Losing a parent is a devastating experience, especiallywhen the person suffering that loss is a child. Carole Geithner, a clinicalsocial worker, counsels children through these tough times. Now, her book, IfOnly, brings her wise and sympathetic voice to a larger audience.
Geithner, who is married to Treasury Secretary TimothyGeithner, manages to capture the children’s voices, particularly the voice ofthe book’s main character, Corinna, who is 13 when her mother, Sophie, diesduring the summer after a battle with cancer. “I was working a lot with thatage group at the time, with kids who had suffered a serious loss. That helpedme [with the children’s voices],” she said.
Friends, even best friends, often pull away, say thewrong thing, or say nothing at all. “There’s nothing your best friend is goingto say that can fix [what has happened],” Geithner explained. You want them totreat you normally. You want to be normal even though this major change hashappened. So sometimes you have these conflicting needs and wishes and thefriend can’t tell. Should I talk about it? Does she not want me to talk aboutit?”
Geithner was 25, married, and in graduate school when hermother died. Even though she was older, her experience was similar to whatyoung children go through. She wanted others to acknowledge her loss, butworried about breaking down in public.
Corinna is asked to join a bereavement group led by aschool counselor, similar to the groups run by Geithner. “There’s anempowerment being with kids who have had somewhat similar experiences becauseyou don’t feel you’re the only one,” she said. Initially resistant, Corinnadiscovers children whose situations are perhaps more difficult than her own.Jasmine’s father, a U.S. Marine, died in an explosion in Afghanistan, whileMax’s father killed himself. Geithner purposely included these situations toembrace children who have lost a parent through war or suicide.
How can an adult help a child hold onto the memory of theparent who has died? Friends of Corinna’s mother share their recollections inletters. “You need other people to fill in the blanks, to help you know whoyour parent or sibling was,” she said. “I really feel that [sharing thosememories] is a gift you can give when the time feels right.”
Charlene Giannetti is the Editor of Woman Around Town.This profile first appeared on Woman Around Town, an online resource for womenliving in Washington DC and New York City. www.womanaroundtown.com