Supporting people after sudden death including COVID-19

Supporting children straight away

A sudden death is devastating for children and their families. There is no time to prepare or say goodbye. In many cases the death is violent and horrific; such as when someone dies in a road crash, or takes their own life. In many cases the person who dies is a parent, brother or sister, leaving behind a bereft family.

Like adults, children affected by sudden death need loving support and information. It is often better to tell children things through honest discussion and involve them in decision making, rather than keep them in the dark and leave them excluded in an effort to protect them from the truth.

During the first few days and weeks after someone dies suddenly it is normal to suffer awful shock. Children and young people respond to shock in a similar way to adults, but they may express these emotions differently, which can be linked to both their developmental stage as well as their limited experience in dealing with traumatic situations. They will also grieve in different ways at different times.

They may cry, get angry, be quiet, be noisy, talk about the person who died, not talk about them, and play or behave as though nothing has happened. They may suddenly switch from one reaction to another. All these reactions and many more are normal responses in sudden bereavement.

The types of reactions children may experience include:

  • Difficulty comprehending death – depending on the age of the child, it can be hard for them to understand the finality of death and the fact they will never be able to see their loved one again.
  • Denial - it’s not uncommon for a child who is suddenly bereaved to wake in the morning and forget their loved one has died, only to have to remember and re-experience it all over again.
  • Shock and physical symptoms – given children’s limited life experience, they are unlikely to have experienced shock to this degree, which can make it even more frightening. Things like feeling cold and shivery, having no appetite, or feeling physically sick could be particularly distressing and feel very abnormal to a child, despite being a ‘normal’ response to shock.
  • Need for information – just as adults often want to know the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘whys’ surrounding a death, so do children. This is why clear and open discussions with children are so important following a sudden bereavement.

Amy and Tom books from Brake

Brake produces two children’s books and an accompanying guide for each featuring the characters Amy and Tom to help support children through sudden bereavement:

  • Someone has died in a road crash is aimed at children who have lost a loved one in a road crash
  • Someone has died suddenly is aimed at children who have experienced a sudden bereavement through any cause.

Both were developed to make sure children are not excluded from the grieving process by providing them with their own ‘support guide’. The books feature two main characters, Amy and Tom, who have been bereaved. By explaining their experiences, Amy and Tom can help bereaved children feel less alone. The books encourage discussion and honesty within families. They provide opportunities for adults to share information and children to share thoughts and feelings. The books suggest ways children and parents or carers can support each other. They give practical tips children can help themselves feel better and remember the person who has died.

Accompanying guides offer a step-by-step guide for adults, explaining the content of the children’s books and offering suggestions on supporting a grieving child.

Both Amy and Tom books are available from the Brake shop.