For Counselors: Grief

Table of Contents

As you advance through each month of 5 Radical Minutes, additional content will become available.

Grief Introduction

This is a set of prompts you could use if you had a small pull-out group of kids who had lost someone to death.

In general, we’re going to follow an amended version of how Dr. Alan Wolfelt frames grief; that there are tasks related to the coping and growing through grief, and if we do them pretty well, we’re likely to come out with a fairly healthy adjustment. That said, there are often extenuating circumstances that can make that adjustment very difficult, such as if the death was violence-related or suicide or in some way involved agony or great pain. In general, though, these “tasks” are very helpful. 

Our journey through grief will include these:

  • Hearing the truth
  • Putting our own words to the loss
  • Sharing memories with others who knew the person who died
  • Giving the death meaning
  • How this impacts one’s identity
  • Some kind of life tribute, funeral, memorial service or life celebration
  • Continued support over the following months and years

What follows is a 10-week series of group sessions. The last two weeks are significantly helpful in kids being prepared for the group to end, so if you only have eight weeks, be sure to skip numbers 7 & 8 so the kids get their warning.

Grief Group Weeks 1-5

Week 1
Introduction

Introduction

This is our first time gathering in this group, and you’ve all been chosen for this time together because you all have something in common. All of you have had a loved one die. Often when this happens, you find that the other kids who are your friends really don’t understand how this is for you. They haven’t had that happen! So this is a time when you know that everyone in the room really canrelate to how you feel and what you think, and that we all know that it isn’t exactly the same for everyone. That means that we can be very understanding of someone else feeling really differently than we do about something, but that we understand how very, verydifficult it is.

At the beginning of each group, we’re going to have a five-minute check-in with another person. It will be a different person each time. So for the first week, if you already know someone in the group, you can be partners. But next week, you’ll all have new partners so all of you can be paired with one another over our weeks of being together. This will take about five minutes.

The way we do this is that I’ll give you a prompt – a subject or focus for your time.

  • The person who speaks first relates their feelings or thoughts about that prompt for two minutes. If you are the listener first, that means you don’t interrupt or share your own thoughts yet. You just listen and let your partner know that you’re listening by maybe nodding your head, or saying “um-hm” or by keeping your eye contact with them, but soft and caring.
  • Then at the end of two minutes I’ll right the bell and partner #2 begins sharing and the first person only listens. The second person who speaks isn’t supposed to answer what the first person said, just speak your own truth.
  • Then when I ring the bell again, you’ll have one minute to look at what you had in common. That’s when you can both talk! [Take questions, clarify how the structure goes if needed.]

One of the things we all need to know is whether everyone in the room is willing to work extremely hard at keeping what others say in confidence. [Describe confidentiality in age-appropriate language.] Then ask students to be honest about whether they believe they can hold confidentiality for the group. Stress that it is OK if they can’t, but everyone needs to know that because it might mean they wouldn’t share some really tender feelings in the group if there was a chance someone might talk about it later with someone else. Go around the circle and have each child say “yes” or “no” to confidentiality.

prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

For this first week, since this is our first time together, before we talk about our grief, let’s just talk about what it might be like to be in the group. Some of you might be really relieved that you can talk openly about things and others might be a little intimidated because you’re not sure whether you can trust these kids you don’t already know. So your prompt for this first time is to share things you look forward to about being in the group and also things that might seem intimidating or things that are a concern to you.

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Do this in pairs during the last minute.

What do you have in common?

Ring the bell to mark the end of one minute.

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This goal is based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

Just so you can think about it, you didn’t get to hear everyone’s responses, so one thing that might be true is that whatever concerns you, probably someone else in the room has the same concern even if it didn’t happen to be your partner for today. If any of you are actually worried about how it will be in group, be sure to let me know so we can find ways for everyone to feel really comfortable. That’s really important to me!

Week 2
prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs again, but with different partners than last week. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

Here’s your first prompt about grief. One of the really important parts of how we grieve depends on how we heard the news and whether we heard a true version of what happened right away. So with your time today, share with your partner how you heard about the death. Who told you? Did they know everything you needed to know or were you left with questions and concerns? Were they kind and compassionate? How did that effect how you began grieving?

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Do this in pairs during the last minute.

What did you have in common about how you learned about the death?

Ring the bell to mark the end of one minute.

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This will be a goal based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

How we hear about a death has a lot of influence on how we grieve.  This is a good lesson for us in the future – if we are ever in a place of telling someone else about a death, think back to this time and think about how you most wish that moment could have been.  Also, take this moment to thank your partner.

Week 3
prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs again, but with different partners than last week. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

It helps us a lot if we’re able to talk about the death with people who care about us and especially with people who also knew the person who died. With your time today, share with your partner about whether you have people who will listen, whether you can really say what you feel or whether the people around you don’t want to hear about it… that sort of thing. Where can you ask questions and speak your truth? Who are the people who help you with that?

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Do this in pairs during the last minute.

What did your stories have in common?

Ring the bell to mark the end of one minute.

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This will be a goal based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

Remember, what we share in this group needs to stay here – that means we don’t tell each other’s personal stories or feelings with others. But when you’re in this room, remember [and review whatever you came up with for confidentiality].

Week 4
prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs again, but with different partners than last week. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

One of the most important parts about grieving is sharing memories and stories about the person we loved who has died.  For our time today, share whatever memories you’d like to share about the person you love that died.

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Do this in pairs during the last minute.

What did your stories have in common?

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This goal is based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

Did you notice how supportive it is when someone else just listens? It is one of the important things about how this group is set up.  We really want to use great listening skills to support one another. This week, notice how you do at listening to others when they’re talking about important emotional issues and notice how others listen to you. You could talk about what you learned about listening with your families. Remember, you don’t tell anyone else’s story or what they said about themselves, but you can certainly talk about what we learn, like how important it is to listen well and for someone to compassionately listen to us.

Week 5
prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs again, but with different partners than last week. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

We often give the death a certain meaning. Today with your time, talk about what it means to you that your loved one died. What meaning do you give this?

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Do this in pairs during the last minute.

What did your stories have in common?

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This goal is based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

The meaning that we assign to any major event in our lives changes over time. We mend a little so that makes our sense of some things change, and as we mature we have a greater sense of reflection and we hear more stories from others, and the meaning again might change. So if the meaning you found in what that death means to you now is one that isn’t very comforting, know that as you process the loss and work at mending, the meaning you’ll give it in the future may change.

Grief Group Weeks 6-10

Week 6
prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs again, but with different partners than last week. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

Sometimes, depending on our relationship with the person who died, it changes our own identity. Some examples of that might be if you lost your only sibling, you might wonder whether you are still a brother or a sister or are you now an only child? Or if your father died and you are the oldest boy in the family, sometimes people don’t know better than to comment to you that now you’re the man of the household. Of course, you’re still the kid you’ve always been, but sometimes people say things that make us feel like who we were has changed. Today when you share with your partner, explore whether you think that the death you are grieving has changed your fundamental identity.

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Do this in pairs during the last minute.

What did your stories have in common?

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This will be a goal based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

Today’s focus is a good reminder for all of us… that our words can unintentionally be hurtful to people. Even when we don’t mean to, if we don’t think carefully about what we say when someone’s heart is broken, we can say things that make them feel worse instead of better. This week, be aware of the words you choose as you comfort others.

tip

Prepare

A word about next week: If you’re willing to designate a much larger part of the group time to a life tribute celebration for the kids, read this to them this week and be prepared for a space for them to share their items next week.  If you only want to stick to the five minute check-in, see at the bottom of next week’s info for a suggestion on that.

If doing the life tribute, read this to them:  Next week is a little tribute memory event for all of you to share with one another what you treasured most about the person who died. We are all invited to bring whatever would be a way of sharing with one another who your special person was. That might include pictures, or maybe a special item that you were given or something that was theirs. There is an important part about this. One is that whatever you bring, your parents need to feel OK about you having it at school. There is always the possibility that someone could tear it or that you could forget and leave it on the bus or something, so don’t bring the greatest treasures, and only bring what is OK with your parents. You are welcome to bring your items to me right when you get to school and leave them with me till you pick them up on your way home.  [Tell them where to drop them off – do you have a clerical person who can receive them?  Whatever helps stage the tribute.]

Week 7
Introduction

Introduction

Have a table and maybe a bulletin board prepared so whatever kids brought to share has a nice place to be staged/shared. It is nice to have a little bouquet maybe a nice table cloth or other props that make the place special.

prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs again, but with different partners than last week. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

One of the really important parts of grieving is feeling like you’ve been able pay tribute to who these people were – who they were in the world, but also who they were to you. We can go in any order. Just when you are ready, you can come forward and pick up your items to show to the group and tell us whatever you’d like to about this person you loved who has died. You each have [tell them how many minutes…. Three?  More? Lots of kids can’t really talk for more than two or three minutes, but more would be fine for those who can.] When we’re done sharing, we can just have a conversation about how important it is to be able to celebrate people who die and how much they meant to us and how much we appreciate others knowing how much it mattered to us. If you like, you could also share something about what happened at the funeral or memorial service that was particularly meaningful for you.

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

After they’ve shared individually, just lead a conversation with them.

challenge

Weekly Challenge

This will be a goal based on our weekly prompt and lays the groundwork for more intentional mindfulness later. If possible, have someone touch base with the students on this challenge during the week.

We see that there are lots of different ways that people are important to us and lots of different ways of saying goodbye. This week, be aware of how many people matter to us and how much we really do care about one another.

Week 8
Introduction

Introduction

We’ve been getting together now for 7 weeks!  In some ways I wish we could keep meeting all year and some of you might feel that way also. But we only have three more sessions together, so I wanted you all to know that!  One of the things we can do in the next three weeks is find some ways for you to be able to stay connected even if we’re not doing the group. So let’s come up with some good ideas for that later today and for the next two weeks.

prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

What are the things about group that you’d like to be able to keep happening between one another? This is just our first time trying to look at what we might do so you can keep in touch. With your time, come up with some ideas.

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

Instead of connecting in pairs, let’s take this time to go around to each of the pairs and have you share your ideas about how we could keep connected even after group ends.

challenge

Weekly Challenge

We have two more weeks before group is over, so keep coming up with ideas and we’ll check in about that again next week.

Week 9
prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

We just have one week after this! So today for our prompt, share what you think you’ve learned by being in the group. How has it been a benefit for you?

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

Connecting

Connecting

What did your stories have in common?

challenge

Weekly Challenge

Learning lessons about grieving is hard. Sometimes painful. Sometimes bittersweet. Sometimes deeply loving.  The lessons we’ve all learned by being together and sharing are lessons that will be helpful for the rest of our lives. One thing I want you to think about right now is that, as you grow older, you’ll have friends who will have someone die. Think about all of the ways that you might reach out to that friend – all of the things you might say – and especially, how important it will be for your friend if you will just be with them and listen.

Note: Remind students that next week is your last week.

tip

Prepare

Note: Prepare a bit of a party or celebration. The two goals next week are for fun and closure, and for kids to know they can connect informally after group is finished.

Week 10
Introduction

Introduction

Note: If this is the last day of the group, it would be great for part of it to be a party and celebration. But an important part is helping the kids figure out how they’ll stay in touch. If you only want to do five minutes, go around the circle and have kids generate ideas. You could have them write the ideas on post-it notes so everyone sees the ideas written and posted.

prompt

Prompt

Have students break into pairs. If there’s an uneven number, the counselor is paired with someone. If the number is even, consider seeing whether there is an adult in the building that could join you (a secretary?  an administrator?  the custodian?) If the counselor is not paired with a student, the counselor could sit in with a pair to listen, to model the body language and eye contact of active listening. Continually look for ways to reinforce that adults in the building are genuinely interested in the perceptions and needs of students.

Let’s see how many ideas we can generate for how you can stay in touch.

Ring the bell to start their sharing time. Ring it after two minutes so they can trade roles from listener to speaker. Ring the bell at the end of paired sharing time.

Note: Sharing for two-minutes each is the goal, but initially, students may not have two minutes’ worth of sharing. Adjust the times down early on and expand as youth become more practiced at this. Remind them not to respond to one another during their two-minute talking time. They’re to just respond to the prompt directly.

challenge

Weekly Challenge

Just let the students know what it has meant to you to have them share this time together.