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Friday, March 14, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Falling in Love...with Your Brother?

Dear Jeannie,
In response to your series on children coping with death, I have a family of kids in a story who have lost both parents. One through illness, the other through a trauma. One of them, Andy, was the only child present with their parent when she died. Andy has since been separated from his family by the courts, though his siblings all try to maintain close contact with him. He was about 8 when it happened. And he's still pretty thin-skinned about his grief. Is there anything more Andy's surviving family can be doing for him? What is "normal" going to look like for Andy, as he grows up with this trauma? Where is the line for survivors, between scars and open wounds?

Coping in Carolina  

Dear Coping,

I'm not sure if you were able to catch the conclusion to my series on grief and children coping with death, but I finished off with a post on how adults can intervene with grieving children. You'll see in the post that for someone who's around age 8, you'll need lots of patience to help them through the process. Andy will need a place to feel safe and comfortable communicating about his experience. He was really young to be present while someone actually died. Hopefully this is explained in your story and was out of necessity.  Seeing someone's final breath is a powerful experience, and one so young would likely be fairly traumatized from that, so hopefully you have good reason. As he grows up, he'll have less overt traumatic reactions, but they can still be present. Depends on how damaged emotionally you want/need him to be. Time is his greatest ally...but could also be his strongest evil. Either way could be realistic. Good luck with this little guy!

Dear Jeannie,

Cherry grew up poor in a post-war martial state. She's an orphan, taken in by her new family out of the goodness of their hearts. Which they remind her of, often. She's more than old enough to leave home, but she has nowhere to go and no way to start anything of her own. Until a young man from out of town starts paying attention to her. They fall pretty simply into love, but then he takes her to meet his family, where she discovers that she isn't really an orphan, after all. She's their long-lost daughter, and her beau's missing sister. I can pretty nearly work out how the parents are going to respond, but what about her? Is guilt or a longing for home going to hold sway over her, or something else entirely? I'm not sure if she'd respond to this as a trauma to grieve, or if her initial loss of family is going to stunt or stifle her emotions as an adult.

Wooed in Wilmington

Dear Wooed,

From your short paragraph, I can't see how she'd "long for home" at all...unless that home was an orphanage where things at least made sense to her. If her family constantly made her feel like an interloper, one who doesn't belong, than she's likely not have these emotional reactions to finding out who her real family is. What I'd say would be a bigger consideration---one that you just barely touched on---is the fact that her boyfriend is now her brother. You mentioned it was a "simple love," and perhaps you have other romantic interests in store for this girl, but she sounds fairly fresh to the idea of love, and learning her first boyfriend's her brother has got to be a drag. Seriously. I think a young teen might camp out solely on this point before doing any introspection about what it means to discover she has a family. This point totally jumped out at me, so that's what I focused on. If I missed a salient point please correspond with me in the comment section. Thanks for writing in.

Got Questions?

Maybe I got answers. Write in your question anonymously below in the comment section, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my answer in a futre Dear Jeannie column. (Torn in Toronto and Mystified in Mississippi, you're up next!)