Tom Demaria, a Garden City resident and grief counselor, held a session for parents April 22 to help them help their children deal with the Parente family tragedy. Catherine, William and Betty Parente's youngest daughter, was a sixth grader at Garden City Middle School.
The school district's Crisis Response Team is helping Catherine's classmates and their families during this difficult time; counselors are providing support as well as offering suggestions for parents to help their children cope with the loss.
Stephanie Parente's Loyola College friends and classmates are also dealing with the tragedy. The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, Loyola College president, is urging all members of the college community to take advantage of the grief counseling and other support services available to them on campus.
"Even for those who did not know Stephanie, this tragedy has the potential to have a tremendous impact. With the semester coming to a close and finals nearly upon us, it is important to recognize signs of stress as they emerge. I encourage all of you to be very mindful of your emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and to make use of all the support services available to you as a member of the Loyola community," a statement on the college's website read.
According to the Center for Grieving Children, Teens & Families (www. grievingchildren.org), when someone close to them dies, children often experience many difficult and overwhelming thoughts and feelings. It is important for parents to create a sense of safety and normalcy, giving young people the chance to meet others their age whom are also grieving.
Support groups are available to help children express their loss experience, to share feelings and memories of loved ones who have died and to identify ways of coping and growing through their grief.
Honoring or remembering the person in some way, such as lighting a candle, saying a prayer, making a scrapbook, reviewing photographs or telling a story may be helpful. Children should be allowed to express feelings about their loss and grief in their own way.
Once children accept the death, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry's website states, they are likely to display their feelings of sadness on and off over a long period of time and often at unexpected moments.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (www.aacap.org) states that parents should be aware of normal childhood responses to death, as well as signs when a child is having difficulty coping with grief.
Children having serious problems with grief and loss may show one or more of these signs: an extended period of depression in which the child loses interest in daily activities and events; inability to sleep, loss of appetite, prolonged fear of being alone; acting much younger for an extended period; excessively imitating the deceased person; repeated statements of wanting to join the deceased person; withdrawal from friends; or a sharp drop in school performance or refusal to attend school.
If these signs persist, the academy's website states, professional help may be needed. A child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional can help the child accept the death and assist others in helping the child through the mourning process.