"I really want them to know that they can get free oil changes for a year," the man said.
The moment, which signified the difficulty many Americans have with knowing how to help others cope with grief, was shared by Schuurman at the 9th Annual Childhood Grief and Traumatic Loss conference. Schuurman is executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children and Families.
Co-sponsored by First 5 LA, and hosted by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, the conference drew together more than 600 child advocates, clinicians and service providers at the Pasadena Convention Center to discuss methods of restoring joy to children and families in traumatic times.
Workshop topics ranged from promoting healing in grieving children after traumatic death to including children in funeral rituals. Presenters included licensed clinical social workers and clinical psychologists.
"This conference is extremely important to us," said John Wagner, chief operating officer of First 5 LA. "At First 5 LA, we believe that families are core to the development, health and safety of young children. When there is grief and traumatic loss, children face upheaval and devastating tragedy."
"We believe that this is a great investment in the future of children and very important to children 0-5 because, in the past, the impact of traumatic loss on that age group was not recognized," said Deanne Tilton Durfee, executive director for ICAN and a First 5 LA commissioner. "Recognizing the lifelong impact on children is incredibly important."
In her keynote speech, Schuurman wanted people to take away the top two findings from a recent study examining the differences between children doing well and children not doing well after a traumatic loss.
"Children doing well were able to say, ?I'm not alone and somebody understands what I'm going through,'" said Schuurman. "Children doing well could say, ?I can express what I am going through.'"
That sorrow does not have to be expressed in words, Schuurman said. It can come in the form of a painting, a clay sculpture or an interpretive dance.
Turning back to the Newtown tragedy, Schuurman said she was also approached by members of the Rotary Club before meeting with the victims' families. The Rotary Club had raised thousands of dollars to help fly in relatives to provide support for the families.
When she shared this with the families, Schuurman says silence swept the room.
Then one of the fathers looked at Schuurman and said, ?Would they give us money to send them away?"
It turned out that many of the victims' families already had relatives and friends hovering over them.
"What they wanted was this," Schuurman recalls. "?Leave us alone. Let us express what we need.' This stuff takes time. Our goal should not be to fix it."
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