For this blog I wished to write about the subject of sibling grief after perinatal loss. Perinatal loss is the loss of a child before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth. Research on the subject tends to focus more on the parent’s grief, and rarely on the grief of the other children in the family. According to O’Leary and Gaziano (2011), parents who have went through perinatal loss are often struggling to cope with the pain that comes with the experience, which may make it very difficult for them to acknowledge and support other children in the family with processing their own loss.
Naturally, the level of understanding of the child varies according to their development, and this makes a difference in what the child might need in such circumstances. However, children, even from a young age, can sense that something has changed in the family. For instance, a child can notice that their parents may be acting different, or for example, that the grandparents or other relatives are more present at the family home to help with parents. Thus, while a young child might not necessarily understand what is happening in the family, they might still pick up on the changes in the family life, emotions and routines.
Similar to adults, children process grief in unique ways, and there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. According to Guidry, Simpson, Test, and Bloomfield (2013), many times, grieving children might play or have fun, and adults might interpret this playfulness as the child being unaffected by the loss. However, this might not always be accurate, as bereaved children sometimes integrate grief within their day to day tasks, such as through play. While a child may appear as though they have moved beyond the loss, the child may still in fact, be grieving.
O’Leary and Gaziano (2011) discuss the value of helping children process loss on two different levels. One level is that of providing the child an understanding that is age appropriate; thus giving them information according to what they can understand so that they can know why changes happened in their family, or why their routine is different, or why their parents are sad. The second level is that of helping the child learn about feelings, where the parents can help the child learn about what feelings are triggered with change or grief, and to be supported through them.
Rebecca Cassar is a Family Therapist practicing the Systemic Approach. She specializes in offering therapy to families, couples and individuals who are experiencing distress in their relationships. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.