This article has been kindly provided by Child Bereavement UK, a national organisation that supports families and provides training to professionals across the entire spectrum of child bereavement. For more information or support, visit: www.childbereavementuk.org or call 01494 568900. You can email [email protected]
Grieving means feeling and expressing all the emotions you have about the death of someone important to you. It also means slowly accepting the reality of what has happened and learning to live with the change that has taken place in your life.
Grieving isn't about forgetting the person who has died. It is about finding a permanent place for that person in your life, where it does not cause you so much pain.
The death of a child is a particularly difficult kind of grief. No one expects their child to die before them. It is out of the natural order of things. It feels even more like something that should never have happened.
For some parents, the devastating news that their child has a disability may begin years of grieving for the child that could have been.
There is also a special kind of grief associated with the death of a child who has been very ill. Parents who have cared for the child, being so close to the child and so badly needed, often feel that when their child dies their own reason for being has been taken away.
It is neither helpful nor appropriate to compare or judge the intensity of feelings involved in grief. Everyone is different, and one parent's grief may be as painful as another’s, regardless of the circumstances.
So often, it is our previous experiences of loss and grief which affect the way we feel about our current loss. Grieving is different for everyone. There is no right way to do it. We do as we must, in our own way, at our own pace. This is no less true for children and young people when someone important in their life dies.
When a parent, sibling, or someone important in a child's life dies it can feel daunting for the adults caring for that child to meet their needs when they themselves are grieving too. Parenting in bereavement can feel especially challenging. Try not to expect too much of yourself and remember that while much of your concern is likely to be for your child, you too need support.
Children grieve too – they need information and honesty to help them in their grief, and they need to be able to trust the adults around them. We need to speak to them in language that is appropriate to their age and level of understanding, and they need to be given the opportunity to ask questions and to have those questions answered as honestly as possible, without over-burdening them with too much information.
Children, especially younger children, often ask the same questions over and over again. While this can be draining for the adults around them, it is often the child's way of checking out the reality and trying to make some sense of what has happened.
It is our responsibility as adults to ensure children have understood the information we have given them. Try to find ways in which the children in the family can be involved when a death happens – the natural adult instinct to protect them often leaves them feeling excluded.
Children can be helped by participating in simple rituals around a death. Children learn how to grieve by watching the adults around them, and just like adults, need to find ways to express their feelings about the death and life without that special person.
Don't be afraid to show them how you feel – this helps them know it's okay to feel the way they do. Children tend not to stay with very sad feelings for long, though, and will dip in and out of their grief. Keeping memories alive by remembering and talking about the person who has died also helps children in their grief.