Bereavement and grief

Bereavement is the loss of someone through death, and grief is our response to loss. The grief that follows a young person’s death lasts a lifetime, and losing a child to cancer is one of the most devastating things that can happen to any family. When your child dies is a booklet from Redkite that uses the real experiences of bereaved parents to help other parents and carers following the death of their child. 

It is important to remember that grief is personal and unique – everybody grieves differently and that’s okay. There will be a number of different factors that will impact how a person grieves, but there is no right or wrong way to grieve. While there are some similarities in the patterns of grief, we are all different, and comparing our reactions to grief is rarely helpful.

There is no time frame for grief, and grief is not about ‘letting go’ or ‘moving on’.

“It’s common for there to be a wide range of reactions in bereavement ranging from difficult emotions, to physical responses, to changes in how people engage with others, and there can be questions around faith and spirituality. What is more, there can be misconceptions that people should be grieving in a ‘certain way’ and in a certain time limit.” – Redkite Social Worker

Often bereaved parents talk about feeling isolated and disconnected. Even among close friends, bereaved parents can feel that they aren’t understood. Returning to ‘normal’ presents a difficult challenge for many bereaved parents, who find instead that they reach a ‘new normal’, as things will never be the same without their child.

“Grief comes and goes at various levels with every passing day, but it is always there and it never leaves.  It has become an invisible companion in my daily life that may sit quietly on my shoulder tickling my ear, or roar wildly and violently from within the depths of my soul where I can physically feel it tearing away at my gut.  You can’t see it. No one can. But believe me, it is ever-present.” – Cindy, bereaved mother

Unsurprisingly, grief has a profound effect on many significant relationships – including between the two parents. Each parent will have their own individual response to the loss of their child, and this will also impact their relationship with one another. There are resources available, like this UK webpage from Care for the Family which offers information about how to maintain your relationship after your child has died.

Cancer Advisor has a range of resources for bereaved parents, including By My Side, a book of quotes from parents whose child has died from cancer. This book was developed by Redkite in partnership with Dr Leigh Donovan – a clinician, researcher and advocate in paediatric palliative care and loss, grief and bereavement.

“It does get better. It does get easier. In some ways it doesn’t, but I think you just live a different life”– Bereaved mother

Every sibling relationship is different, and how each person grieves the loss of their sibling is too. Bereaved siblings need time to express their feelings, and how they react will be largely influenced by their age, developmental stage, and a variety of other factors.

Younger children may not have the vocabulary to verbally describe their feelings about the death of their sibling. Resources like this one from Lionfighters encourages using play to allow children to express their emotions.

In older children and adolescents it is important to remember that grief is not always visible, and that everybody experiences and expresses grief differently. This resource from Paediatric Palliative Care gives a helpful about typical grief responses by age group, and how you can help siblings navigate their grief.

Grieving siblings can often feel incredibly isolated and alone. It can be hard to cope when they feel that those around them don’t understand what they are going through. There are camps that provide grief education and support to bereaved children and adolescents to help alleviate the isolation they are feeling at the loss of their sibline. Camp Magic provides grieving children with the ongoing support to develop strategies to move forward in their lives following a significant loss. It is a chance for grieving children to support each other and feel less alone.

 

“Even though they are gone, they are still with you and you can still think about them, and you don’t have to be sad. You can be happy and think about them at the same time” -Tyler, bereaved sibling

The BBC has created a short documentary on what grief is; why it is individual for all of us; and why you don’t have to “get over” it.
This video first featured in March 2018 as a part of their Like Minds story segment.


Just as there are many ways to grieve, there are many different ways to support a bereaved family.  Whether you are a friend, neighbour, teacher, or colleague, there will be ways you can help a bereaved family following the death of their child. No matter how well you know the family, it can still be hard to know what to say at such a difficult time. 

It can be helpful to get informed and look at some tips for supporting bereaved families, as well as looking at some personal experiences of bereavement to better understand what the family might be going through. Always remember that everyone experiences grief differently, and the most important thing is to listen compassionately and without judgement. This resource from HammondCare offers information and support for families and friends during bereavement.

Teachers have an important role to play after the loss of a student, or if they teach a student who has lost their sibling. Their support is very important for both the child’s family and the broader school community.

Paediatric Palliative Care offers information to support teachers whose student, or a student’s sibling, has died including:

  • sharing the news
  • common grief responses
  • memory-making and funerals
  • when to seek help

Cancer Advisor has a range of resources, including personal stories, that will help you get informed to better support a bereaved family.

Cancer Advisor has information about available support services. You can also contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Redkite have a telegroup for bereaved parents scheduled for December 2018; you can contact their support team for more information:

T: 1800 REDKITE (1800 733 548)

E: support@redkite.org.au

 

For some, their bereavement experience is deeply personal and private. For others, sharing their story can be a way to keep their child’s memory alive.

“This is medicine for us. By sharing Brooke’s story we keep her memory alive. She had to endure so much suffering in her short 15 years of life but never complained about it. Our children are so much stronger than we could ever imagine.” – Karl, bereaved father

You can read Karl, Olivia, and Brooke’s story here. If you would like to share your story or recommend a resource,  you can do so by registering with Cancer Advisor here.

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