Ready to understand your boy better? Sign up now

and get Janet's ebook 6 Keys to Parenting Success:

Category Archives: Grief and Loss

We Must Shelter

Shelter: take refuge, take pause.


Talking with Rebecca and Steve on KXL 101 about yet another horrific tragedy as “Orlando” now takes on new meaning alongside of “San Bernardino,” “Sandy Hook,” and so many other tragedies that do not diminish in importance because they aren’t specifically named here.

WE MUST SHELTER…our children.

WE MUST SHELTER ourselves.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be shouting to the rooftops (or better, to our officials in Washington DC) that this kind of access to weapons-of-mass-destruction MUST STOP.  No matter your political views, your rights-to-bear-arms views, there is no reason to allow purchase of assault rifles in this country.  NO REASON.

So, we must first and foremost, shelter our children.

Turn off the radio.  Turn off the TV.

Children under the age of 9 should have ZERO exposure to this type of tragedy. They’ll learn about the world soon enough. Meanwhile, they do not have the ability to understand:

  1. This happened.  It’s over.  It isn’t happening as many times as you see it on TV.
  2. This happened somewhere else. It didn’t happen here. (This time.)
  3. Adult reactions and conversations regarding the event.

Young children must be sheltered from these events as they do not have the brain power or emotional capacity to digest and process it.  (Hardly, do we…)

Older children may have limited exposure to the event.  Ideally, YOU make them aware of it. “Something really bad happened in Orlando and you may be hearing about it from your friends. Do you want to know more?”  Some kids will choose not to.  Honor that.

Some kids, like Rebecca’s 12 yo son, will be outraged, “Why do they do that…it is so mean! It’s awful!”  Yes, it is awful and it is mean.  Acknowledge their feelings…and be sensitive to just how much more they want to know and discuss…and resist feeling like you “should” explain further.

Now might be a good time to begin to sort out some bigger life questions, depending on the interest and sensitivity of your child:

  • Why do people do that?
  • How could this happen?
  • What if it happens here?

However your conversation goes with your younger or older child, it is imperative that FIRST you reassure them that you are doing all that you can to make sure that they are safe.

SECOND, in the words of Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers.”  There are always people helping.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.00.34 AM

There are always 1,000 kind deeds happening for every “mean and awful” event. Tell your kids about those. SHELTER them from the other.

And do yourself a favor, too… SHELTER yourself.  Take refuge in some music, a good book, or a beautiful painting.  You don’t have to hear the story 1,000 times, it doesn’t mean you aren’t honoring the victims any less.

And do we dare hope that maybe THIS will be the event that spurs action to eliminate these guns – forever.

Blessings on you and yours.

6 Months IN

6 months.

In 6 months: 3 siblings and 1 spouse leave us. One sister left before. Now there are none.


6 months IN.

6 months since I held my mom as she took her final shuddering sigh and my world shifted on it’s axis.

Now it’s 6 months IN.  Not 6 months “later” or 6 months “ago.”  It’s 6 months IN.

Because there is no OUT of this place.

What have I learned that might help you?  Because even if you can’t imagine it in your wildest nightmares, chances are you’ll be in this place one day, too.  (I don’t need to go into all the reminders of what to do if you have your mom here still…but if you need them, go here.)


MONTH 1 and 2:

There were lots of baths, tears, naps and Netflix.  Sure, I knew I was intentionally numbing out here. I mean, 66 episodes of Grand Hotel – that’s a lot of numb.  I got really good at eating, watching, and bathing all at the same time. (And being totally okay with it.)

And, oh yes, her birthday, which happened to be exactly 1 month IN.

Then Thanksgiving.

Then Christmas.

And New Year’s, when somehow I just knew I’d be ready to get going with my life again. Because I’d gone so deeply into grieving, I figured I’d done it “right” and I could move on.

MONTH 3 and 4:

Okay, a slightly renewed zest for life. I missed her but continued to feel like… “I did that – I grieved well and now I’m good to go.” Slight enthusiasm for work projects that I was proud of.

Traveled with my dad, for the first time ever: JUST HIM and ME – a new experience for both of us!

Her sister-in-law passes.

MONTH 5 and 6:

Oops. Maybe I’m not done. Surprise!

I smelled a lilac bush and every cell of my being missed my mom. I don’t even associate her with lilacs! But there it was on a bright, sunny spring day.

My daughter visits and I feel inclined to apologize, “I’m sorry that it’s going to hurt like this for you when I die. I wish I could tell you that its okay – no need to hurt so much…” Yeah, right.

Their house is sold. Packing 175 boxes + furniture into storage because we couldn’t bear to see my Dad lose one more thing.

We prepare to take her ashes to their final rest at the grave of her parents in a tiny cemetery in Alma, Kansas. And suddenly everything is up for me again. I cry for no reason – or for every reason.

Her brother passes.

Five days later, her other brother passes. And now there are none.

My heart is still tender. I feel like I’m in an eddy – alive, breathing, head above water, looking around…not moving, not ready, not yet.

6 months IN.

And no relief in sight.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom – add this to month 7 – it hurts like hell.


What have I learned that can help you?  DO your journey.  Face it and know it will be familiar to others and unfamiliar, too. Be gracious with yourself. Gather your people – not to fix anything — just to make you laugh and make you cry.  Singing helps, too.



Boy Talk #3: Teach Your Boys To Comfort Others In A Crisis

By Kim Hamer, Mom of Sons and Author of 100 Acts of Love: A Girlfriend’s Guide to Loving Your Friend through Cancer or Loss

“So, did he talk to you about their divorce?” I asked.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 6.51.22 AM
I was talking to my 6’, 250lb. heading-to-college-to-play-football 18-year-old son. He had just returned from spending time with a friend — I will call him Matt. My son, L., has known Matt since the fourth grade, and Matt was part of the vast network of friends that helped L. navigate the first two years after my husband died.

Matt’s parents were getting divorced and I had hoped that L. would “connect” with Matt to help him through his tough time. What I meant by connect was, “talk about Matt’s feelings about the divorce.”

They didn’t talk.

Instead they “just hung out, played video games and went to the Promenade.”

There was a time I would have thought this wasn’t enough.

Our kids were 12, 9 and 7 when my husband died. How they processed (and still process) their father’s death exemplifies, in many ways, the differences between boys and girls.

My daughter, now 15, will cry and cry about how much she misses her father, why it hurts, how it hurts and how it will hurt in the future.

My boys will come to me quietly in the middle of the night and burst into tears. They will not talk while they cry. They will not cry for long. And then they leave. The next day, it’s as if nothing happened. I have learned not to ask how they’re feeling because I just get a shrug or an annoyed, “I’m fine!”

In the six years since my husband died, I’ve had to put to rest my stereotype of how boys should process emotions. What I have learned is the way they process is just different. My boys found others who got that, and didn’t put pressure on them to talk but were ready to listen when they needed to. Turns out, their instincts are pretty good!

How can you help your boys’ instincts grow without going through your own personal tragedy?

Before I get into the how, consider:

1. You will need to let go of the notion that boys need to process by talking. Asking an older boy to express how he’s feeling can be frustrating. Instead, let him come to you.
2. Trust your boys. If you ask a boy what he would like someone to do for him, given the situation, he may not answer but he will probably come up with a really good idea and then take action himself! Give him an opportunity to try it out.
3. Teach him a few do’s and don’ts. You can do a Google search or buy my book. I wrote super helpful, 208-page essential guide on what to say (not to say) and to do.

Teach your son to:
1. Acknowledge What’s Going On
Cancer, death, hospitalization, whatever. Saying something is very important! The boy who is dealing with a life challenge does not want to be the kid who people are afraid to talk to. He will want others to acknowledge what’s happening but NOT dwell on it. Have your son say “I’m sorry to hear about your mom/dad etc.” Short and simple goes far in helping the boy feel acknowledged but not ignored. It also spares your son years of guilt for being afraid of saying the wrong thing. It confirms and demonstrates his important role in comforting a friend. That matters.
2. Invite Friend to Do Stuff
Boys love to do stuff. So have your son invite the boy to do stuff. Combine the tip above with this one and your son can say “Hey, sorry to hear about your mom. Wanna come over to watch a movie?” Done. No fuss.
3. Keep Offering Support
A crisis causes great confusion. Make sure your son keeps offering to do stuff with the child. If your son is young, you’ll have to help him by calling. Keep calling. The offer, even if turned down, makes a person feel cared about. And do make it easy on the the parent to say yes— offer to pick up her son and drop him off.
4. Offer Food
Your son can say, “I’m thinking about you” without ever saying those words, simply by offering him a treat! Have your son find out what the child likes and then give it to him.

Just as important, make sure that your son doesn’t say:
• “If you need anything let me know.” While it’s an adult phrase, I have heard it said by a 9-year old. The problem is, it’s the LEAST helpful phrase ever! (Click here to find out why.) So depending on your son’s age, tell him NOT to say it.
•“I know how you feel, my dog died.” Unless the boy’s dog has died, this statement only alienates your son from the child who needs support. Death of a parent or grandparent is NOT like the death of a pet. It’s important that he knows that.
• “At least…” is dismissive and hurtful. If one of your children was diagnosed with cancer, someone saying “At least it’s the good kind of cancer,” is completely dismissive of the fear, the anxiety and the stress the family and child are going through. Make sure you son doesn’t say that either!

As a parent, here are a few things you should and shouldn’t do as well:
• Don’t “Talk” To The Boy About What’s Going On.
My older boys in general did not like to “talk” face-to-face. And don’t tell your son to “talk” to his friend in crisis either. It’s uncomfortable for both of them.
• Do acknowledge what’s going on.
Just like for your son, it’s important that you acknowledge what’s happening. “I am so sorry your mom has cancer. Please know that you are welcome to come over any time you’d like.” That’s it. Don’t ask him how his mom is doing. Go to another adult for that information.
• Do Stuff with Them.
Nothing says “I care about you” better than a play, a sporting event or just hanging out. Allowing the boy to be just a boy is a great gift!
• Do Let the Tears Come.
Sometimes a boy will suddenly cry. If that happens, keep your mouth shut and don’t say “It’ll be ok.” Let him cry for as long as he needs to. If you want to be the adult who is safe, hold your tongue and hold a space for him to release his sadness. This may make you cry. That’s ok. He’ll know that he’s not alone.

This past winter one of L.’s classmates committed suicide. It was/is a horrific experience. But L. stepped in. He made sure his teammates went to the funeral. He told them what to say to his classmate’s parents. He made sure that his classmate’s 13-year old brother received a lot of attention from the graduating seniors. And then L. took his little brother out. They didn’t “talk.” They had ice cream and threw a football around and with it a conversation occurred. (So I am told.)

But I do know that it was exactly what they both needed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 6.49.30 AM
Kim Hamer is author of 100 Acts of Love: A Girlfriend’s Guide to Loving Your Friend through Cancer or Loss, a modern, essential how-to guide, offering practical tips on what to say (and NOT to say) to friends in crisis. The book is available here. She lives in Los Angeles with her three relatively well-behaved children.

If you liked this article, consider joining us at BOY TALK, our monthly conversation with parenting experts and expert parents.  Save your seat here.

Click here for your Boys Alive! Free Report: “6 Keys to Parenting Success”

Parenting Through Disappointment, Loss, and Grief

by Guest Author Carole Downing
Author of Singing Beyond Sorrow-A Year of Grief, Gratitude and Grace
boy hiding face
Disappointment happens.

Turns on a swing aren’t fair when it’s time to leave. There are an odd number of gummy bears impossible to split equally. A friend chooses someone else to play with for a day.


Loss happens.

A cherished toy slips between the cracks of the boardwalk and into the ocean below. A move to a new school shifts old patterns of friendship. A child doesn’t make the sports team during tryouts.

Grief happens.

A loved one dies. A divorce is finalized. A parent loses a job.

At varying degrees of intensity and at different times, grief or loss inevitably touches the lives of our children. No matter the specifics of the event, grief catches our children just as surely and swiftly as it does us as parents.

Parenting in times of grief, loss or transition can be difficult, particularly if we have our own cascade of emotions related to the situation at hand. It’s painful enough to experience loss or grief without having to also navigate these big feelings with our children.

So how can we support children in bearing the inevitable losses in life?

Intuitively, we want to make it better. There may be an inner voice that tells us if we can somehow fix the disappointment or pain that our child is feeling then we can make it all go away. We try to search for something to soothe, replace or distract from the loss at hand. But when it all comes down to it and the edges of grief and disappointment cloud the sunny day disposition of our child, I believe there’s no easier way out than through.

I’ve found in my own parenting of a grieving child and with my clients that no matter how hard it is to hold back, the rewards of letting children experience challenging emotions creates a deeper connection and stronger emotional intelligence that will serve them in meeting many of the losses in life.

Some tips for guiding children in times of loss:

1. Provide presence.
Instead of trying to fix or limit the expression of their feelings, provide a calm presence. Let them know you are there with them and it’s okay to be feeling what they are feeling. If you as a parent are also feeling upset, it can be helpful to take a moment to collect and care for yourself before bringing presence to your child.

2. Connect with Empathy.
Reflect with empathy what you think they may be feeling. Empathy is the process of stepping in their shoes and imagining what the child is experiencing:

“You seem to be disappointed that you didn’t get a turn,”

“You feel all alone now that your friend moved away.”

“You’re angry and it doesn’t seem fair.”

“You’re sad that Daddy isn’t here to read to you.”

In the process of reflecting empathy, we may not get the emotion right the first time but as we stay present with them and continue to reflect what they might be feeling, they often will begin to relax and recognize their own emotions. Receiving empathy and knowing they are understood can be the magic salve to soothe your child’s system and create space for connection.

3. Hold a container for big feelings.
If your child needs to move the energy of emotion, you can provide them safe space and options for letting out the intensity of what they are feeling. After receiving empathy and feeling connected, your child may be open to some ideas for moving their body, doing some drawing, squeezing tightly to a chair or choosing any other safe avenue to release the emotion.

4. Engage and Explore
Once your child feels heard and has had a chance to express their feelings, they will often naturally move back into play. If they seem to need some help transitioning, you can offer some options for reconnecting to something they enjoy. A favorite book or game can be a bridge back to their regular routine.

Parenting in times that are challenging for our children can be a daunting task, whether helping them through the smaller day-to-day disappointments or navigating the grief of a larger loss.

It can be a stretch to meet big emotions and our impulse to protect them from big feelings is natural. And yet by shifting the focus to comfort and connection we give them the gift of knowing they can learn to manage difficult times. By acknowledging loss and guiding them through, we can help them find a place of resilience that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Educating yourself is your best defense!

Bundle #2 “He’s Growing Up – Quickly” includes the interview, “How to Help Him Cope with Grief, Loss, and Disappointment”

CLICK HERE for podcast interview bundles with renowned experts on this topic and more:

Boy Talk #3: How Do I Cope with Grief?

A Person Asks Online For Advice On How To Deal With Grief.
This Reply Is Incredible. Posted by Eric Alper.

Someone on Reddit wrote the following heartfelt plea online:

“My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.”

A lot of people responded.

One old guy’s incredible comment stood out from the rest that might just change the way we approach life and death:
man with hands covering face
“Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child.

But here’s my two cents:

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to ‘not matter.’ I don’t want it to be something that just passes.

My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. If the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between the waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

© Copyright That Eric Alper

Like this? Be sure to reserve your seat here for BOY TALK a free monthly conversation with parenting experts and expert parents.

Boy Talk #3: Tapping Into Grief with Self-Empathy

by Guest Author Carole Downing
Author of Singing Beyond Sorrow – A Year of Grief, Gratitude, and Grace
candle with hands
It can hang around us like a thick cloak or all encompassing fog. When a wave of grief comes through, it can stunt our days without respect for how much we have to do or need to show up for in our lives. And yet somehow we need to find the resources to parent our children or teach in a classroom in a way that is engaged and connected at a time when we may feel the most disconnected.

We all feel grief at some point in our lives and it’s a normal and natural reaction to a significant loss. However, our culture tends not to talk about grief and so whether we are grieving the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job or the other myriad of things that create the feeling of loss, we can feel quite alone.

As a former hospice nurse and someone who has experienced the death of a spouse, the one encouragement I share for anyone experiencing grief is to acknowledge feelings and create a place of empathy. It seems logical to try and avoid grief, but often the first step to healing is to move toward all that we are feeling instead of pushing our emotions away. When we acknowledge the grief that is present, there is room for us to attend to and comfort the places that are hurting. And in attending to our own feelings, we create the possibility for the children in our lives to see a model for moving through grief.

It can feel challenging to reach out for support when we are feeling lost in grief, but a powerful first step can be finding a place of self-empathy where we can move ourselves beyond the feelings and into comforting actions.

Some tips for accessing self-empathy and caring in moments of grief and loss:

1. Tune in to what you are saying in your mind about your current state. Are you being hard on yourself? Is there any judgment around what you are feeling? Is there room for you to be grieving?

2. Accept that what you are feeling is okay. Experiencing grief in times of loss and change is a normal human response and it’s natural to be having a broad range of feelings. Underneath the intensity of grief may be feelings of anger, fear, sadness, loneliness or confusion. See if you can give yourself a moment to name what you are feeling. You may feel like you need to be showing up for your children or students but it’s okay in this very moment to feel your own emotions before moving to help others.

3. See if you can hear the voice of someone who cares about you. What would they say to you in this moment? How would they comfort you in this time of grief?

4. Know that in the midst of loss you are doing the very best you can in this moment. Be gentle with yourself and know that there is no “right” way to experience grief.

5. Ask yourself, what is most important in this moment? What is essential to get done or attend to right now? See if you can direct your energy to whatever needs your time and attention the most rather than trying to do everything you would expect to do in times of greater balance.

6. Lastly, see if there is something that you can do to bolster your self-care as you go through the days ahead. Would it be helpful to walk outside or be in nature? Can you find the depth of a long slow breath? Is there some music that helps you find your flow? Is there a friend you could reach out to for support? Trust that whatever has brought you joy in the past, even if it takes energy to do during this time, has the potential to eventually open a window to feelings of lightness and renewal.

Grief is a natural part of life that we all will experience at some point and through many different experiences and times. It can be helpful to remember that the losses of our lives are a part of the larger ebb and flow that also includes joy and new beginnings. In challenging times we can remember that the waves of grief do not last forever. A wave will move through, sometimes as if an entire ocean is emptying itself over our tender hearts, but the wave does not last forever and there are steadier seas ahead.

Save your seat for BOY TALKS here.

Click here for your Boys Alive! Free Report: “6 Keys to Parenting Success”

Mother’s Day – Joy and Grief

Mother’s Day cards and reminders are everywhere at this time of year. My own grief wells up – my girls are far away, we won’t be celebrating together. The memories are sweet of Mother’s Days past, sure, but they seem so distant.

When I first posted this my own mother was nearing the end of her days – and I wondered each year if this would be our last Mother’s Day “together”?

Now, in 2017, this will be my second Mother’s Day without her. And I miss her – so much.

I came across this blog post from 2013 that spoke so eloquently about this double-edged holiday (aren’t they all?!) They encourage all of us to share it, so please do – giving credit where credit is due.

To all of you with tender hearts….

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 6.12.22 PM

“Let’s be real. Mother’s Day can completely blow sometimes.
You want to be cheerful. You want to be with the program. But some years there are all these little points of pain that will not go away.
The baby you never had.
The one you gave up.
The kid you lost to something bigger than you.
The child that slipped away before you ever held her.
The one that was never born.
The one you worry you’re failing.
The one that failed you.
The mother who’s so close and yet so far.
The one you loved so much who couldn’t love you back.
The one you could never love because it hurt too much.
The one you lost too soon.
The one who is slipping away.
The one you can never please.
The one you wish you could live up to.

There are no cards to honor these children or these mothers. There are no holidays to contain all the parts of you that fall outside the lines of generally understood sorrow or celebration.

But there is this moment, this incredible moment, where you can feel it all. Where for once you can’t stuff it down or forget it. Where you have to be with it, because it is not going away.

And here, my friends, is where something important happens. This is where we connect, where we understand we are frail, where we are human. Where we see in new ways what life means. Where we are issued a compelling and persistent invitation to mother ourselves. To cut ourselves the breaks we didn’t get. To ask for the help we always needed. To let tears come and say, This is how it is. I’ll ask in this one tiny moment, for the courage I need to let everything just be.

No matter what your point of pain or challenge today, I want you to know that you are not the only one. Somewhere over a silly Mother’s Day breakfast, there is a woman faking a smile who feels just like you do. Somewhere in a very silent house with no one to call, there is a woman who is tending the ache of her loss, just like you. Somewhere standing in a shower there is a woman who is feeling it all and letting the tears come, just like you.

As you go about this day, know that over here, Ria and I have candles lit for all these unspoken things, and that we are holding the space and thinking of you. You — the faraway, soulful you — will be in our meditation and in our warmest thoughts. We are sending you light and love and the deep wish that you would know today of all days, nothing is wasted and we are together in ways we cannot always see but are just as true. That the night can never last. That even in our darkest moments, there will be someday, the surprise of a laugh, a comfort, a dawn.”
With so much love, hope and light,

P.S. Will you share this around? We know there are so many women who are feeling it today. And if you know you appreciate things like this, please sign up for our weekly messages at Our hope is that everything we send out brings radical acceptance for who you are and relieves your suffering. Thanks!
photo by Patience Salgado of

Janet here again…if you are overwhelmed with missing your mom, please reach out to someone you love – or reach out to me.  I’m here.  XO


Ready to understand your boy better? Sign Up. Inspiration and strategies are on the way!

Site Design & Development by Makeness Media LLC