Dr. Heidi Horsley interviews Dr. Betty Davies, a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Nursing. Also a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Davies wrote Shadows in the Sun: The Experiences of Sibling Bereavement in Childhood for her students, those who have lost a sibling themselves, or anyone in the bereavement field. A leader in the field of sibling bereavement, Dr. Davies says she thinks of this type of bereavement as happening in a larger context. Look at the bereaved child in the context of his school, family, community, culture, and the bigger community. “There are many levels,” she says.
Influenced by all these factors, how can you anticipate how children will react? There are four major responses: I hurt inside, I don’t understand, I don’t belong, and I’m not enough. These are the most common responses Dr. Davies has seen. “I hurt inside” is what we all feel when we grieve. However, the other three are key in children because they’re dependent upon the adults. “I don’t understand” Is when children can’t grasp what death is. It’s the responsibility of adults to teach them.
The Rocky Roads
“I don’t belong” happens when children are made to feel like they’re excluded regarding death or an illness. Finally, “I’m not enough” can happen when children think it should have been them who died. They can feel like their sibling was more important than them. Fortunately there many things adults can do to help children. Start by comforting them when they’re hurting and explaining when they’re not understanding. Include them, validate them, and reassure them.
Finding professional help can also be a great tool, especially if there are only grieving adults in the child’s life.