The loss of a relative to death is one of the most common and stressful life events a person can endure. A sample of urban inner city youth in the United States showed that slightly more than 51.9% had experienced the sudden unexpected death of a close relative or friend by age 21. Furthermore, the death of a parent has been reported to be one of the most disruptive life events a child can experience.
Childhood bereavement from parental death is associated with increased psychiatric problems in the first two years after that death. The concept of complicated grief appears to be partially independent of the depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder that can occur in a child’s life after such stressful experiences. Some feel that the symptoms can occur simultaneously.
Complicated grief in children and adolescents is defined as a constellation of symptoms. These include longing and searching for the deceased, or preoccupation with thoughts of the loved one. The child faces the future with purposelessness and futility. Association with others becomes numb and detached. The child has difficulty accepting the death. There is a lost sense of security and control, accompanied by anger and bitterness over the death.
Understanding the process involved in complicated grief can assist family members and other relatives to identify the children and adolescents who may be at increased risk. These children may benefit from therapy services to improve their level of functioning during this difficult time. It is important that the child have the required support to ensure that he or she processes the death of his or her relative successfully. See your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions.