Grieving through the holidays? You’re not alone.


(Photo: Getty Images)

Each year, millions struggle through the holidays missing loved ones–be they parents, extended family loss or even pet loss. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, more families this year will be grieving through the holidays than in years past.

Micki Burns, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and chief clinical officer at Judi’s House, said, “A big part of the news now are the number of children we see that are bereaved because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

160-thousand children this year have lost a caregiver to the COVID-19 virus. Already, 10-thousand Coloradans have lost a loved one to it.

“What sometimes gets lost is all of the lives that are affected by these deaths. This is a time when we’re heading into the holiday season, so we hope to shine a light on bereavement on grief and children,” Burns said.

Judi’s House has been working with grieving children and their loved ones for around 20 years, having created the “Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model”, designed to help children process the feelings and emotions surrounding the loss of a caregiver or others.

“One in 14 children by age 18 will lose a parent. This is a pre-pandemic number. With these additional death losses, we may see this number go up. All speculative but could be one in 12 or one in 13 by now,” Burns said.

Discussions of death and grief are difficult at any age, and with children receiving varying levels of support at home or none at all in some cases, some children themselves are placed at a higher risk for suicidal ideation, school difficulties, healthy relationship challenges, and beyond. Early mortality can even be a factor.

“We’re seeing a lot here at Judi’s House of families who are grieving. For many of the kids, their experience of loss is during the pandemic for the first time. They have no way of comparison here. These children haven’t had ceremonies that come traditionally with death and loss that help us heal,” Burns said.

While it may be difficult to host virtual versions of our grief traditions, Burns recommends doing the best that we can, despite the ongoing pandemic.

“Celebrations of life ceremonies can move digitally or online, and whoever is able to gather or are able to hug one another should,” Burns said. “We recommend really that what communities can do are to show up and allow that individual grieving to have support with no expectations. Just showing up, being available and able to listen is really important.”

When it comes to delivering the message to a child that a loved one has died, Burns has a few recommendations, given the difficulty of the task.

“Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and going into that conversation with confidence that you’re going to be able to be receptive to the child’s needs in that moment,” Burns said. “How we respond as adults in a child’s life is an important factor in how they’re going to heal and think about this moving forward.”

She also recommends utilizing clear language that strikes directly at the message you want to deliver.

“There’s a lot of euphemisms that make delivery easier such as ‘we lost them’ or ‘we’re not going to be able to get them back’. Give the child concrete words when you’re explaining the situation to them like ‘died’, ‘death’ or ‘die’,” Burns said.

Judi’s House has a full list of helpful resources on how to discuss and process grief, regardless of the season,  and much more available here on their website.

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