Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunty, uncle... you are welcome here. Losing a child or young person to cancer affects all the family. Everyone's grief is different but you are not alone. We hope that the information provided here will help you to take care of yourself and your family and honour the memory of your child - always.
Supporting younger children
It is not easy for parents to experience the pain of their other children when they have lost a child and are grieving themselves. Sometimes the whole situation is emotionally overwhelming. This infomation and resource page might help you support grieving younger siblings.
Keep your child involved
Children need to be recognised as mourners and will benefit from being involved in the rituals around the death (see arranging your child’s funeral) and also in memorial processes further along the family's grief journey.
Losing a sibling, what it means to a child....
Surviving siblings have lost a relationship, younger children have lost a playmate or a competitor. Older children have lost a teacher, role model, protector, friend and confidante.
When a younger sibling dies, surviving older siblings will often talking about losing the person that they took care of and nurtured.
All siblings have lost a person who they will have talked with, shared with and who helped to fill their lives. Many bereaved siblings talk about feeling sad and lonely and the family home being too quiet.
Anger is another common feeling, although children are often not sure who to be angry with and often express anger non-verbally. Guilt is common; even quite young children can feel guilty about the times that they were “not nice” to their brother or sister.
Communicating about grief with children and young people
- Be honest with the bereaved child or young person
- Use language that the child or young person can understand
- Avoid using metaphors for death which might confuse your child
- Every child and young person’s grief is unique
- Encourage the child or young person to talk about the death and how they feel
- Children and young people may “revisit” the death and review their feelings about the bereavement as they develop
Make sure your child’s situation is understood within the community
Make sure that your child’s school is aware of your family bereavement. Grief can cause anyone to change their behaviour, including children. Younger children are more likely to ‘act out’ their feelings rather than express them verbally and this can sometime be misinterpreted as ‘problem behaviour’ rather than a completely natural reaction to loss of a loved one. Most schools are very understanding and sympathetic when they are made aware of a family’s circumstances. They may be able to help you access support services for your child and help their classroom peers to understand what your child is going through so keep the lines of communication open with school staff.
Helping your child deal with their grief
There are a growing number of counsellors and psychologists who specialise in childhood bereavement and can provide you with useful strategies to support your child. We cannot recommend any here but do consult your GP about a referral if you are worried about your child coping with their grief.
There are some simple ways that you can help your child to deal with their grief. Doing activities with your child will help bond you together in your grief and can open lines of communication for children. Also, positive activity helps any person to ‘work through’ and process their feelings.
Create a memory box
Buy or decorate any box and fill it with small special items of memorabilia which remind your child of their brother or sister- things they have made or favourite toys, photos that remind them of special times together. It's good if the box is not too big so that it is transportable. This collection can be added to when your child creates other items their at special times of the year (Christmas and Birthdays etc) in memory of their deceased sibling. Your children can keep the box in an accessible place, (e.g. under their bed) and bring it out when they need a ‘special time’ thinking about their brother or sister.
Make a memorial garden
Gardening can be a very healing activity as is making a memorial garden. You can do this in your garden at home or, if you don’t have a garden or are short of space buy a planting tub to fill. You can add real or artificial plants and flowers, little toys and pictures - anything that will fit in there. If you use real plants, buy those which are hardy. Bulbs are a good idea as they provide a lovely suprise each springtime.
Music and the Arts...
Music ,drawing, writing and painting in all its forms is nearly always relaxing and therapeutic for children and can help them to express their emotions.
Sharing with other children
Also look at whether there are any children’s bereavement groups available in your area. Your child can really benefit from knowing that they are not alone with their feelings. They may not choose to talk directly about their loss to peers in the same situation but being with others who have experienced losses can help.
Adolescents can find the loss of a sibling particularly difficult to deal with as they are at a life stage which brings many changes. It may help parents to read the web page when a brother or sister dies of cancer which suggests some coping strategies for young people that you can encourage.
Grieving is a lifelong process
The acute painfulness of early grief tends to pass with time and it is important to reassure your child of this. However, grieving the loss of a loved one is usually a life-long process of adaptation for children and young people just as it is for older adults. The death of a sibling will have different meanings as different life stages are reached or events take place. Keep an open mind as they might need extra help, care and consideration as they grow into each stage.
The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement provides excellent online resource for parents and professionals.
Supporting grieving children:
Supporting grieving adolescents:
Also see its online resource catalogue:
Books and articles
Ashfield, J. (2004). Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family: A Resource Book for Good Mental Health. Adelaide: Peacock Publications.
Comment: This is a warm, friendly, down-to earth and well written book with lots of information and tools which will be helpful to any family:
Jaffe, S. E. (2003). For the Grieving Child: An Activities Manual. 2008: Robbie Dean Press.
Comment: A little gem of a book of grief activities for bereaved younger children
Gleitzman, M. (1989). Two Weeks with The Queen: Blackie.
Comment: Very moving children’s book about a boy who goes to England for two weeks whilst his brother is dying of cancer.
Silverman, P. R. (2000). Never Too Young to Know. New York: Oxford University Press.
Comment: A thorough, beautifully written and informative book looking at the impact of death in children’s lives