Helping Children Grieve and Cope After the Wrongful Death of a Loved One
A sudden death shatters lives—and a wrongful death case prolongs the emotional and financial agony long after the wrongful death occurs. But no aspect of a wrongful death case is more sad than watching how it affects children.
A natural or expected death due to illness is bad enough for children, but at least they have some semblance of mental preparation for it. A sudden, wrongful death comes out of nowhere, and it can leave children in a state of extreme, serious emotional shock.
While children will deal with grief in many different, complex ways, often over a long period of time, here are a few ways to help children through the grieving process after a wrongful death:
Give children space and room to grieve in their own way.
As a parent or relative, you may want to swoop in and “fix” the problem of your children’s grief—just like you’d fix any other problem for them. But children, like adults, will deal with grief differently. The stages of denial, anger, depression, and acceptance may take a long time and work themselves out in different ways. Sometimes, children will be silent and want time to themselves. Other times, they will want to talk about their feelings with you. Find a careful balance—don’t let children become too isolated but also don’t talk to them about their feelings unless they’re ready.
Be direct and clear about the wrongful death based on the child’s emotional maturity.
Because death is one of the most difficult topics to talk about (even for adults), it’s easy to hide or gloss over details when talking to children. Especially be careful when talking to children under 10 years old. If you say things such as “passed away” or “departed,” younger children may take those words literally and think that the loved one may come back. You may want to rely on self-help books that explain how to communicate to kids about death. For children over 10 who understand death, be clear and direct. Don’t sugarcoat what happened, but be sensitive about how you communicate it.
Get books and read online articles that give guidance on how to communicate about death to children.
You probably haven’t had to communicate about such a difficult thing to children before, so don’t be afraid to pick up a few books and read about the subject online. Any tips and pointers will not only help you with your grief, but will also teach you ways of communicating about death to children so that both of you can heal faster.
Establish a support system that includes people other than you.
After a wrongful death, you can’t do it all alone. Your children may need help dealing with a wrongful death that you aren’t able to give. Ask for help from family, friends, teachers, the school system, church, and support groups. The more that people who are involved in your children’s life are aware of a need for support, the more they will be likely to step up. A support group will especially help the healing process and give your children a chance to communicate their feelings in a safe setting.
Make sure children are kept in a safe environment with roughly the same routine as before.
Although it will feel like a normal life flies out the window after a wrongful death, it’s essential to maintain routines. Children feel more safe and secure when there is structure in their life. If a now deceased parent always waited for them to get off the bus or picked them up from school, make sure someone still waits for them or picks them up. Keep meals, bedtime, and morning routines as similar as possible, and also make sure your kids still maintain their social and after-school activity schedule.
Above all, know that you’re not alone—and make sure your children know they’re not alone. Dealing with the aftermath of a wrongful death can feel horribly isolating because so few other people have experienced something similar. Yet, support is out there—as long as you reach out for help.