WATERVILLE— Grief is a normal reaction to loss, although it is expressed in many different ways by both children and adults.

That message was part of a discussion on the grieving process and how to have conversations with children about grief during a community forum Wednesday night at the Alfond Youth Center. Ten people attended the forum, which was sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Waterville along with the New York Life Foundation and Boys & Girls Club of America.

“Almost every week there is a shooting in a public place around the country where young people are injured or witness to injuries,” said Len LeGrand, grants manager for the Alfond Youth Center and an organizer of the event. “Even when our children see these reports on the news there is cause for concern.”

In addition, he said the forum was held to remember three people who were active in the youth center that have died within the last year, including a youth member, a beloved chef and a retired staff member known as Meme, who was seen as a grandmother at the center.

On Wednesday, the discussion was led by community members such as Jacki Charity, a licensed clinical social worker at Kennebec Behavioral Health, who spoke about what grief may look like in children of different ages and how adults and caregivers can be supportive.

Grief is usually caused by loss, which includes death but also other types of loss such as a physical disability, loss of independence for the elderly, loss of property or devastating natural disaster, said Charity.

“There are many ways of looking at grief, but I see it as a tribute to a relationship, how much you loved and cared for someone or something,” Charity said. She said it is important for those that are grieving to be supported by their communities, especially in the first year of loss when feelings are usually most intense.

For children, a tragic event can mean the realization that the world they live in is not safe, so it is important for adults to have an honest conversation with them, said Charity. That conversation can start with asking questions about how they feel and sharing information while keeping in mind what is appropriate for children of certain ages, she said.

Charity also advised that parents avoid over-exposing their children to media and that communities work to give privacy to families that experience loss or are victims of violence or tragedy. While vigils or memorials might be a helpful way for adults to process grief, they can be scary for children, said Charity.

If too much information is withheld, children are likely to make up their own answers, said Charity. She also said it is OK for parents to let their children see them cry or know they are feeling sad.

If a death is anticipated, talking about what is expected to happen or what emotions might come up can help children and adults to process those feelings later, said Charity.

Society has an expectation that the grieving process lasts about six months, but in reality it can last much longer, said Charity. It is important to realize that it is acceptable to feel grief for a longer period of time and not try to change or minimize another person’s feelings, she said. A good way to check on whether a child is still feeling grief if they are not showing outward signs such as anxiety, fear, crying or strange dreams, is to ask if they have thought about what has happened or if they have questions, said Charity. It can also be helpful to have a conversation about how the child should talk about death or loss at school and remind them that it is OK if they don’t want to talk about it at school, she said.

Wednesday’s forum also featured Jillian Roy, youth services coordinator for Hospice Volunteers of the Waterville Area, who spoke on grief during the holidays, loss of a pet and hospice services; and Bill Atchison, of American Baptist Home Missionary, who spoke about his experience becoming a widower in his 40s and the spiritual aspect of grieving.

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 [email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm