Death cannot take away what you own deep within your heart.
The death of a child affects everyone - the loss reverberates through the whole family. Siblings grieve too.
Children grieve differently to adults. They experience grief in temporary and sudden, intense waves. After an outburst of emotion, everything seems to be calm again. But that may not always be the case – the storm rages on internally. This requires a lot of patience from the parents. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether your child is grieving. Their behaviour might seem “normal” or “as usual” but that does not mean that they are not sad or upset.
Often, their grief can burst out later, six months after they lost their sibling. The sudden aggression, flailing tantrum or intense rage seems unrelated and is not recognised as an expression of grief. This can make the child feel misunderstood and alone.
Children and teenagers live more in the present. They can easily switch from grief to joy, if the present moment is one of fun and entertainment. They can quickly transition from one emotional state to another, but they also often experience different emotions simultaneously or in quick succession.
Their grieving process is more changeable, quicker, less stable and predictable. Their loss of and longing for their loved one can manifest itself in dreams, daydreams and thoughts. Children and teenagers can also adopt the person’s behaviour such as particular mannerisms and speech patterns, or mimic other characteristics. This is an expression of wanting to be close to the person they lost, to hold on to them in some way.
Talk to the bereaved siblings and make them feel included from the beginning.
- Do they want to see them, hold their hand, touch them, give them a kiss, etc.? They should decide themselves whether or not they want to see them and when.
- Do they have ideas for the funeral?
- Do they want to paint or decorate the coffin?
- Do they want to pick the clothes for their sibling?
- Do they want to decorate a candle?
- Do they want to choose flowers?
- What music should you pick for the funeral?
- Do they want to say goodbye by releasing balloons into the air?
- Do they want to give their sibling something (drawings, a cuddly toy, a necklace or bracelet, a letter, photos...)?
Children now need
- a person they are close to and feel safe with
- age-appropriate conversations about what has happened/is happening
- a routine (regular bedtime)
- a lot of love and attention
- honest feelings
- to be able to talk openly and honestly about their loss
- no secrets kept from them
- to be able to express their thoughts and emotions without judgement
- the opportunity to make something for their sibling to put at their grave (you can give them a little treasure box to put things in)
Teenagers now need
- To be involved at every stage
- Someone to talk to (an adult or a peer)
- A safe space for themselves where they can process and think about their feelings, death, grief, loss, saying goodbye and letting go; if they have suicidal thoughts seek professional support and help