Talking to children about tragedy and disaster

After the tornado in Moore, OK. Photo by Sue Ogrocki via

Talking with children about tragedy, especially if there is death and destruction, is a moment fraught with both possibility and danger. What follows is counsel from Hollye Jacobs (a mother, breast cancer survivor, nurse, and social worker) on her blog “The Silver Pen.” Hollye writes,

Begin-quotex7152In the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado tragedy if you’re wondering how to talk to children about tragedy and natural disasters, you’re not alone. It’s totally normal to be bamboozled by such catastrophe. The key, however, is including children in the dialogue.

Many of you already know how important it is to me that adults talk with children and keep lines of communication open. Silence is NOT golden especially when television and other media are depicting graphic scenes of devastation. Children are being exposed to stories and photos of dislocated families, destroyed homes and a rising death toll. UGH. We MUST talk with children about natural disasters.

The thing of it is: when children are left alone with information, they have the capacity to imagine far worse than reality (even when reality is awful!). For example, young children often confuse facts with fantasy and may not realize that the same images are shown over and over again on television. Rather they may think that the disasters are happening over and over again. Yup. How awful is that?

Read the entire post: How to talk to children about tragedy and disaster

Hollye then goes on to detail 10 ‘simple’ concepts to put into action if you are called upon, or if you volunteer, to speak to a child or children about the tornado. She offers sound advice, good counsel, and counsel filled with hope. In her post she expands upon an earlier summary of how to speak with children after a disaster.

Infographic: Helping children cope with a natural disaster by Hollye Jacobs

More from Hollye Jacobs on speaking with children

  • Helping children cope with a natural disaster } a precursor to the post cited here about Oklahoma
  • Discussing cancer with children | addresses the broader topic of talking with children, especially Preschool children, in the context of Hollye and her husband talking to their daughter about Hollye’s breast cancer
  • The Silver Pen. Hollye’s website (which includes her blog posts). In her own words, ” The Silver Pen began as a way for me to document the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and oftentimes hilarious journey through, with, over and around breast cancer. One year later I’m still in recovery but now on a journey to find Silver Linings in all aspects of life.”

Image source. “A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma on Monday, May 20, 2013.”


Being with dying …

In being with dying, we arrive at a natural crucible of what it means to love and be loved. And we can ask ourselves this: Knowing that death is inevitable, what is most precious today? —Roshi Joan Halifax in Interview with Wild River Review

via Word for the Day :: G R A T E F U L N E S S.

Everyday the folks at share a Word for the Day. Today’s word spoke to me as a person who has been there and as a pastor who has walked with those taking the last steps of  this part of  their journey. I believe many of you will understand these words, having shared similar experiences. ~dan

Do I have to talk about it?

As you may know I grew up Roman Catholic. I can’t tell you how many rosaries I prayed growing up. As you work your way around the beads (for those of you not Roman Catholic) you pray the “Hail Mary.” This prayer concludes: “…pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” The “Hail Mary” is spoken 50 times as you work your way around the rosary beads. How easily the word “death” rolls off the tongue when saying a prayer from memory, when you have the distractions of a child, when you are clueless. The older you are, the more experiences you have, the word has a different (compelling) power.

As a pastor I have often spoken  about the benefit of discussing end-of-life needs, wishes, and issues with those you love because one thing is certain, you will have to talk about them or deal with them at some time and if they can be approached in a time of calm and strength rather than a time of crisis and weakness, all the better. As a pastor I am also aware of the discomfort such a suggestion can create. But wait (as the commercials love to say) there’s more.

As one who nearly died, as one who humbly confesses laziness, arrogance, and ultimately, stupidity, I did not heed my own (very good) pastoral advice. Carol and I vaguely talked about what we would or would not like in terms of medical treatment in the event of a life-threatening illness or accident; we were in the process of completing a Will and setting up a Trust and establishing powers of attorney; I thought, I’ll have time to take care of this later, “I’ll get to it;” and then, quicker than I could have imagined, I was unconscious and on a ventilator and Carol and our kids were dealing with all of this in a moment of crisis and exhaustion. I do not wish their/my experience on anyone. Keep going.

I share this because every year Rabbi Richard Zionts and I (with the exception of the years I was unconscious or unable I say with sadness and remorse) present a session on End-of-Life issues. Though the notice is late, the invitation is heartfelt.


You are invited to join us for this year’s series on Friday mornings–October 28, November 11, and November 18–at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert, CA (probably in a room [yet to be determined] on the lower level of the church). Each session will begin at 10am and end by 11:45am. The series is free and open to everyone.

One additional note as you consider the invitation: like many of you, my parents are still alive (and aging right along with me). They have been better than me in having things “in order” and communicated to us, their children. I pray that you can say the same about you and your parents. If not, come join us this Friday.

Thank you for reading to the end. I pray that you will be able to join us on Friday, October 28th.