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Walking Through Grief With Your Child

Air Date 08/18/2017

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Kathleen Fucci, author of the award-winning children's book Emily Lost Someone She Loved, shares personal lessons she's learned about ways to help children deal with death and grief.

Episode Transcript

Opening: 

Excerpt:

Mrs. Kathleen Fucci: She felt like if God were real then He would not have done this. That this was so awful and so unkind. And that, if He were real, she was so mad at Him that, you know, she kind of closed the door on any conversation with Him. 

End of Excerpt 

John Fuller: That’s Kathleen Fucci, and she joins us today on “Focus on The Family.” I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: Hey. Here at “Focus on The Family,” we consider our calling really a privilege to be here for you and your family, whether it’s giving you the nuts and bolts of everyday family life or delving a little deeper into more sensitive topics. Today, we’re gonna uh... discuss something a little deeper uh... for blended families - those that come together perhaps after the loss of a parent or after divorce, whatever it might be. 

We know you exist. And sometimes we don’t do enough to help you and equip you, and we’re gonna to do that today. We want to help you through that despair of losing a loved one. And then how do we continue as a family together? Psalm 30:5 tells us, weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. And we’re going to shine some light on this for you today if you’re living in that place. 

John: We’ve asked Kathleen Fucci to join us. She has a really unique story of dealing with grief and offers some very practical takeaways for your situation. She’s a conference speaker and an award-winning children’s book author. And her book, Emily Lost Someone She Loved really is a wonderful treatment of this topic. 

Body:

Jim: Kathleen, welcome to “Focus on The Family.” 

Kathleen: Thank you so much. 

Jim: I love your last name... 

Kathleen: It’s an honor be here. 

Jim: ...Fucci. I just I’ve been playing with that all day - Fucci. Kathleen Fucci. 

Kathleen: (Laughter) You sound like an Italian. 

Jim: (Laughter) I guess I’m a wannabe (laughter). But it is good to have you. And your other books for kids - what got you into writing books for children? 

Kathleen: Honestly, I feel like it was inspiration from the Holy Spirit. I was talking to one of our daughters, and I said, if I had to do it over again - this journey of going through childhood loss and all of that - if I had to do it over again, I would really want to be able to speak to you every day in terms of Scripture, God’s words over you, His goodness, His heart for you and your hope and your future in him. 

So, I thought after I said it, I said - I told my daughter, I’m going to do that. I’m going to write a children’s book, and I’m going to fill it with the Word of God. And I’m going to give a parent or a step-parent or a caregiver a tool to use. 

Jim: We may not have been clear in that set-up there, so I want to hear, from... 

Kathleen: OK. 

Jim: ...Your own words, what took place for you? You married into family. You were 40 when you married into the family. Describe the family and what circumstances you walked into. 

Kathleen: I met my husband on a blind date. We were set up by a mutual friend. And that friend told me to sit down before he described to me... 

Jim: That’s always... 

Kathleen: ...The guy... 

Jim: ...Reassuring on a blind date. (LAUGHTER) 

Kathleen: The guy he wanted me to meet was a widower with three children. I was 38 - almost 39 at the time. I had never been married. I didn’t have children. And that was a lot to take in. Not only that someone my age had lost a wife but that it was... 

Jim: Because that was so young. 

Kathleen: Right, right. She was actually diagnosed when she was 34. 

Jim: And she passed away with cancer.

Kathleen: With cancer. 

Jim: Yeah. 

Kathleen: Right, and then she died at 38. 

Jim: Janine. 

Kathleen: Janine was her name. 

Jim: And so, I mean, it’s just a date. Kathleen, it’s just a date. I’m just trying to help you out, you know, so here’s what you need to know about this person and the situation he’s in. 

Kathleen: Yeah. 

Jim: What happened next? I mean, what was that date like? You had to have flags up going, wow, OK. 

Kathleen: I did. I mean, the only reason I went on the date was because of how much he bragged on John - John, my husband - his character, the way that he had responded to this tragedy by pressing into the children. I felt like I had to meet him. And when I did, and I opened the door, he looked like someone who was a lot older than I. I mean, we were only a year apart, but that kind of life experience really does age a person. He looked like he was carrying a lot of weight. 

Jim: Sure. And he had been - in that context, Janine had passed away about a year before or... 

Kathleen: Exactly, a little over a year before. 

Jim: So, he’s trying to work vocationally, make sure that the, you know, the revenue is there for that family but still had a lot to do at home. In fact, he hired a nanny at that time, right? 

Kathleen: He did. His job was well over 50 hours a week, and he was commuting into LA - so a lot of time on the road and a lot of time in the office. And he had to have a nanny. He also had the help of his mother-in-law and his mom. 

Jim: Yeah.

Kathleen: It takes a lot. 

Jim: Yeah, sure. 

Kathleen: Right? - with three children... 

Jim: Three kids. 

Kathleen: ...to get them to school and everything. 

Jim: And so, you dated for about a year, a year and a half... 

Kathleen: That’s right. 

Jim: ...and then you got married. But John did a couple of things prior to that that - it wasn’t clear, for me, if you guys worked this out ahead of time. But what were, again, some of those decisions John made, or maybe the two of you made that were helpful and maybe a couple that were not so helpful? 

Kathleen: I think one smart thing that we did was to let the nanny go. 

Jim: Let the nanny go. 

Kathleen: Yes. I mean, that was a very hard thing. 

Jim: I mean, so you’re jumping into all the responsibilities... 

Kathleen: Um-hmm...

Jim: ...day one. 

Kathleen: I think it was because we wanted the kids to bond with me. And, also, we wanted to bond as a family. 

Jim: Now, most moms might be saying, I would have kept the nanny for a while. 

Kathleen: Well, it’s funny, when you’re 40 and are getting married, you really have a lifestyle that’s completely different from the lifestyle that, you know, you have when you get married and you have three children. So, it was a lot of independence that I gave up, but I really did want to be their mom. And even when we were dating, it felt so natural for us to be a family. 

I think that’s a very important point, too - if you’re dating someone who is a widow or a widower and you don’t love their children, and you don’t want to be there for them, then maybe you have to rethink the decision because... 

Jim: Yeah. 

Kathleen: ...it’s not a matter of just a few years, it’s a matter of your lifetime. 

Jim: Yeah, this is it for life, I mean, if you’re committed all the way and you have good health. That had to be difficult though because I would think for all the desire, the trade-off there is remarkable when you’re talking about the independence that you give up and then embracing, you know, a lot of responsibility that you weren’t sure what it would entail. That’s a big self-sacrifice. 

You know, so often, John, at Focus here, when we meet with marriage experts or talk with parenting experts, what you quickly realize is maybe the whole thing is set up by God, designed by God, for us to become more selfless in marriage and parenting. That’s a big bridge for you coming that much later in life, all the sacrifices. Did you have any sense of regret? Did you ever think, wow, I thought this would be easier? 

Kathleen: I did think it would be easier because we did bond - the kids and I were so close. And as a family, I just thought it would be idyllic. And I think the honeymoon period was when we were dating. And when we - after we got married and came home, and I was mom, and I was mom 24/7, it was very sobering, very sobering because there are a lot of behavior problems that come with grief and loss. 

And sometimes young children don’t have the words to tell you what they’re feeling, so they act out. And you see panic attacks. And you see fears and tantrums. And you see, sometimes, an opting out of responsibilities and schoolwork and all of that. I came from a really loving family, and I thought I knew what it looked like to be a really good mom. The circumstances were so much different, though, from the average family. 

John: Kathleen, how old were the children, at this point, when you got married? 

Kathleen: They were 9, 11 and 13 when we got married. 

John: Wow. 

Jim: That can be really fragile. I remember - you know, my mom was a widow. And Hank, our stepdad, came into our life briefly, but it almost - there are five of us kids - I mean, it kind of became us against him. And we - I think it’s fair to say we resented how much time he took of our mom’s time because we enjoyed her - this is before she died of cancer when I was 9. And, you know, I think, especially for my two sisters, it really made an impact on them that she was kind of taken away from us so that they could have time together. 

And we were too immature to really understand what was going on. But you can - most households have a sense of resentment in some way, one way or the other. What advice might you have for that family, you know, maybe that mom or dad listening right now, on how to better handle that environment when that tension exists? 

Kathleen: I think one-on-one time with the children is really important. I think they have to know that they have value and, for whatever reason, death sometimes takes away a child’s identity. There is a strange thing that happens, though, that - this kind of neediness and this inability to express it and - the forms that it takes. So, I would just suggest that when you’re seeing behavior problems, when you’re seeing some one or all of them trying to create chaos that you kind of need to have that one-on-one time with them separately to love on them. I think one big mistake that I made was I thought that I could discipline problems away. I thought that I could manage it by controlling it. 

Jim: Because perfect parents do that, you know. 

Kathleen: That’s another thing - I think, in the back of my mind, I had a tape about all these other mothers being able to do it so much better than I could. And that’s a very destructive thing to be thinking inside of your heart - that their mom would have loved them differently, she would have done a better job, she would have volunteered to be the PTA president, she would have - whereas, in my heart, I was just trying to manage learning to cook, driving a minivan - uh. 

Jim: For the first time. (LAUGHTER) 

Kathleen: And it was - the identity switch was just awful. (LAUGHTER) Right? (LAUGHTER) 

Jim: Well, maybe the Lord was trying to teach you a little something there. 

Kathleen: Maybe. 

Jim: (Laughter). 

Kathleen: The whole process, like you began saying, about the heart, you know, I went into it thinking, I’m going to be able to change them. I’m going to be able to help them and secure them. And you know how the Lord works - it’s always about our heart as much as it is about their heart. 

Jim: Sure.

Kathleen: And my heart was selfish. My heart was, for sure, self-centered. I didn’t know what it felt like to give away my life to someone else...

Jim: Well... 

Kathleen: ...much less to four. 

Jim: ...and, again, people are listening. Their heart is there for you. Their heart is there for John, your husband. Their heart is there for you and the kids and, you know, trying to figure this all out. You and John did one thing that I thought was really good. But I’d love to hear your perspective on that. You decided to sell the house that John and Janine had created their family in. That had to be positive and difficult for them. Positive for you being the new mom and coming in and starting fresh. But how did they respond? What were some of the ripples from that? 

Kathleen: Well, this is just - yeah, it was a very powerful thing. And they always say that stress - the major stressors are it would be a death, or a move or a change of job. And all of that happened really swiftly. The advantages of doing that, obviously, that home was filled with memories. Janine actually died in a hospital bed in the living room of that home. The first time I ever walked in that home to meet the kids, her obituary was framed in the entryway. And they still had - I mean, her coat was in the closet. They still had some medical paraphernalia around. 

Jim: Sure. 

Kathleen: And it was overwhelming. The neighborhood did such a good job of surrounding the family, bringing... 

Jim: Wow. 

Kathleen: ...them meals and all of that. But then, all of the moms kind of tried to step in after Janine was gone. And they took a really - a strong hold of that, sort of a protective, I guess... 

Jim: Sure. 

Kathleen: ...impulse on their part. So, all of that was a little bit overwhelming.

Jim: You felt... 

Kathleen: And I didn’t feel... 

Jim: Yeah. 

Kathleen: ...like it could ever be my house. The more serious we got in our relationship, John kind of asked me, you know - well, we were talking about marriage. And he said, could you ever live in this house? And I was offended even by the question. I thought, are you kidding me? Because it wouldn’t feel like our life. It would feel like stepping into someone else’s. 

Jim: And it’s so hard because you’re trying to honor the memories... 

Kathleen: Yes. 

Jim: ...that they had, and you’re trying to build something new. It left you and John in a very awkward spot, I’m sure, in terms of how to figure this all out. And, again, back to the kids, that’s where that resentment can happen. Why would she not want to live in our house? - I mean, all those kinds of things. How did you navigate that? I want to get down to some of the nitty-gritty here... 

Kathleen: OK. 

Jim: ...because there’s people hearing this that are living it right now, Kathleen, and they need to hear. Give me a handle. Because my kids aren’t responding that well. My kids are very embittered toward me, and I’ve done nothing. All I’ve tried to do is love them. Why do I get hatred for love? 

Kathleen: Well, what we did I thought was really smart, is we took the kids on our house searches. 

Jim: So, they got excited. 

Kathleen: They absolutely got to - I mean, basically, we could tell - the barometer was their emotions. And we’d walk in a place, and they would either get really excited, or they weren’t interested at all. And the place that we eventually bought was the place where the kids were running around. This’ll be my room. This’ll be my room. 

Jim: So, you knew? 

Kathleen: Yes... 

Jim: Yeah. 

Kathleen: ...We knew. We did. So, it wasn’t something that was a big surprise to them. They had seen the home. They - and they each had their own room. So, it was kind of a step-up for them, and they were excited. 

But the reality is when you get there, then you have a new school, then you leave your friends, and then everything has to start over.

Jim: Wow. 

John: Kathleen Fucci is our guest today on “Focus on The Family,” and you can find out more about her ministry and her book Emily Lost Someone She Loved at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. 

And, uh... Kathleen, along those lines, uh... those kids had so much they had to process in such a short time - the loss of their mom, the entrance of you into their lives, a move. I imagine um... some of the behavioral aspects that you were dealing with were pretty hard to deal with. 

Kathleen: Yes. We asked a lot of them. I don’t think I really realized that at the time, but we did. We asked a lot of them. They were great kids. They had a great mom. And I think that’s - established a foundation in them that they wanted a mom. They wanted a family. 

John: Yeah. 

Kathleen: And one of the best things that we did was to talk a lot in our new home. We sat for hours and hours and hours and talked about everything they were feeling, about all that happened in the day, about, you know, anything that they wanted to talk about. 

John: Did you have tensions in some of those conversations? I’m guessing that there were some hard times. 

Kathleen: Right. I think that I was a pretty good listener. And the harder times were when I really wanted them to do their homework, practice piano, hold their fork a certain way, I mean, whatever. 

Jim: Now you’re sounding completely normal. 

Kathleen: Am I? (LAUGHTER) I really - true story. I mean, I, I uh... my youngest son doesn’t mind if I tell this story. I think because he was the youngest when he lost his mom - he was only six, and he was - she was sick for almost his whole childhood. So, um... he acted out a lot. Hyperactivity, I think, is common in this kind of circumstance when they’re young and they’re just - they’ve got a lot of anger. And they don’t know how to say what they want to say. He and I had a lot of chaos and a lot of friction. And it built up in me with these internal conversations I would have. I’m washing dishes and I’m thinking, John didn’t make his bed, John talked back to me, John, whatever, or I’m a bad mom. 

Those kinds of conversations were always going on in my head, and they were very destructive. And actually, I started physically getting sick. 

Jim: Hm... 

Kathleen: I started having all kinds of intestinal trouble, all kinds of other problems. 

Jim: It was stress. 

Kathleen: It was stress, absolutely. And one day, I was laying in bed, and I can’t even exaggerate how sick I was. I mean, I was very ill. I was laying in bed, and I woke up, and I heard this voice inside of me say, “Ask John to pray for you.” And I knew it was the Lord because I would have never humbled myself and asked John to pray for me. I was very angry with him. 

Jim: Um-hmm... 

Kathleen: And I wanted him to respect me as a mom. I heard it clearly. And I thought, is that you, Lord. And I heard it again - “Ask John to pray for you.” And he was 13 at the time. 

And I got up from bed, and I said, “John, can you go outside with me?” And we sat on the patio. And I said, I really feel like the Lord wants you to pray for me. And he said, what about, Mom? And I said, I don’t know. Can you just do that? And he did. He laid his hands on me, and he prayed for me. And afterwards, I looked at him, and I said, “Son, I have a lot to apologize for.” 

Jim: Hm... (softly) 

Kathleen: I’ve been really angry, and I should have been the adult, and I should have helped you. I think sometimes when he was crying for help by doing bad things, I could have seen it. 

John: Yeah. 

Kathleen: And I felt it after he prayed for me. It was just, I guess, the act of um... hearing the Lord and being obedient and then realizing how much I love John and having a new heart for him... 

Jim: Wow. 

Kathleen: ...After he prayed for me. And, you know what? I got well. 

Jim: Ah...You know, that’s a story that’s touching all of us as parents. We all have tears in eyes right here. That’s true for all of us to be mindful of, whether you’re the biological mom and dad or, you know, married into a family. And that’s a great reminder of how to love your kids... 

Kathleen: Um-hmm... 

Jim: ...and how they can, in turn, love you.

Kathleen: He was even able to apologize to me some. And it just - you know, we were on different footing after that. 

Jim: Mmm... That is so good. Um... You know, in this area, particularly where death comes, it’s hard because kids don’t understand it. They’re frustrated. They could shake a fist at God, you know, and not in a physical way - but maybe. But their whole attitude is going to be geared toward, now I don’t even know if God exists because why would this happen to me? And they process in that way. Did you have those moments with your kids where they began to question where they were at? Did God really know that they were there? 

Kathleen: Absolutely. And Kristina, the oldest, she felt like, if God were real, then he would not have done this. That this was so awful and so unkind. And that if He were real, she was so mad at Him that, you know, she kind of closed the door on any conversation with Him. 

Jim: Hm... 

Kathleen: And - a powerful experience happened to her because - you know, young kids like this, they feel like no one understands what they’re going through. And then if God becomes the enemy, well, there’s no conversation with Him either. 

Jim: Right. 

Kathleen: And she heard someone preach about the fact that God had lost someone he loved - Jesus. And all of a sudden, the epiphany came that, of course, God would understand her pain. Of course, He had lost someone that He loved. And so, she decided that she could believe in Him again. 

Jim: Wow. So, that was the moment... 

Kathleen: That was the moment for her. 

Jim: ...That she could connect. 

Kathleen: Yeah. 

Jim: That’s so awesome. Do you have an insight for that family that’s still struggling there? Maybe their 15-16-year-old hasn’t had that epiphany, and they’re still shaking their fist at God, and you’re the new mom trying to figure out what to do. And I’m not sure how to reach out, open this child’s heart up to God again. What would you say to her? 

Kathleen: I would say, first, it’s your own heart that the Lord can work on it and change. And He will give you the wisdom, instead of focusing on the child’s behavior necessarily, you know, and what needs to be changed. I found that if I focus more on the Lord and less on the child’s issue, then it’s the upward-downward thing, right? 

We all learn that it’s more important to focus upward on Jesus and on what He says in his word and on who He is, how glorious He is. And as you begin to focus on that yourself, as the parent, as the adult, it does something in your heart, right? And you gain some wisdom and understanding. You gain empathy, for sure. 

Jim: Patience, too. 

Kathleen: Yes. 

Jim: And that’s important. That’s very important. 

John: Kathleen, in terms of kids and grief, how do we get them to do that? What’s that conversation like with a 10 or a 12-year-old who doesn’t see God? 

Kathleen: All you can do is explain to them the Jesus that you know and you love. And even open up Scripture and show them all the many promises God gives, what His character is truly like. Young kids, I don’t even think - know, sometimes, that God hates death. There are some big theological questions that come up after death, and I wish that I’d had the discussion, from creation all the way through, about what God had intended for us to enjoy with him, and how He’d wanted us to live forever, and how death was introduced by sin, and that sickness, disease - that failing unto death - is not a part of the original plan. And it won’t be a part of what heaven looks like. 

Jim: That’s great.

Kathleen: When they understand how good, how gracious, how kind God is, and His plan for them, even in the midst of this struggle, that they have a hope - they have a future - and that He is good, and He’s the one to turn to in the time of crisis. Then, I think they’ll go somewhere. 

But in the meantime, this is a tough deal, right? Because you cannot force a kid into an intimate relationship with Jesus. You can only have one yourself, and make sure that what you’re speaking about is His goodness and His graciousness. 

Jim: That it’s real. 

Kathleen: Right - and making sure that - that what you’re speaking lines up with your behavior too. Because pretty soon, your arms are going to have to open up wide, and you’re going to have to forget about the behavior problems and just love on the child. 

Jim: Well, that’s where it - it connects to what you’re saying earlier about taking on the attitude of God in your own life and - and spending that prayer time, uh, thinking through the Scriptures that the Lord is giving you. Having an intimacy with God, and that getting you off of the negative focus on your child’s behavior and onto the positive things - the promises that you talked about. That is so critical, what you’re saying there. And I fail at that at times, where I get more into the behavior.

That’s a good reminder, Kathleen, that we need to, as parents, hold tight to the promises, even when we see no evidence that our children, especially our teens, are walking in the way we would hope they would have walked. And that is powerful. 

But the questions coming back through my heart and ear right now from those listening saying, “Where are the kids at today? How old are they? What’s happening?” Fill us in. 

Kathleen: The most important thing is that all three kids love Jesus. They’re 29, 27 and 25. The youngest just got married. And the middle child, uh, Amy, she has her own business. She lives in Tennessee. And our oldest daughter works with me in ministry. When we just - when we decided to start the ministry, I thought, she is the perfect complement, you know, to my skill set. And we are so close. 

I think what - the way that the Lord works is just astounding, as you take kids who again, were fearful, were panicked, were belligerent and all that, and you walk it through - all of our hearts have changed and our relationship together is tighter than you would ever imagine could be. 

Jim: Well, that is terrific. Kathleen Fucci, author of the children’s book, Emily Lost Someone She Loved. There’s been some tremendous wisdom in here, and I hope if this has touched your heart, and you’re living somewhere in this vicinity of stepping into a grieving family, that you would write us or call us today. We can get a copy of Kathleen’s book into your hands to help you and to help your child. 

And, of course, we have caring Christian counselors who can provide some additional advice for you, given the situation you’re in. Don’t hold back. I think after years of ministry here at Focus, I don’t think anything’s going to surprise us. And we would appreciate and count it a privilege to be in that spot with you. 

And for a gift of any amount to support the ministry here, we’ll say thank you by sending Kathleen’s book, Emily Lost Someone She Loved, for a donation of any amount. 

John: Well, be sure to get a copy of the book and a CD or download of our conversation today with Kathleen. Stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to learn more, or give us a call: 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. 

And, uh, with regards to our counseling team, Jim, they’re so, uh, tremendously gifted. There’s a lot going on right now. They’re taking so many calls. They’ll probably have to get your name and number and give you a call back at a convenient time, but just know we’re here and we do want to help. 

Jim: Yeah. Kathleen, thanks so much. Before we say goodbye, what’s that one thing - that one anchor - one thing, that parent who has stepped into a grieving family, like you did so many years ago, that he or she, Mom or Dad, can do today that will begin to make a difference? 

Kathleen: Cultivate your own relationship with Jesus as that anchor for your soul, and commit His word into your heart so that you can speak that word over your child. 

Jim: The word of Life. I love it. Thanks for being with us. 

Kathleen: Oh, my pleasure. 

Closing:

John: Some really great wisdom and we trust that this program has helped you if you’re dealing with a child who’s going through grief. 

Now next time, on Monday, we’ll have Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley here. They’ll be explaining how conflict between husbands and wives can actually be a good thing. 

Excerpt: 

Greg Smalley: I mean, that’s the mark of a truly healthy marriage. I would say that combat is unhealthy, so combat is bad, conflict is good.

End of Excerpt

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Guest

Kathleen Fucci

View Bio

Kathleen Fucci is a conference speaker, women’s bible study leader and award-winning children’s book author. She has written a children’s picture book series designed to restore hope to grieving kids. The first book, Emily Lost Someone She Loved, received an Illumination Gold Medal and a Moonbeam Medal. It was also named a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Kathleen's latest book, Keep Your Eyes Up, Franklin!, will be released in Summer, 2017. She and her husband, John, have three grown children and reside in southern California. Learn more about Kathleen at her website, www.kathleenfucciministries.org.