Children who have a parent die suddenly — whether by accident, natural causes, or suicide — and children whose parent’s death is more anticipated — such as from a terminal disease, regardless of the cause of death — will all experience grief and loss.
Early reactions to the death may be greater for sudden death than anticipated death because the shock associated with sudden death is greater. However, research has shown that regardless of how a parent dies, over time the differences between how children react, and grieve, dissipates.
Without distinguishing between sudden death and anticipated death, research has found the following:
- On the night the children were told about the death of their parent, 91 percent cried.
- At six weeks following the death of a parent, adolescents reported crying and feeling sad, some sleep disturbances, and impaired school performance.
- Four months after the death, 33 percent reported frequent crying.
- After one year, only 13 percent cried regularly.
- Thirteen months following the death of a parent, most adolescents reported lower levels of distress.
While the death of a parent is consistently rated as one of the most stressful events that a child can experience, it is important to understand that the child’s age and experience will affect his or her ability to cope with the death. Counselling for the loss of a parent may help the child and surviving parent better understand how the loss may have long-term effects.
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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta