Stigmatized Loss Can Be Even Harder to Share

We know from running our grief camps for youth that stigmatized loss can make grief even more complicated for a lot of young people. Common examples of stigmatized loss include suicide, substance abuse-related deaths, and murder. The ties that bind these types of loss are the shame, guilt, or anger those left behind might feel and the reluctance to reach out for or accept support in their grief. First and foremost, we want to remind you that grief is both universal and individual. There is no right way to grieve, but the way your person died is never a reason to ignore your own emotions and resist your experience of bereavement.

What can you tell your kids to support them with stigmatized loss?

You might be hesitant to share the details of the cause of death with your kids in order to protect them from traumatic information or to protect the legacy of the person who died. Here are some things to remember:

  • Honesty is always the best policy. Stigmatized death is often sudden and traumatic. Kids deserve the truth in order to fully process their grief.
  • Present the minimum amount of information needed in order to understand. Use clear and concise language.
  • Answer questions clearly. Know that is it okay to communicate when you don’t know the answer to a question.
  • Be prepared for a variety of emotional responses. You might be surprised if your child’s response is somewhat neutral.
  • Your child may not have questions immediately. Let them know the line of communication is open if questions come up later.
  • Talk about the person who died to your child if they are comfortable. This communicates it’s okay for them to talk about the person.
  • Understand that as they grow and develop, their understanding of the death is likely to change as well.

Helpful reminders to support your child’s grief

  • Chaotic and unsettling behavior is not uncommon in family systems where someone suffers from mental health or substance abuse issues. Everyone’s relationship to the person who died is different, so their responses to grief will be different.
  • Sadness isn’t the only appropriate response to death. Don’t avoid the complicated emotions that may arise during this time (i.e. relief because they aren’t suffering any longer, anger that they ended their own life).
  • Share happy memories if you have them. Listen and validate however your child chooses to express their grief.
  • Find opportunities to connect you and your child with other survivors.
  • Find purpose in your experience by giving back to the communities affected by these types of loss. Some national organizations are linked below.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional guidance for your family during this time. (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Resources for Survivors) (Victim Connect Resource Center) (GRASP: Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing)

Experience Camps is an award-winning national nonprofit that transforms the lives of grieving children through summer camp programs and innovative, year-round initiatives. Through compassion, connection, and play, we allow grieving children to embody a life full of hope and possibility. By amplifying their voices, we are creating a more grief-sensitive culture.