Guiding Your Child Through Grief, by Mary Ann Emswiler and James P. Emswiler, New York, NY, Bantam Books, 2000, 286 pp, $13.95 (softcover).
With both clarity and sincerity, Jim and Mary Ann Emswiler share their personal experiences as a parent and stepparent of grieving children, as well as those of the many grieving families they have helped. The first chapter begins with Jim Emswiler's account of the sudden death in 1989 of his 39-year-old wife of a heart attack, while the family was driving home from a family member's funeral, with the children in the back seat. He remarried 2 years later, and he and his current wife, Mary Ann Emswiler, left their positions in the corporate world to establish two nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing assistance to grieving families in New England. Jim Emswiler now holds master's degrees in counseling and education, and Mary Ann Emswiler is a licensed mental health counselor with master's degrees in clinical psychology and pastoral studies. Their mission has been to help families find the information and support that was not available to them to raise their own grieving children. This book takes an important step toward making this information readily available to other families in similar situations.
Chapter 2 begins with a quote from a parent: "A year or so after my husband died, my 10-year-old son began to 'act out' at school. The teacher wanted to discipline him, our pediatrician wanted to medicate him, and the school psychologist wanted to evaluate him. I was just confused. What does it all mean?" Chapters 2 through 4 outline and illustrate how children and families grieve. Chapter 5 presents five major challenges of a grieving child-feeling safe in the world again, understanding the death, mourning the death, staying connected with the person who died, and resuming childhood again. The chapter offers practical advice on how to approach each of these challenges. Subsequent chapters address how to communicate with a grieving child and how to explain death to children at different developmental stages, how to draw on the supports of extended family and communities, and how to deal with holidays and other special days. Chapters are devoted to teens and grief, the identification and management of complicated mourning, long-term effects of childhood grief, and how parents can and should care for themselves at times of grief. The chapter on step-parenting a grieving child is an excellent resource for practical advice for parents in blended families, even when grieving is not an issue.
The book draws equally on the Emswilers' personal experiences of parenting, and step-parenting, grieving children over the past decade, the numerous life stories of the families they have helped, and the authors' extensive knowledge of the bereavement literature. They present the death of a family member as a tragic, yet natural, event and provide practical and concrete advice, reinforced by illustrative vignettes and supported by judicious reference to the literature, about how to help children through the grieving process. The book is an excellent resource for parents, whether they are just beginning to help their children and themselves adjust to the anticipated or recent death of a family member or whether they are looking for insight into promoting further adjustment several years later. It is one of few books that I would recommend to parents who ask for something to read to help them figure out how best to support their grieving child and family, but it is also a book that I readily recommend to professionals who work in the pediatric bereavement field. Developmental-behavioral pediatricians, psychologists, other clinicians, counselors, teachers, and other members of the broader community will also benefit from reading this book and appreciating this approach to helping families through the grieving process.
David J. Schonfeld, M.D.
Yale University School of Medicine; New Haven, Connecticut