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Bereavement due to traumatic death

Support for children and young people

While parents are dealing with their own grief after the bereavement they are also trying to help their children, so they need to know about the various organisations that may be able to help and in what ways. Young children may deal with grief differently from adults. Quite commonly a child may switch from being very upset to wanting to go out to play as though nothing has happened. A traumatic death in the family can deeply affect young people and some become depressed themselves.

Bereavement counselling may be sought for children although some parents, like Sally, felt they could support the children themselves. When Matthew’s brother was killed in the Bali bombing the nieces and nephews, including a godson, were supported within their close family environment.

 
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Sally's children were 9, 13 and 18 when their grandmother died. They were devastated. Sally...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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What about the children? You said they would be devastated?
 
Yeah absolutely devastated yes. They were very close to Grandma, very close to Grandma and I think when they’re young, they just, I don’t think they think anyone’s going to die anyway, do they really?
 
No.
 
And I mean she used to look after them, and then that was all taken away really, because it’s their only grandma as well.
 
So did you support them or did you have to find some outside help?
 
No I…
 
You sort of looked after them?
 
Yes, because, yes like I say I think I took that motherly instinct on my side and looked after them and saw them through it, and we’ve, we talk about her still and they have chuckles I’ll say, “Oh Grandma would’ve liked that.”
 
Yes.
 
And…
 
Do they like that, bringing her name up?
 
Yes, a lot, lots yes, yes lots, yeah we bring her up a lot anyway, you know, Christmas she used to always do the stockings, Christmas stockings. So last year they said, “We’re not going to have any stockings now are we?” Because she used to buy them [the children] loads and loads of little bits and pieces, and I said, “Yes you will, but you won’t get as much as Grandma used to put in them.”
 
But yes, they’re alright now. Again they, you know, go through it don’t they, I think they found it very hard, the cause of it again.
 
And the thought of a fire to a child.
 
Frightening.
 
Yes, and obviously I didn’t let them see the flat or anything either, but you know they thought, “Well did she burn?”
 
And she didn’t, and I said, “No she definitely, there was no, she didn’t burn in it whatsoever, it was, she was choked with the smoke, there was no burning on her.” But I think they think of this roaring fire and you know, what you see on the telly, people are trying to, I said, “It wasn’t like that.” And they don’t know all the details, I just said that she was in her bed.
 
And she, you know, fell asleep obviously the smoke, she just didn’t wake up again. So I think you have to do that too, I think you shouldn’t have to tell them all the truth.
 
If you’re trying to protect them on that, they don’t need to know that really. 
When the child has lost their own parent or sibling through a traumatic death, professional help may be advisable. Martin’s daughter was five years old when his wife was killed by a bus. His daughter developed behavioural problems. She had some counselling from a Behavioural Education Support Team (BEST). These teams bring together professionals from health, social care and education. They work with children aged 5-18. They aim to promote emotional well-being, positive behaviour and school attendance by identifying and supporting those with or those at risk of developing, emotional and behavioural problems. Martin’s teenage son was also devastated by his mother’s death and was also offered counselling but did not want it.
 
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The school supported Martin’s daughter after her mother died. A counsellor from the Behavioural...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Male
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Did you get special help for your daughter from anyone else?
 
Yes they were, yes the school has been absolutely fantastic, I can’t praise them enough. But I went through a very, very difficult phase that coming, that winter, the first winter, and the first Christmas was very difficult. My daughter developed real bad behavioural problems, I couldn’t cope, she had a bit of counselling off what is it called now? I think it’s called the “Best Team”, B E S T, it’s Behavioural Education Support Team, and a lady came and paid a few home visits, but she didn’t really get a great deal out of that really, it was just, it was a long haul that we had to go through. There was no way of going round, round it; there was no easy cure, it just, time had to just heal my daughter a little bit. 
Children may also find help via the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), CAMHS promotes the mental health and psychological wellbeing of children and young people. It is part of the National Health Service and provides multidisciplinary mental health services to all children and young people with mental health problems. CAMHS team members are likely to include child and adolescent psychiatrists, social workers, clinical psychologists, community psychiatric nurses, child psychotherapists, occupational therapists, and art, music and drama therapists.

Terri recalled that after her son was murdered, her young daughters, who were aged four and eight at the time, were ‘completely traumatised’. The police family liaison officers arranged for some private counselling. Six years later, when Terri’s eldest daughter was 14, she had more counselling through the NHS.  

 
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Two weeks after Ben died Terri's four year old daughter attended group counselling. Her eight...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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I didn’t sleep for a couple of days, and my main concern, I believe, at the time was my children, my girls.
 
Of course.
 
Because they were completely traumatised, as was my mother. So a lot of my energy was like trying to, to sort them out and I dealt with myself after.
 
Did you get any professional help for them at the time?
 
Yes, at the time, yes, we got some very good counselling at one of the local centres which was arranged by our family liaison officers – we had two, a male and a female [officer], who were absolutely brilliant. And they did everything really for us, and arranged some counselling which they [the children] probably got about two weeks after Ben’s death.
 
The youngest went to group counselling. She was only four at the time and there were lots of little children there that had lost either a parent or a sibling, mainly through terminal illness. And basically she just, it was just, I think, to get her out of the family home. She did crayoning and, and you drew pictures of the person that you’d loved and lost. She was on the floor doing crayoning and things like that. It wasn’t one to one, whereas with the older girl she had one to one counselling with a lady and that was for about eight weeks where she talked about her feelings and did a memory book.
 
Did that help her?
 
It did help her, yes, yes.
 
Again, was that organised by the police?
 
Yes, it was all organised by them. It’s private counselling. Very difficult to get on the NHS they said, there was a very big waiting list.
 
How are the girls? Are they alright?
 
My elder daughter’s actually just restarted some counselling. She was eight, nearly nine when she lost her brother and she’s now 14 and doing very, very well at school but last couple of months have been very tearful.
 
I think it’s because she’s getting to the age now where she’s realising how much Ben has missed out on. And I spoke to a local paediatrician who I know and he said it’s very common for a child that’s had a very traumatic experience, for things to sometimes manifest themselves during teenage years. It’s all the hormones and everything going on. So she’s been seeing a bereavement counsellor. She saw her last week and she’s seeing her again in January.
 
Is that organised by the National Health Service?
 
Yes.
 
So you haven’t got to pay for that?
 
No.
 
Oh that’s good.
 
No. And yes they’re alright.  
Winston’s Wish is a national charity for children who have been bereaved. It helps children rebuild their lives after the death of a parent or sibling, and offers practical support and guidance to anyone concerned about a grieving child. Part of the Winston’s Wish website is for parents and carers. There is another section just for young people.
 

Ann works hard to help other families bereaved through a knife crime and referred families with...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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Is there any particular support that you feel is very important for young children of families who have been bereaved? I mean there’s Winston’s Wish, and there are different organisations like that?
 
Yes, I think Winston’s Wish is excellent, I mean literally, because people are being referred to me now in their stages of well, the same road that I’m on, but I’m just that bit further on. One of the things that I’ve specifically been fortunate enough [to have] I’ve got training in the pipeline so that I can understand child bereavement. It would always be that I would refer them to people like Winton’s Wish, but within the families that I may go and visit, to be able to deal across the board with understanding what’s going on with the child’s bereavement, I think is important to the work that I’m doing. But yes, it is crucial because it’s so easy to forget that a grand-daughter or a grand-son maybe taking on board their parents’ pain or an Aunt or an Uncle’s pain, when the family has experienced this kind of loss, and we can so easily forget what’s happening to them. 
 
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Terri found the Winston's Wish website for her older daughter, which helped her. Through the...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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Did you find any other help from the Internet?
 
I can’t remember the name of it now. I found one for my children. It was a sibling website. I can’t remember the name, it escapes me. And I got my daughters to go on it. And that was children, all under 16, sharing their experiences.
 
Did she find that helpful?
 
Yes, yes, very much. The elder one did. Yes, she met a couple of young girls on there that had lost a sibling, so yes. Winston’s Wish, that was it. Yes. 
Some organisations offer children’s ‘camps’ and group activities and others offer individual support for children, usually from the age of about seven. Some organisations offer both. William found help for himself and his son via a charity called Care for the Family (see ‘Support received from Charities’).
 

After Lauren died William took his 12 year old son for a week's holiday run by Care for the...

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
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Did you have to seek special help for your son, because he lost his sister?
 
No he’s very strong. Oh he’s a great boy as well, he’s academically very good as well, and a lovely personality. Lovely person, a very loving person, and he’s been very strong. Now he bottles things up and that, that’s one of his ways of dealing with it is just to bottle things up, so, it’s very hard to get him to talk about the loss of his sister. And there’s some things that I’ve done with him that I wouldn’t have otherwise have done, like I took him on a special one week holiday, run by Care for the Family, and that I wouldn’t have otherwise have been taking him on, and very soon after the accident a benevolent fund that’s associated with my employer, you know, the Fire Service Benevolent Fund, provided a holiday to get us away from the, you know, the immediate aftermath of losing her.
 
That’s good.
 
And that was to Devon, and in ways it was a, it was miserable holiday, the benevolent fund was trying to all they could to make it better, but it was only, I mean they were trying to fix what couldn’t be fixed. And so it was a horrible time, but it probably would’ve been even worse if we’d been just at the house. 
The organisation Cruse Bereavement Care offers specialist support for children and young people through their website, Hope Again (previously RD4U).

People also found support for their children through local children’s bereavement organisations. A national network of such organisations is accessible via The Childhood Bereavement Network.

When Alison’s children died her surviving child was two years old. Her GP put her in touch with Jeremiah’s Journey, a Plymouth based charity that offers support and information to children and their families when someone special has died.
 
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When Alison's other children died she asked Jeremiah's Journey for advice about what to tell her...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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I didn’t tell my youngest for a month that he had a baby sister because I was worried about her dying, and I didn’t want to have to explain again…
 
…Because I’d been very straight with my youngest.
 
How old was he at that stage?
 
Two and a half.
 
Quite tiny.
 
Yes. You know, we explained death, well, first of all we said they’d gone away and then we realised that was wrong.
 
And then we started saying, using the word they, they were dead. And we were told, you know, if you’re upset don’t go walking away, tell him why you’re upset. So I would say, you know, “Mummy’s upset because she misses the children”. . And he’d say, “Oh yes, and daddy.” And I’d, of course I’d have to say, “Yes, and daddy.”
 
What helped you prepare, who helped you with how you should tell your other child what had happened? Did you get any professional help?
 
The GP offered to book him in on Jeremiah’s Journey. And I said, “That’s great.” So they came out after a couple of weeks and had a quick chat with him and with me.
 
They’re childhood bereavement counsellors are they?
 
Yes.
 
And they just said, you know, “You do whatever’s right, that you feel is right.”
 
And I told them what I was doing. They said, “Yes that’s fine”. And slowly, bit by bit, he’s been getting more information. I never intend demonising his father, because it is his father, biological father.
 
And now he knows for example it was a fire … He doesn’t know that the rest of it.
 
He doesn’t know who did it, and he doesn’t know that it wasn’t just the fire.
 
And things like that. But, you know, it makes him aware and he says, you know, “Oh my brother and my sister and my daddy died in the fire.” He’s very matter of fact. And then he wants to go off and play with Scooby-Doo.
 
You know. But he rarely mentions them, but whenever he does I’ll ask him if he wants to talk about them.
 
And he doesn’t really want to. He’s not, he’s not, he just says, “Well I feel sad.”
 
And you say, “OK.” I mean, he was having some serious night terrors which concerned me. He was also coming back from school and saying, “Well I’m going to kill you.” And that was really, really hurting all of us.
 
But, call Jeremiah’s Journey, they were there the following day and they said, “Look, it’s perfectly natural his age, he’s going to hear it, you’re just more sensitive to it, don’t worry”. And, you know, he’s, he’s all right, he’s doing really, really well. As he keeps telling me, he’s very brave [laughs]. As he is [laughs].
 
Wonderful.
 
[Laughs] He is. Yeah. And he adores his little sister which…
 
That’s good.
 
…is good, yes.
When Dorothy’s son was killed in an explosion she looked for support for her teenage grandson. Counselling was not easy to find and his school offered no support. However, Dorothy found a child bereavement counsellor, based at the local hospice, who offered to see her grandson and who was a wonderful help to him. Dorothy made a donation to the hospice for her help.

Last reviewed October 2015.

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