Patrick J. Buechi/Staff - Sister Judith Terrameo, OSF, chaplain of Mount St. Mary Hospital in Lewiston, speaks to parents and teachers about handling grief after the loss of a loved one. The presentation, made at Niagara Catholic High School, is part of a health education series presented by Mount St. Mary Hospital to the Niagara Falls community.
Mount St. Mary Hospital brought the difficult topic of grief to Niagara Catholic High School last month to educate the community on how to help children deal with loss.
The Lewiston-based health care institution established the Health Education Raises Opportunities program in 2009 to build health literacy skills for students in eight Niagara County schools. The HERO program brings experts in the health field into classrooms to instruct children on important and current health issues. Topics include managing angry feelings, the dangers of smoking, healthy breakfast choices, diabetes, fitness, recognizing the signs of a heart attack, and what to do in case of a stroke.
An expansion of HERO, Partnering with Parents, was born from a challenge made to principals to think of ways to bring the program into the community to touch the parents, so they could understand what the children were learning.
Sister Judith Terrameo, OSF, chaplain at Mount St. Mary’s, presented “Grief, Loss and Children” on March 14. Using experiences from her education days, chaplaincy and own life to describe steps of grief, Sister Judith approached the cold, dark subject with warmth and compassion.
“Death and loss are a natural part of our lives, and they are a part of our children’s lives too. Sometimes we think children are immune to the sense of loss and grief, but they are not,” she said.
The presentation touched on the different types of grief, how different people grieve differently and myths about children and grief. Finally, she talked about the developmental stages of understanding death, describing how children in certain age groups understand death, how they respond, and possible intervention techniques for adults.
“I think it’s important for us as parents to really make the time to sit down with our children, young or adolescent, and allow them to talk about what they are feeling,” she said.
Of those present some know children who have parents in jail or must deal with the highs and lows of parents going overseas with the military.
As a teacher at Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls, Mary Posch has seen grief, as well as other topics, presented to her fourth-grade class. She finds the HERO program a good antidote to the often sedentary, video game-playing lifestyles many kids lead. It has also proved beneficial to their elderly family members.
“A few kids have said they recognized the symptoms of stroke and called 911 for a grandparent, another one was a neighbor. So they really learn what to do in that situation,” she said.
Posch found that evening’s presentation to be helpful on a personal level.
“I just lost my niece last Friday,” she said. “It helps you to put things into focus in your life too.”
Niagara Catholic High School regularly hosts the Partnering with Parents program, and has invited HERO into its halls. Principal Robert DiFrancesco is pleased with the results and is looking to expand the program.
“I want to recommend to the committee to do something on substance abuse and parents being able to deal with it and not make the situation worse at home,” he said. “We deal with the youngsters here at school, but we also want to support the parents at home because the integral part of the family is the school where the youngsters attend.”
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