feel abandoned."

Parga says after the Sparks Middle School shooting last October, Parga began holding group sessions at the surrounding schools to help students deal with the tragedy.

"We go to those schools and support those kids, and we support those kids because their friend died," Parga said. "They need to process this. We're finding out kids are listening even though they're not talking but they are there because they kind of want to talk about their friend who died. It's an opportunity now for these kids to now not have unresolved grief. Better have them do it now, than 10 years with a gun or hitting a girl."

Packman says don't be afraid to include your children in the grief process.

"It's okay to cry in front of your children, it's okay to grieve," she said. "Just letting them know you're not angry with them, you're not upset with them. They've done nothing wrong. You're just sad."

But if the grief becomes too consuming, she said, seek support. And if you know someone struggling with the loss of a loved one, make sure to continue checking in, even if it has been months since the death.

"Just be that friend, Say you know, 'If you want to talk about it, if you want to be angry and scream,and yell, and then cry, and then scream, and then yell, and then cry, you can do that with me."

For Rucker, the loss of her dad negatively affected her life.

"It was devastating, my grades started dropping, I lost all of my friends," she said. "There's actually a picture of me in my yearbook of me sitting by myself in the hallway."

But it wasn't until a friend reached out and she went to a grief group for teens at the Solace Tree, that she began to deal with what happened.

"I wasn't going to say anything, but then I just kept talking," she said. "It felt so good to get it all out."

She says even though it's been three years, she still thinks about what she lost.

"Everyday I think of him and what really gets me most is life changes. Like when I graduated high school, he wasn't there. Who's going to walk me down the aisle?".

But she admits the pain is not as constant, and Packman says being okay with moments of happiness is an important part of moving on.

"At first you're sad all the time," she said. "Then you start to notice times when you're not thinking about it, having some joy. Be okay with that and allow yourself to experience some joy.

For more information on how to talk to kids about grief, download the attached link.

If you are looking for information on grief counseling, visit www.waltonsfuneralhomes.com/Grief_Councilling_-16125.html or www.solacetree.org.

PLANNING AHEAD:

At Walton's Funeral Home on Kietzke Lane, general manger Rick Noel says with the average burial running about $8,000, planning ahead is the best way to save surviving family members added stress. He says often times he will see siblings argue over what to do, or emotionally overspend.

"This does relieve family members of the emotional burden of not knowing what a family member wanted," Noel said. "Family members will emotionally over spend out of guilt."

It can sound morbid to some, but Noel says planning ahead prevents arguments, allows people to start grieving without distractions, and locks in the price. In the more than 30 years he has been in the business, Noel says he has never seen the price of a funeral go down.

"When you plan ahead, there's no additional charge when the funeral happens," he said. "We have people who have paid for their funeral back in the 80's and are still alive."

He says you don't always have to pre-pay if you don't have the money now, and there is no charge for planning the funeral."

But planning the final celebration of your life is not the only thing to think about.

Don Ross, an estate lawyer in Reno says, no matter your age, if you have any significant number of assets or minors in your care, it's time to write a will.

"I usually tell people if they have more than $100,000 in assets or $200,000 in assets, it's a good idea to put some kind of estate planning together."

Having a current will is incredibly important. Ross says if there is no current will, your assets could end up in probate; leaving your family members in the dark.

"The family members can take over in terms of being the personal representative of that person's estate, but it would still generally have to go before the courts which means more headaches, more expense, more trouble," Ross said.

There are many website where you can download a one-size-fits all will, but Ross says in his experience, he has seen those documents cause more problems than they solve. He says an estate lawyer will help you put together a will that fits you best, and the average cost can be around $600.

Ross suggests sitting down at least every two years with your lawyer to update the terms of the will, especially if there are any changes like a new child. He says an old will can harm you in the long run, especially in cases of sudden death.

"The terms of that will are binding," Ross said. "Even if they have note in their diary of what they would like to see happen or anything like that, the terms of their will or trust at the time of their death is binding."


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