In the turmoil that follows a death, the littlest mourners are often overlooked.
"Children are the forgotten mourners," said Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, a death counselor and author of 25 books on death and other experiences of loss. "The clergy will often come in and speak to all of the adults, while the kids are isolated, left in their rooms crying their eyes out."
Grollman will speak on "Explaining Dying and Death to Children and Ourselves" from 6: 30 p.m. to 9: 45 p.m. today at the second annual Irvin B. Levinson Memorial Lecture Series at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., a Pikesville funeral home.
The program, sponsored by Jewish Family Services, also will feature J. Shep Jeffreys, a psychologist who teaches at the Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College of Maryland. He will speak on "The Psychology and Healing of Grief."
The funeral home began the lecture series last year as part of an after-care program that includes a 500-volume bereavement lending library. It plans a semiannual after-care sharing group.
"We look at our funeral home as a community resource center," said Ira Levinson, vice president of Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc. "The bereavement process takes longer to work through than just the time of the funeral."
Adults have such a hard time explaining death to children, Grollman said, because they are reluctant to deal with their own grief.
"When you deal with dying or death, it's still a taboo subject," he said. "It's talked about most frequently through humor. We laugh about it, but don't talk about it."
Surprisingly, Grollman said, clergy also have a particularly difficult time dealing with death.
"Sometimes, we offer platitudes for others that we don't believe ourselves: 'It's God's will.' Well, we're not privy to this information. Or, there's, 'God needed another angel in heaven.' When you're in pain, you don't need to hear that," he said.
Grollman's advice to anyone dealing with a child's grief is to be direct and to deal in reality.
"Very often, we don't know what to tell them, so we play with fairy tales and half truths: The person is sleeping, or the person took a long trip," Grollman said. "These distortions of reality do lasting harm. Don't tell a young person what he or she will later need to unlearn."
Parents who maintain a stoic demeanor to spare their children aren't necessarily helping them, Grollman said.
"I tell parents and adults, 'Let them see your grief,' " he said. "When we express our own feelings, which are natural to the situation, we provide a child with a basis for expressing their own feelings."
The lecture series, held at the funeral home at 8900 Reisterstown Road, is free and open to the public. Tickets are available only at the door.