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Coping with bereavement during coronavirus

Bereavement is always hard. But dealing with the loss of a loved one is even more difficult during this time. Being cut off from our support networks can make the grieving process harder, so it's important to be there for your children and to be kind to yourself.

Talk to each other

It’s a natural reaction to want to hide your wee ones away from sadness and bad news, but talk to them and make sure they know you’re there for them.

It’s better they hear bad news from the person they trust the most, you, than from overhearing a phone conversation. This is just as true if a loved one is seriously ill or in hospital at the moment. Being clear with your children gives you the chance to listen to their worries and reassure them. They might understand what is happening better than you think.

Advice for giving them bad news

If the worst has happened and you and your children have lost someone, either from coronavirus or otherwise, telling your kids may feel like the most difficult thing in the world. It’s okay to feel this way, it is one of the hardest things to do as a parent/carer. Remember you are grieving too. But hiding the truth from them is rarely a good idea. There are things you can do to make the process a little easier.

Tip #1: You don’t have to tell them straight away

Absorb what has happened, and give yourself time beforehand.

Tip #2: Think about where you want to tell them

Do you want them to sit on the sofa with you? Would you rather tell them in the kitchen? It may sound silly, but picking the place you feel most comfortable together can help.

Tip #3: Have as much information as you can

They will have questions, so write down a basic description of what happened – when they went to hospital, how sick they were, when they passed away. You can refer back to this to keep the conversation on track.

Tip #4: It’s only natural for them to be worried about coronavirus and whether they or you might get it

Tip #5: Be clear about what has happened

It’s normal not to want to talk about death. But use clear language with your child. If they think the person will be coming back, they will just be more upset when they realise they aren’t.

Tip #6: Be prepared for any reaction

Your children may react in a way you don’t expect. They may be extremely upset, or they might not react at all and just want to go back to playing or watching their cartoons. Everyone’s reaction to bad news is different and they might not react the way you expect. No matter how this is impacting them the most important thing you can do is let them know that you’re there for them.

Tip #7: Let them play

You might feel it isn’t the time for fun and games, but playing is one of the best ways for children to come to terms with things and understand the world around them. So if you see them putting face masks on their teddies or building a hospital out of blocks, or going back to games they used to play when they were younger, this is just their way of coping with the situation.

Tip #8: Read a book together

Reading picture books together may help your child understand the situation. The Scottish Book Trust have a list of books that explore grief and loss in a gentle, sensitive way.

Remembering lost ones

Due to coronavirus there are limits on how many people can attend funerals. This is extremely difficult and can make it hard for people to say goodbye. If you aren’t able to attend a funeral for a loved one, it’s important that you take the time to focus on the happy memories you have of them and to say goodbye in your own way.

You could pull out old photos, or ask your children about their favourite memories of the person. You could even email friends and families to find out theirs. The most important thing to remember is that despite being apart from people, you’re not alone. Your other friends and families may be grieving as well and could do with your support as much as you could benefit from theirs.

If prayer and places of worship are important to you, particularly during this difficult period, you can visit a place of worship for private prayer.

Looking after yourself

You may be focused on your kid’s reaction and how they will cope. But how you cope is just as important. Cut yourself some slack. Things are hard at the moment, let alone for those suffering from a loss. Allow yourself to grieve. Talking to a friend may help.

Other support

We have other advice on looking after your mental wellbeing. And there is lots of help out there if you are finding it hard to cope. NHS Inform has resources to help you keep on top of your mental health, so does the SAMH website and the Childhood Bereavement Network has information on supporting bereaved children and young people. 

Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland offers bereavement support throughout Scotland. You can also call Breathing Space, Scotland’s national helpline for those experiencing depression or anxiety on 0800 83 85 87. Alternately you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time to talk to them about how you are feeling.