Navigating Grief: Supporting a Family through the Tragic Loss of a Child

by LukeAdmin

By Sarah Tolmie

Reader Question:
“The unthinkable has happened in our family. My sister lost her little boy in an accident on their property. He was only seven years old. He had younger and older siblings ranging from 2–19years of age. Our family is reeling in shock, devastation, and grief. How on earth do we support his parents and siblings. It feels like this pain will never end”.

Dearly Beloved

My heart is sad and heavy to hear this tragedy has happened to your family. The loss of a child is an unfathomable experience that defies natural order and offends our belief in the way life should be. We should not ever have to outlive our children.

Unfortunately, our western cultural practices around death and dying don’t offer a lot to support families and communities when a child dies – there is weird assumption and denial that it just doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, as your family now knows, it does.

Not only do I face this in my professional sphere working in my holistic deathcare practice, but I too have been adjacent to dear friends and family who have experienced infant and child loss. I can’t lie, it is a really hard task supporting a family in grief and many people find it too hard to do, and hard to sustain over a long time. I am sorry to say, it will be a long time. A lifetime.

What you are facing is a breadth and depth and diversity of grief. Everyone will experience it potentially very differently. From sibling to sibling, parent to parent, there will be differences with each age and personality. I am sure, beyond first shock and trauma, your family will be in great anguish and deep grief that will come in waves and cycles over a lifetime, and even carries forward a legacy into generations to come.

The essential thing to do is stay in the conversation. Stay present and notice the ever–changing landscape. This is an ongoing conversation. Kids and the family around them will continue to process a death and grieve as they continue to develop. Children ‘grow with grief’ – their understandings of death and concepts of grieving will evolve over time.

Sometimes time does not gentle the grief. As time stretches away from the death date, and as siblings grow and meet new milestones, as well as the passing of age milestones of their little brother he will never get to do, the grief can amplify and accentuate at certain times.

Children will follow the culture and examples around them. Create a climate within your family where you can discuss and express emotions and feelings. All emotions are normal. Sometimes grief can manifest in physical symptoms. Allow it to be normal to share ‘how’ your grieving is going. Continue to speak of your lovely nephew. Include the family in events and celebrations. Be ready to have honest conversations. Share information truthfully but age sensitively.

There is a healthy and natural threshold for the presentation of grief and trauma and then there can be times things could amplify more acutely. It is worth monitoring the grief behaviours – noting frequency, duration and intensity – and whether additional support might be needed.

Some changes to look out for include:

  • Inability to go to work or school
  • Difficulty in relationships
  • Disproportionate anger or irritability
  • Increased health issues
  • Sleep problems or nightmares
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Self–harm, suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation.

There is a profound soul harvest that can be cultivated out of the very worst of life’s unfairnesses. Out of the depths of grief, sorrow and pain, there can be a gold vein of creativity, new life and sweetness that survivors can mine if they stay in the invitation and hope of ‘life and love’. The preciousness of life and love is shown to us in its most fragile and vulnerable beauty. I hope all your family hold strong together and navigate this tender new landscape with compassion, love and togetherness.

All my love Sarah x

Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love: Sarah is a marriage therapist, life and love and relationship coach, end–of–life consultant, an independent and bespoke funeral director and holistic celebrant. She provides holistic care, mentoring, guidance, healing and transformation for individuals, couples and families at their most important times of life and love – at end–of–life, in love and relationship, and in ritual and celebration. Sarah has a series of online courses – “Creating a Miracle Marriage. Online Course for Couples” and “How do you feel? Using the intelligence of our emotions to heal and be whole in Life and Love and “Landscapes of Life and Love and Loss. Traversing the pathways of dying, death and grief”. To find out more, visit

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