Philip De Ste Croix, head of future planning at Damsons shares practical and emotional advice for parents and families, who are faced with telling their child about the loss of a loved one.
Sadly, losing a family member or friend is something everyone will experience in their lifetime, but for some, this comes earlier than expected, often when we're not mentally prepared or unable to process the reality of what this means. However, there is help out there which offers practical and emotional support to help children and families move on.
From an early age, children are exposed to the concept of death, often in the shape of losing their first pet. For many this will be first time that they come face-to-face with losing a loved one, and it's difficult for a child to understand why something they cherish is there one minute and gone the next.
Whilst saying goodbye to the family dog may not be comparable to losing a grandparent, or even a parent or sibling, it's at this crucial stage that a child experiences loss for the first time and gains a small understanding of what it really means.
The Child Bereavement Network offers pre and post-bereavement care which is designed to prepare children as best as possible for what's to come and how to deal with the complex emotions they will be feeling before and after someone dies.
Whilst you can never prepare for how you may feel, there are some simple things you can do to prepare a child for up and coming loss to make the journey more manageable:
• Keep to every day routines to instil a sense of normality
• Use books to help you explain the circle of life to younger children
• Explain the situation to their teacher or care provider so they can adapt to behavior changes
• Encourage teenagers to keep up with their friendships and hobbies
• Talk to them openly about what is happening so that they feel valued and included
Like adults, children will also grieve in different ways and this will depend on several things, including their age and understanding of the situation. So, parents shouldn't be alarmed if their child displays a range of different behaviors. Young children may be feeling sad but may not be able to process why, and so may continue to play as normal. Teenagers may also have their own way of coping and seek solace in peers of a similar age group.
However old they are, try to be open and honest about what is happening as they need to feel that they are being included and that their voice matters too.
As many of those who have experienced a grievance will know, the time immediately after losing someone is a whirlwind and a blur, a roller-coaster ride, where people experience a realm of emotions, from anger and fear to depression and anxiety to even positivity and hope. The important thing to know, it that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no text book with all the answers.
Despite this, there are strategies and coping mechanisms that can be put in place to help guide parents and children through this unknown period, and help them to see light at the end of the tunnel.
For many, a funeral marks the first step on the long road in front of them, marking a crucial time for families to accept what has happened and begin adapting to their new life ahead.
Regardless of the ceremony type, funerals help to not only remember loved ones and celebrate their life, but mark a very real and poignant time in the grieving process. This allows people to express their feelings with all those who are dearest to them, who in turn will play a vital role in providing a support network for the stage of grieving which is yet to come.
Involving children in the funeral plans provides an opportunity for them to say goodbye and remember that person in their own special way.
Other practical things you can do to help:
• Inform the school so that teachers are aware of the home situation. Children of exam age can apply for an application for special consideration.
• There is financial help available for those caring for a bereaved child, including child benefit, widowed parents allowance, guardian allowance and in some cases, a one-off bereavement payment.
• For parents in employment, the ACAS has produced a guide for bereavement in the workplace.
The important thing to remember is you're not alone. There are many people you can talk to about how you're feeling, including a range of bereavement services which can be contacted through your GP, local hospice, or the national Cruse helpline, who offer support to children, young people and adults.
There is no set time for you to feel 'normal' again, but experts suggest that 18 months is around the time where you begin to think about other things. However, if after this time, you're not coping and perhaps unable to sleep, feel intense emotion, cannot eat or turning to drink, then you should seek the help of your GP who will be able to refer you to a councillor.