SAN ANTONIO – Blanketed with brightly colored index cards, “The Worry Tree” is one way for grieving children to cope with loss, said Marian Sokol, executive director of the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas.
Handwritten by each child, some read, “I’m worried about somebody else dying.” “Am I ever safe?” And “I’m worried about what people think of me.”
Sokol said expressing themselves in writing helps the children to deal with their situations. She said sudden deaths, such as that of 6-year-old Eloy Mitchell and his grandmother in a Wednesday night house fire, are difficult to understand at any age.
For children such as Eloy’s first-grade classmates, Sokol suggested offering an explanation that is age appropriate.
Sokol praised their teacher for encouraging them to draw simple, heartfelt sympathy cards for his family. She said it helps them to understand that although the person they loved cannot respond, “They can still convey those feelings and memories.”
Sokol said senseless killings, such as the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, are the hardest to explain.
“The best we can do is to be honest with the child in simple words,” she said. “Let them know they’re safe and we’re there for them if they want to cry.”
Sokol said it’s easier for adults to convey their feelings by talking to others, but children often can’t.
“But they can tell you where it hurts if it’s a tummy ache or a headache. They can tell you if you give them time,” Sokol said.
She said once adults understand why children also may have trouble sleeping or focusing on school work, “Then we can start to talk with them and most of all listen to them.”
The Children’s Bereavement Center offers free services to a wide range of ages, from 3 to 24, and their guardians.
It’s also made its counselors available to children and students affected by the Sutherland Springs tragedy.