Death, grief and coronavirus

30 Mar 2020
How can we prepare ourselves to help our children and young people if someone they know becomes very ill or dies?

Coronavirus means that our normal world has changed almost beyond recognition. And one of the new realities is that it is very likely we may at some point know someone who dies from the illness. These deaths may feel sudden and be particularly traumatic for family and friends if they can't visit someone who is ill or attend a funeral.

Children and teens will have heard that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable. They may be worried or fearful for people they know. They may also worry about what happens if they or members of their family catch coronavirus.

So what can we think about now to help us support our kids if they are fearful or if someone they know does get very ill or die?

There are some great organisations offering information and practical help, many of which are updating their advice about coronavirus regularly.  For example:

  • Cruse Bereavement Care has a new section on their website called Coronavirus: dealing with bereavement and grief. This has articles for parents on helping children as well as lots of practical information on dealing with traumatic bereavement or ways to cope if you can’t come to a funeral. 
  • Many charities also have advice on their websites for how to tell children someone is dying, for example, this from Sue Ryder 
  • Child Bereavement UK has a useful download here  giving advice on supporting children who are fearful or bereaved because of coronavirus.
  • Winston’s Wish has a helpful article here talking about how to help children and young people if they are unable to attend a funeral.
  • The Diocese of Gloucester has a download here exploring how grief affects children at different ages, together with some resource recommendations, as well as ideas for remembering someone who has died. You can download a suggested service to use at home from this page if you are unable to go to the funeral.
  • The Church Army has produced a booklet for young people who have been bereaved through coronavirus, which includes a lot of factual information as well as ideas to help young people process their loss practically and spiritually. This is free to download.
  • At the end of this article, we have put a list of organisations that may be able to help, together with some books and resources recommended to us by children’s pastors.

But as Christians, we also want to coach our children spiritually through these things. There is no easy way to do this, and every family’s situation will be unique. So we have put together a toolbox of ideas that you might be able to draw on in the days and weeks ahead. Some may be helpful, some not. But our prayer is that you are able to help your children connect with God and find comfort with Him however you and they are feeling.

Help children and young people manage their fear

Coronavirus is frightening! So how can we help our children when they are scared?

For some ideas on how to do this, we have a post here that looks at five ways we can help our children and teens connect with and learn from God so that they are able to manage their fears hand in hand with him. 

Mental health charities also have guidance on how to manage this, for example this from Young Minds.

If you have a child or young person with additional needs we have some advice from Mark Arnold here about resources that may help them. 

Create windows

Creating windows is a simple tool we can use to help our children and young people see how our relationship with God works. Our children and young people may have to face situations they have never faced before. If they can see how we cope, it will give them ideas of things that might help them.

When you spot something that you think your child might need help with, you can deliberately create a window into how you cope. For example, if they are fearful about death, you might mention what helps you when you are afraid that grandma might get sick. Allow them to see you cry if you are grieving, or sit with you while you chat to God about what’s happening.

For more about creating windows see our 'key tool' post

Find out more with curious questions

You may be aware that your child is struggling, but they aren’t telling you what is wrong. Curious questions are simply a way to help you discover what is on their heart. They are open-ended questions or statements that help to start a conversation which you then follow with further questions or statements. Think of them as clues that you both follow to get to the heart of the matter. For example:

  • You seem to be feeling worried. Is that true?
  • What are you afraid might happen?
  • Does it feel like this or more like this?
  • What happened to make you feel that way?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • What would happen if … ?

Once you think you understand what is going on, you then summarise it for them in a way they will understand and affirm their feelings.

For more about curious questions, see chapter 25 of ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus’.

Give them a foundation of truth for them to hold on to when things get tough

You might want to start preparing your children for what might happen. Depending on their age and personality, you might want to consider:

Giving them access to facts and statistics about the virus in a way that is appropriate for them. For example, this video from Playmobil which explains the facts about coronavirus and how to stay safe, this 'Children's Guide to Coronavirus' from the UK Children's Commissioner or this guide from The Mix. Young people who thrive on facts might appreciate this data pack from Information is Beautiful.

Exploring the biblical truth about death and dying: for Christians, death is not the end of the story. It is the beginning of a wonderful eternity spent with Jesus, where everyone who has chosen to follow Jesus will be together. There’s a helpful article here from Growing Faith and another here from Minno, both of which set out some key biblical truths about death and heaven that might be useful. 

Read a little bit of how the Bible talks about heaven: for example, John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; Philippians 3:20; Revelation 21:4.

Remember the big picture of who God is. When we are in a crisis, or trouble strikes, it can be easy for us only to see the things that don’t make sense about God. For example, why didn’t He protect grandma, or is God in control? It can be helpful to take a step back and talk about the truths we know about God so we remember the big picture of who God is and why he can be trusted. Find a way to do this that works for your family. This could be by exploring Bible stories and seeing what each one teaches us about God, or researching the names of God, or sharing stories of things you've seen and heard of God doing.  

Let them know that it is normal to experience a huge range of emotions when someone dies and that no-one’s experience will be exactly like anyone else’s. It may be helpful for some children and young people to understand more about the impact of grief so they can recognise that their feelings and ups and downs are normal: see, for example, this post from Young Minds.

Answer their questions well

Children and young people might have some very big questions about coronavirus, death and God, and you might not have easy answers. However, Parenting for Faith has a simple four step process that will help you explore any question well. You can see more about it here, or just briefly the steps are:

  • Ask: what do you think? (to clarify the question and see what your child is thinking)
  • Ask: what do we know? (What truth do we know from the Bible, our experiences of God or other wise people, for example)
  • Ask: what do we NOT know? (Things we’re not sure about, including things the Bible isn’t clear on or which we just don’t know)
  • Share: how you answer the question yourself (to give your child a window into how they might decide to deal with it)

Connect them (and yourself) to God

Sometimes we can be so stressed or anxious that we forget to connect directly to God to receive what he is longing to give us. Parenting for Faith’s chat and catch tool  helps children connect directly with God in prayer without an adult’s help. If your child is struggling to connect with God, session 7 of the Parenting for Faith course describes a simple model of prayer ministry you can use at home with your children and teens. Some children may find that worshipping, walking, dancing, writing or drawing also help them connect.

Think ahead

It may feel surreal to be imagining such awful scenarios, but it might be helpful to think now about what might happen in the next few weeks or months so that you are prepared if the worst happens. Things to think about might include:

  • What ideas you might want to introduce them to now
  • How you would tell your children if a close relative became very ill
  • How you would explain why we can’t visit them in hospital or at home
  • How you would explain that someone has died
  • How you might mark a funeral if you weren’t able to be there
  • Who or what might be able to help you support your children and yourselves

Together at Home has created a free, downloadable resource to help children and their families say goodbye to someone they love which has some ideas that you might find useful.

Organisations that may be helpful

  • Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals both when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, and when a child is facing bereavement.
  • Winston's Wish supports bereaved children, their families and the professionals who support them.
  • Care for the Family provides a range of support services for people who have been bereaved.
  • The Good Grief Trust: an online bereavement support website, offering a range of information and signposting to other places of support.
  • SeeSaw was established in 2000 to meet the needs of bereaved children and young people in Oxfordshire and has a great range of downloadable resources for parents and professionals on their website
  • The Compassionate Friends is a charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other similarly bereaved family members.
  • Winston's Wish have a dedicated website for young people who have been bereaved which has advice as well as stories from young people about their experiences.
  • Cruse UK offers support, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies.
  • Hope Again is the youth website of Cruse UK.
  • Your local hospice may be able to offer support or signpost you to other organisations.
  • The Courage Foundation offers bereaved families therapy through providing days out, weekends away and annual passes to fun and exciting attractions around the country

Books and other resources

Simon Parry’ has written an album of songs specially written for children and families dealing with grief.

Messy Church has a book called 'Seriously Messy' which talks about bereavement and loss; some of the crafts and activities suggested might be helpful.

In an episode of the Parenting for Faith podcast, Rachel interviewed a minister about how he explains death to children, especially when you're unsure of their faith and family situation.

Listen now


Image acknowledgements