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What to expect in bereavement

When a child experiences the loss of a loved one, they may respond in many different ways, reactions to loss can include:

  • A diverse range of emotional reactions, varied and often mixed; anger, sadness, joy, fear, guilt, etc.
  • Disruptions to sleep; staying in bed longer than usual or finding it hard to fall asleep
  • Disruptions to appetite; comfort eating or reduced appetite due to anxiety
  • A greater need for tactile comfort (hugs, handholding, being close to other people)
  • Worry for other family members.

These are all very normal reactions; for some children they last longer than others, some experience all of these things, other only few. Try not to measure how your child is coping by comparing them to other family members or friend’s reactions.

Bereavements during this time are likely to feel quite complicated, either because a loved one has died suddenly due to the coronavirus, or because of social distancing measures. Currently, we are unable to do the things we would normally do when someone dies, such as being able to see the person before they died, visiting and grieving with other family members, or even attending the funeral.

During the coronavirus pandemic, and the period of social distancing, there can be additional challenges to our ability to grieve:

  • Sudden loss may leave children with many more questions unanswered and heighten worries about other family members
  • Limited exercise and mental stimulation can impact on our natural sleep cycles, making the natural rhythm of our day out of sync and meaning children are more sensitive to their feelings
  • Reduced availability of ‘private’ space when entire families are at home makes it more difficult to complete some grieving behaviours, such as reflecting on the loss, remembrance activities and crying
  • Social distancing may mean children from divorced families have not seen a parent or sibling in person for several weeks. This reduces their supportive network and may be experienced as a secondary loss
  • Social distancing measures prevent children, young people and families from visiting unwell relatives. Changes to visiting during the coronavirus pandemic means that you may not be able to say goodbye or spend time with your loved one at the end of their life, or not be able to hold their hand, touch or kiss them
  • You may not be able to attend the funeral or visit the grave of loved ones who have died, or visit the places associated to happy memories with them. This is often a very important part of grieving for many people
  • You are less likely to be in contact with other people who have experienced loss similar to your own, or meet with the supportive network of people in your community, such as friends, neighbours and work colleagues.

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