The death of an active duty service person usually means the person was young, and so there are often children involved. Many of these children are very young – many are babies. It should not be assumed that young children and babies don’t grieve – in their own way they do.
Every child is unique, and this is uncharted territory for both you and them. There are no rules, but you know your children. Expressions of grief will vary according to age.
Do bereaved Military children have different or additional needs to help them through the grieving process? Please click here for our leaflet: Supporting bereaved children and young people in military families.
As children grow up so they may revisit their grief and grieve in a way that is age appropriate. It is quite common for children who lost their father when very young to grieve as an adult, when for instance they start driving and see other dads taking their children out for practice, when they are getting married and at other significant times.
The Widows' Association has written an article reflecting on a child's bereavement.
Every child is unique and this is uncharted territory for both you and them. There are no rules , but you know your children. Expressions of grief will vary according to age.
Please click to see more about military specific factors that might affect the grieving process for bereaved service children and young people.
How can parents and carers help?
Experiencing the death of someone you love is like being parachuted into a strange land where you have no map and don’t know the language. Navigating your own way – let alone helping a child find a way – through this land of pain and loss is very hard. Non of us get it right all the time – just be honest, loving and trust your instincts.
- Children, even babies pick up on an atmosphere of sadness around them. At a time of extreme change and unhappiness the child needs the comfort of the principle carer, and the security of their routine. Sadly these are the things that are so hard to achieve. At a time when the surviving parent is at their lowest ebb, it is hard to be supportive and acknowledge the needs of the children, especially when there are children of different ages and their way of grieving will be very different, their way of showing it very different and their needs may be very different . Is there a close friend or relative that can help?
- We all want to protect our children. Where the death is an operational death there is likely to be media coverage and this media intrusion may continue for many years. It is not only your TV that will be broadcasting it so trying to shield your child from the media coverage may be counter productive. Their friends will have seen it and it is better to hear everything from you or with you by their side, than a distorted version from friends. Do try to answer all their questions in a simple, but truthful way. Children have vivid imaginations and can pick up on what you are trying to hold back. Don’t hold back relevant information, but don’t overburden them either – you know what their level of comprehension is and be guided by them..
- Where the death occurred far from home it is hard for them to grasp the reality of it. Service life normally means detachments and so having dad/mum away is perfectly routine. This makes it harder to grasp the reality that they are not coming home.
- A military funeral can be quite an ordeal. You know your child, but the perceived wisdom is that they probably should go to the funeral and if there is, one the repatriation ceremony. You may think they are too young to understand but it may be a comfort to them later on knowing they had been present. If appropriate and they want to do so, let them see the body and say goodbye. Some children find it helpful to write a letter or draw a picture and put this in the coffin.
- If you are living in service accommodation children may be worried about losing their home, moving house, changing school, losing friends. When will this happen? They may fear they will simply come home from school and be told they are moving that weekend etc. Where possible anticipate these fears and assure them that you will keep them informed of all your plans, and that nothing is going to happen straight away.
- In time one’s memories are a great comfort – but what about the child who is too young to have memories? . Because of the age profile, there is often a pregnant widow/partner, babies or toddlers involved, and so many children grow up never knowing their father. It is easy to assume this may mean they are immune to grief, but it is not uncommon for them to grieve for what they have never had – this is especially true when there are older siblings involved. Having photos of them at the funeral, repatriation etc may in time be comfort to them.
Meeting other bereaved families can help. By contacting the one of the service widows associations you will be able to meet others who might have shared a similar experience.
See also our section on Children and Young People.
We also have a special website for bereaved children and young people Hope Again.