Lesson Five


In this lesson, we will begin to study the Grief Reaction Factors. When an unpleasant or traumatic loss occurs, the Grief Reaction Factors influence how we will cope with the resulting grief. Much like their predecessor, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, several renowned psychologists have developed stages or factors that influence how we cope with grief. The four Grief Reaction Factors factors that we will study are:

  • Emotional bonding
  • Manner of death
  • Obstacles to healing grief
  • Previous loss experience and family dynamics

Emotional bonding describes the “human” relationship that we have with a person or event, how our lives are intertwined, and what role this person or event plays in our life. For example, if Aunt Lucy in Australia, whom you have seen once or twice in your life, dies, her death does not have the same impact on you as the death of a your child, parent, or very close friend.

Similarly, in the emergency response professions, even though the firefighter or medic may not know their patient, their patient’s injuries or death may have a profound effect on them mentally and emotionally. Let’s say, for illustration, that paramedic Zeke has a 5 month old daughter. He is called to the scene where a child, about the same age as his daughter, has been involved in a major car accident. During his treatment of her injuries, the emotional bond he has with this injured child is immediate. This type of stressful call can, and often does, result in similar feelings for his child patient as it would if it were his own daughter.

When death of a loved one occurs, the emotional relationship we had with that person will precipitate how we will grieve; the duration, the depth of pain, and so on. The same can be said for an event. Paramedic Zeke, in our previous illustration, may experience emotional trauma because of the depth of his interaction with his child patient resulting in nightmares, hyper-activity, and reliving the event in his mind.


The “Make Do” Parent
by Peggy Sweeney

My siblings and I were very fortunate growing up. We had a great home life; loving parents, food on the table, roof over our heads. My mother was able to be a stay-at-home mom. My dad worked hard to provide for his family. Life was good! When my dad died, I was devastated. He was my best friend, my confidant, and my hero. No child could ask for a better male role model than my dad.

Back in my early years, I thought every child was just as lucky when it came to parents. Wrong! As I matured and began to help adults and kids cope with grief, I soon realized I had been very fortunate to have the parents I had. Many children, especially in today’s world, do not have the luxury of having a loving, devoted set of parents – a mother and a father. Many come from single parent homes. Sadly, for some of these children, one parent is not present in their life due to death, imprisonment, or abandonment.

I have said for a long time that it only takes the love and devotion of one adult to make a difference in a child’s life. With our world as it is today with drugs, sexual promiscuity, bullying, and gangs, some kids struggle every day to live a happy, healthy life.

So, what can a child do to find a role model today when the one person (either a mother or a father) is not an influencing part of their life? How does a “dad”, who is not a dad, become a dad? Or a “mother” become a mother? Or a teacher make a difference in a little boy’s life? Where can a child find the parent-child emotional bond?

Although the following story is fictional, it reflects how important it is for children to find that ONE person who will help them grow and mature into a warm, loving, and caring adult.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney 2013


Three Letters from Teddy
by Elizabeth Silance Ballard

As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, Student 02slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big ‘F’ at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, ‘Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.

His second grade teacher wrote, ‘Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.’

His third grade teacher wrote, ‘His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.’

Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, ‘Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.’

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.

Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, ‘Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.’

After the children left, she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her ‘teacher’s pets’.

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she luv-tchrwas still the best teacher he ever had in life.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, ‘Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.’

Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, ‘Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.’

Editor’s Note: This work of fiction was penned by Elizabeth Silance Ballard in 1974 and printed that year for HomeLife magazine, a Baptist family publication. The author’s intent was far from unclear, as the piece was clearly marked as fiction and was presented as such, not as an account of personal experience. Although Ballard based some of the details on elements of her own life, she has expressed disappointment that her fictional work continues to be circulated as a true story. Snopes, Read more…. 


Consider reading from our Archives

  1. Save a Child by Brother Thomas Jeffers
  2. The Elephant in the Room by David Billeiter
  3. Share the Love by Courtney Ehler (parent’s suicide)

Check out our Good Grief Library. Have a good book to recommend? Let me know peggy@sweeneyalliance.org

No Homework Homework ~ Time to Write in Your Journal

  • What type of childhood did you have? Were you one of the lucky ones? Or not?
  • When someone with whom you had a strong emotional bond died or abandoned you OR a traumatic event resulted in an immediate bonding with someone who triggered stress, anxiety, etc. make a list in your journal of:
    1. 3 people you can turn to for comfort, empathy, and support
    2. 3 places you can go for solace and quiet reflection
    3. 3 things that you can do that ease your mind and brings calm to your soul – reading, listening to quiet music, etc.

Have you been taking time every day for yourself? Remember to continue spending at least 15 minutes every day meditating, however you define meditating. Drink water and eat healthy. Sometimes several small meals a day are easier to do than three large meals.


Share your thoughts or questions here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s