A Sudden Death Is An Unanticipated Death

While sudden deaths have very different causes, what unites them all is that they are unexpected and consequently unanticipated. The people bereaved by these deaths have no time to prepare for their loss, or say goodbye. Their bereavement consequently comes as a shock; a bolt from the blue.

A Sudden Death Rips Apart People’s Lives

By their very definition, sudden deaths are more likely to occur among children, young people, and healthy mid-life adults. Therefore, sudden deaths often mean people’s lives are ripped apart by the death of somebody very significant, close and central to their life, such as a life partner, father, son, brother, mother, daughter or sister.

People Bereaved By Sudden Death Often Suffer Severely

Everyone is different, and grief is a very individual experience. How people respond to a loved one dying suddenly may depend on many factors unique to them, including their personalities, what has happened in their life previously, and their personal situation now.

However, it is clear that people bereaved suddenly often suffer very much. They often have acute and lengthy support needs.

Suddenly bereaved children, as well as suddenly bereaved adults, share these needs. Often the needs of bereaved children are the same as those of bereaved adults.

Challenging Grief

Many people bereaved suddenly are often described as suffering from ‘complicated grief’ or ‘traumatic grief’. Rather than going through a smooth process of initial sadness and then coming to terms with the death and moving forwards happily, people bereaved suddenly may have a range of powerful reactions to their bereavement, resulting from the shock of their bereavement and the devastation it has caused to their lives. These reactions may be different at different times and over a long time.

Some of these reactions may be frightening and mentally or physically painful and debilitating, affecting people’s ability to live their lives constructively in many ways.

Massively Changed Lives

As well as having to cope with the traumatic nature of their bereavement and its effect on them, suddenly bereaved people often have their day to day lives irrevocably altered, due to, for example, the death of a life partner who provided financial support, or the death a child who required daily care.

As well as working to recover emotionally, suddenly bereaved people often have to rebuild their lives and make a new plan for the future, as the plan they had before the death has been destroyed. It can be extremely hard to plan a new direction in life when suffering the after-shocks of a sudden death.

In addition, suddenly bereaved people may suffer their bereavement at a time when they are already dealing with a major life challenge; for example domestic abuse, job loss, marriage break up, another bereavement, or some other calamity.

Support And Recovery

It is possible to recover following a sudden bereavement and lead a full and happy life again. However, people bereaved suddenly often need sensitive and significant support to help them recover fully, and as soon as possible.

People who have always experienced good relationships, and who have no experience of being suddenly bereaved, may find it challenging to make sense of the world any more, when someone special dies suddenly. They have no experience of such things happening, so the shock can be enormous.

Every Sudden Death Is Unique And Can Be Potentially Traumatising

Every sudden death is different and can potentially traumatise. Here are some reasons why:

  • Witnessing: A death may be witnessed by the bereaved person, and the bereaved person may have been powerless to prevent the death; for example, a father forced to watch his child drown but unable to rescue his child because of strong waves.
  • Involvement: A bereaved person may have been involved in the event that caused the death; for example, a road crash. In such circumstances, the bereaved person may also be recovering from injuries, or caring for another injured family member. The bereaved person in some circumstances may have even caused the death of their loved one; for example by driving dangerously.
  • Not there: Alternatively, a bereaved person may not have been at the scene of the death. They may be told about the death second hand; for example, by a police officer telling them their loved one has taken their own life. Our imaginations regarding what happened may be vivid and cause great distress.
  • More than one death: A bereaved person may have suffered multiple bereavements at once. This is also not uncommon following a road crash, for example. Or may have suffered one sudden bereavement shortly after another sudden bereavement, for example due to illness.
  • A lingering death: A bereaved person may have suffered the sudden serious injury of a loved one, which then led to a lingering death in hospital, where there was intermittent hope of recovery and then death. This can, in itself, be a drawn-out traumatising experience if combined with medical interventions of a distressing nature.
  • A violent death: Another common defining factor of many sudden deaths is that the death was violent, or may have involved extensive pain, or fear, or all three.

Coping With The Shock

As well as feeling very sad, it is also common to suffer shock.

People in shock react in unpredictable ways, often at different times, in ways unfamiliar to them.

People may feel they cannot breathe properly, or go quiet, or scream, or moan. People may shake, or struggle to move. People may feel all kinds of heightened emotions.

Shock reactions can feel powerful, overwhelming, frightening. Understanding reactions are due to shock can help people cope.


It is easy to make mistakes when in shock. It is important to stay somewhere safe, warm, keep hydrated (with water or warm drinks) and have people around you.

It is important not to drive, nor do anything else that requires concentration and carries risk.

I Can’t Believe It Has Happened

Some people feel bewilderment. It is hard to believe a death has happened. It is common to talk about a person as if they are still alive, or to feel that they may come back at any moment.

At Night

It can be particularly hard to bear at night, when tired, or if alone, or if people around you are sleeping.

In The Morning

It is common to dream that someone is still alive. This can be upsetting on waking and realising again that they are not.

This realisation can feel like another shock.

It may seem so unfair – ‘why has this happened to me?’ is a common thought.

I Can’t Do Anything, Can’t Concentrate, Nor Talk Well

It can feel hard to get on with normal tasks. Even simple things, such as getting dressed, or doing the washing up.

It is common to feel unable to concentrate, and to struggle to remember things.

Some people find it hard to speak well. Some people stutter or muddle up words.

This may feel frustrating and upsetting, particularly if there is something you need to do.

Be Kind To Yourself

Only do one thing at once. Give yourself more time than normal to do things.

People will usually be glad to help.

Keep a list of what needs doing, including what could be done by someone else. For example, going to the shops. If you need assistance finding help with everyday tasks, talk to your Sudden case worker.

I Feel Tense Or Defensive

It is common to feel wound up. Some bereaved people feel defensive or guarded.

It can feel too hard to open up and talk about what you may be going through, particularly if you are worried people might ask questions or say things that may feel invasive, or might upset you in other ways.

Small challenges, previously taken in your stride, may easily upset you far more than normal.

Feeling tense and defensive can be exhausting.

Crying may help many people. It can be better to express feelings than to hold back the tears.

If Only…

‘If only…’ is a common and particularly painful thought process.

Some people bereaved suddenly or too soon wish they had told a person who died how much they love them, or showed them more love.

Some people find they mull over the circumstances leading up to a death repeatedly, thinking what could have been done differently to stop it happening.

Thoughts like these can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt or shame that can be hard to explain to others, particularly if people know there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Physical Reactions And Needs

Many people bereaved suddenly, or too soon, suffer physical reactions that can be distressing.

People may also struggle to look after basic, physical needs, such as getting enough sleep, food, staying hydrated, and getting gentle, daily exercise.

The advice in this section may seem obvious. However, at a time of bereavement, it can be much harder, and easy to forget, to look after ourselves in important ways.

Staying Hydrated And Eating

Staying hydrated (with soft drinks) and eating is important. Some people struggle to remember to drink and eat enough.

Try comforting drinks, for example tea, hot chocolate or your favourite fruit juice. Try small snacks that are nutritional, and you like. For example, cheese, biscuits, toast with your favourite spread, and fruit.

If you are cooking for yourself, or someone is cooking for you who doesn’t normally cook, try things that are nutritional but easy to prepare. For example, baked beans or scrambled eggs.

Ask neighbours for help. Many people love to cook for people in need. Tell people what you like to eat.

It may help to think what you would want to eat if you were ill. What are your favourite comfort foods? What is easy to swallow and digest?

Sleep, Dreams And Nightmares

It is common to have difficulty going to sleep, or have difficulty staying asleep.

Some people have vivid dreams or nightmares, due to their thoughts being in overdrive. This may be followed by distressing feelings when you wake up, particularly if you wake up with a jolt in the night.

Lack of sleep and nightmares can lead to physical exhaustion.

Avoid caffeinated drinks, particularly after lunchtime. Gentle exercise, if you are able, can also help sleep.

If you are awake in the night and in distress, breathing exercises can help.


Some people find that they have a level of distress that causes them to panic, feel out of control, or struggle to breathe in a normal way.

If you are prone to panic attacks at this time, it is important to stay somewhere safe, and with people who understand and help you.

Breathing exercises can be calming.

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.
  • Hold your breath for a count of five.
  • Breathe out slowly and deeply through your mouth.
  • Hold your breath for a count of five.
  • Repeat for a few minutes.

Time For You

Take time for therapeutic, restful relaxation. This could be having a hot shower to ease the tension, spending time with family members or a pet, playing music or a computer game you love, or just resting your eyes for a while.

Do whatever is relaxing for you.

On some days you may have energy for a gentle hobby you enjoy – but remember you do not have to be busy all the time.

Simply sitting somewhere peaceful may help.

Take time for yourself, regularly. Do things you find restful, frequently.

If you have responsibilities for others, such as children or other dependents, arrange some care for them, for some of the time, so you can look after your own needs.

Feelings Of Loneliness

Plans for the future are often ruined when someone we love dies suddenly or too soon. It is also common to feel lonely, or to worry about being alone. You may feel this way if you live alone or with other people.

The future may feel dark, or pointless. Your deep sadness may mean it is hard to imagine being happy again.

It is common to have feelings of anxiety about what might come next – to worry about someone else dying, or something else happening that is negative, or frightening.

Many people find it helps to know that these feelings are normal at this time. Many people bereaved suddenly have gone on to feel very differently, and lead happy lives, while still remembering with sorrow what happened.

Avoid making big decisions. It is easy to make wrong decisions, or decisions you later regret, at this time.

Feelings Towards Others – If People Say The Wrong Thing

Sometimes well-meaning people might say things that may feel hurtful, such as ‘you’ll get over it’.

They may talk about their own bereavements, or someone else’s bereavement, when you do not want to listen to someone else’s story. They may talk about how they felt when bereaved, when you feel very differently. These things may feel upsetting, particularly if people are talking about a bereavement that you consider was less distressing.

Reading the pages on this website may help people to be thoughtful of your needs.

If you don’t feel able to share this information with others, you may find it easiest, at this time, to make a gentle excuse to leave a conversation that is upsetting you and seek support elsewhere.

Feelings Towards Others – If People Ignore You

Some bereaved people experience being avoided by people they know. This can happen because people are afraid they might say the wrong thing, or don’t know how they can help. Or they might not know you have been bereaved.

Some people may choose to give their attention to other people around you affected by the same bereavement and ignore you. This can feel painful – as though people are not recognising the effect of the bereavement on you, or that you are being rejected.

I Feel Angry Or Blame Someone For Something

Some bereaved people have feelings of anger or blame. Some people feel this way about a person who has died – for creating such a big hole in other people’s lives. Some people feel this way about someone who may have caused a death, or who perhaps could have done something to prevent a death.

For people who do not normally feel angry, or blame others, or feel defensive, these thoughts may feel particularly distressing. It may help to share them confidentially.

I Can’t Face The World Yet

Some bereaved people find they struggle to face the world again. They don’t want to go to places where they might come into contact with others. They don’t want to talk to people they don’t know, or even some people they do know.

It is normal to worry that it will all be too hard to talk to people. It is also common to feel nervous, or jumpy, and find loud noises distressing. It may feel easier to stay at home.

It is normal, and okay at this time, to avoid situations that could become overwhelming. It is sensible to protect yourself at this time.

It is also important to have time outside, if you can, and have time with others you trust.

Small steps can help. For example, going for a gentle walk with someone you know.

The Funeral

If You Cannot Afford To Pay For A Funeral

Depending on the situation, the cost of this basic funeral can be paid by the state government’s Area Health Service, who will usually contact next of kin about any funeral arrangements.

The Bereavement Assistance Program is administered by the Department of Communities.

Program Eligibility Criteria

  • A deceased person’s partner and/or adult children will be income and assets tested to determine if they have sufficient means to fund or borrow for the funeral.
  • If the deceased person’s family members have a full-time income, then assistance will generally be denied on the grounds that they have sufficient means to pay for the funeral.
  • Where a family is eligible for a Centrelink bereavement package, they will usually be asked to make a contribution of approximately 50%.
  • Each application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and there is not an automatic entitlement based on eligibility for Centrelink benefits.

When the family of a deceased person successfully applies to the Bereavement Assistance Program, they will be expected to make some contribution towards the funeral – even if it is just a small amount.

See our Funeral Fact Sheet

Media Interest

Some deaths attract the attention of newspaper, TV and radio reporters, who want to find out what happened and why. They may be more likely to contact you if the death was unusual or involved a crime (see Criminal investigations). You may even want to contact a journalist yourself.

The media can publish names and background information on people, unless barred by a judge from doing so.

Stories can be published and broadcast without speaking to relatives or friends. Journalists may, however, want to talk to you and will call you, knock on your door or approach you for comment.

You may be asked for photographs or home video of the person who died, and to be interviewed and photographed yourself.

Talking To Journalists

Bereaved people can feel very differently about media interest in a death. Some are grateful for it, others dislike it, or are even disappointed that there isn’t more media coverage. It is up to you if you talk to journalists or not.

Talking to journalists can help raise awareness of issues surrounding a death, or help find witnesses, if the death was due to an incident.

It is important not to make comments that could affect a police investigation, a criminal trial or a compensation claim, where someone has been accused of causing a death.

Criminal Investigations

If there is any possibility that someone else caused a death and might have committed a criminal offence, there is usually a police investigation.

The purpose of a police investigation is to collect evidence. Evidence is then usually considered by a separate prosecuting authority, which decides whether or not there is enough evidence to bring a successful prosecution of one or more people, using criminal law.

If the prosecuting authority thinks there is enough evidence, then one or more people will be charged with a criminal offence.

Criminal Court Cases

If someone pleads guilty they will usually face sentencing in a court. If they plead not guilty they will usually face a trial first.

Criminal court cases involve lawyers acting on behalf of the prosecuting authority, and lawyers acting on behalf of the person accused of any offence, who is often called the ‘defendant’.

The lawyers acting on behalf of the prosecuting authority are generally not acting on behalf of you; they act on behalf of the laws of your country.

Many people bereaved by sudden death often want to understand what is happening during criminal prosecutions and court cases, and you have a right to information and support.

If you are not sure how to obtain information and support during a criminal prosecution or court case, you should talk to the police or the prosecuting authority.

If someone is found guilty and sentenced, they often have the right to appeal against the verdict or the sentence. This may mean more time in court.

Bringing A Private Prosecution

It is sometimes possible for a member of the public, rather than a prosecuting authority, to prosecute another person for a criminal offence. This is called a private prosecution.

This process is very costly and you cannot claim legal aid.

Claiming Compensation

In some circumstances, it is possible for certain suddenly-bereaved people to claim compensation, if there is some degree of negligence. This means someone, or more than one person, was partially or entirely to blame for causing a death. Negligence can sometimes be proven, for example, after a death on the road, in a workplace, or in a hospital.

It is not greedy to claim compensation. It is your legal right to compensation if someone was negligent. Any money paid to you can help you cover many costs that bereaved people often suffer in their lives, such as the loss of income from someone who died, or needing to pay other people for help that a person who died provided at no cost (such as child care).

The awarding of compensation is decided through a legal process. Usually the liable person’s insurance company pays (for example, their motor insurer if it was a road death, or liability insurer if it was a death in the workplace).

If you think someone was partly or entirely responsible, it is important to ask a specialist lawyer if it is possible to pursue a claim. It is usually free to consult a lawyer, with expertise in handling compensation claims, to find out if you may have a claim.

To pursue a claim for compensation from someone it is not always essential for that person to have also been found guilty of a crime in connection with the death. Compensation claims are pursued through civil law, which is different to criminal law.

It is important to hire an appropriately qualified and experienced lawyer.

There may be a variety of ways to pay a lawyer; you do not necessarily need the funds in advance to hire a lawyer.

You may want to consult several lawyers, for free, in order to find the best one for you, with the best level of specialism relevant to the case.

Make Sure The Lawyer You Hire

  • has a track record of working successfully on very similar cases to yours,
  • has a financial agreement with you that you can understand and that is fair; and won’t result in you giving them an unreasonably large amount of any compensation you are granted,
  • is a member of a reputable association for example The Australian Lawyers Alliance.

What Grieving Parents Need

Grieving parents need to make time to take care of themselves and get support. This can be difficult when you have children at home. One of the biggest challenge can be finding alone time to process each individual loss.

For a mum or dad who is grieving, we recommend that they take the steps to tend to their own grief. You can’t pour into someone’s cup until you fill your own cup.

Of course, just as there is no one right way to grieve, there isn’t one direct route to healing.

Experts share some tips on how to parent through the pain.

7 Tips For Parenting Through Loss And Heartbreak

1. Share grief with your child in age-appropriate ways

Don’t work to shield children from the effects of grief, they need to see the full arc of your emotions.

Letting your children see you grieve may also help them consider and attend to their own emotions.

2. Externalize your grief

Despite the type of grief, we have to release it. What we know from research and experience is that in order for grief to be healed, it has to be externalized.

You cannot just hold it in and let time pass. Time is an important element, but it is not the only element.

When you need to cry, go with it. Stop holding back tears, thoughts and pain for alone time. Let it go, and go with it when it comes on.

3. Leave it on page

Journaling is a wonderful way of externalizing the pain and emotions that come when we feel grief.

Journaling is also an activity that can be done as part of a bedtime routine with kids or in your own time after you put the kids to sleep for the night.

4. Take care of your mind

Coping with grief impacts not only your emotions but your thoughts.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation recommends meditation and practicing mindfulness techniques to keep you in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or thinking about the past.

5. Stay active

Our bodies need release too. We keep grief and trauma in our body. Keeping active releases the tension we carry, and it also releases endorphins so that we can feel better.

Any physical activity helps whether you take a walk during your lunch hour or ride bikes with your child.

6. Practice self-care

It’s important to continue functioning in your family, but you have to take care of yourself, it is always important to get rest, eat well and drink enough water, but this is especially true when grieving.

7. Seek support

There are grief support groups for all types of loss that you can even attend online.

Make sure you reach out to people around you who are willing to help. This may look like a friend coming and sitting with the kids so you can attend an in-person support group or someone providing a meal and child care once a month so that you and your partner can go out and talk by yourselves.

Some Wise Words

The following information has been developed with help from bereaved parents who have experienced the death of their child.

Returning to work after the death of your child can be daunting

The amount of annual leave given or taken after a bereavement varies enormously. No matter how much time you have had, you will still be grieving for your baby or child and the decision regarding your return to work can be difficult. It may be that for financial reasons, you must return to work sooner than you would like.

If you do have a choice, you may find yourself postponing your return, as you may be anxious about how you will manage both practically and emotionally.

On the other hand, for some people returning to work is a positive step, providing some routine and structure in their day and time in an environment not directly connected with their child.

Work can also provide some stability in a world that can feel very ‘out of control’.

Some planning can help ease the transition back into work

It is important to make sure that your employer knows what has happened. You only need to give as much information as you are comfortable with – the circumstances around the death of your child may feel very personal and may not be something you want to be discussed in detail at work.

Having one key person as the main point of contact can help you to retain control over what information is given, and can avoid you having to speak to too many individuals, if this is not something you feel like doing. That person can then keep others updated as necessary on funeral arrangements, how you are, and so on.

Before your return to work

Before your actual return to work it can be helpful to talk to your line manager or HR contact and think about whether it might be possible to agree a gradual return to work or initially taking on work that might be less stressful.

It may also be helpful to arrange to go in just for a short time to meet colleagues – perhaps for coffee or lunch – as a way to overcome the hurdle of seeing lots of people on your first day back after your child has died.

This might make your actual return to work a little easier.

When you return to work

When you do return to work, it is important to find ways of supporting yourself. You may be anxious about how you will feel, whether you can trust yourself to ‘hold it together’, and whether you might ‘break down’ in front of colleagues. This can happen, of course, but you can ease the pressure on yourself by letting people know what has happened. The thought of everyone expressing how sorry they are may feel daunting, as you can’t be sure how you might react. Perhaps even worse is the thought that no one will acknowledge what has happened. In a 2018 survey by Sands of parents whose child had died, 2 in 5 parents said that no one talked to them about the loss when they returned to work.

Colleagues may be unsure how to act around you and may avoid you out of fear of saying something inappropriate and causing you more upset. They may also assume and worry that mentioning what has happened will be a painful reminder of something you would rather forget – you need to let them know if you don’t mind talking about your child or what has happened.

It may be that you decide you would rather not talk about things at work, but it may be equally important that people understand that just because you’re not mentioning what’s happened this doesn’t mean you’re not hurting or that you’re ‘over it’. It is important to remember that you can have control over how much or how little you choose to say, and that you don’t have to go into detail if you don’t want to.

Thanking someone for their concern but finding a way to say that you don’t feel like talking just now will allow you to take things at your own pace. People will tend to take their lead from you.

Concentration and motivation are known to suffer during bereavement and you may feel concerned as to how your grief will affect your work. Particularly in the early days of grief, you may find yourself both mentally and physically exhausted. Don’t expect that you’ll immediately be able to perform at your usual capacity. Grief can make it hard to concentrate on the job in hand and it is not at all unusual to find your mind drifting to everything that has happened. Whether you left work suddenly, or you have been away from work for some time, either on maternity leave or looking after a sick child at home, you may well feel overwhelmed by how much you have missed or need to catch up on.

Try to take on manageable, short-term tasks: big projects can seem daunting. Work can be a useful distraction from grieving, but you are unlikely to be able to switch off completely. Give yourself short breaks in the day to go for walks and have moments of peace, or time for a few tears if you need to.

Try to be realistic about what you can manage

Communicating with your line manager so you both have a clear picture of what is expected and manageable, is important to support you in your return to work. This communication is vital in ensuring your employers are aware of your situation and can find ways to support you in the short-term. It may be possible to arrange to return to work gradually, perhaps working just mornings initially or a few days a week.

In larger companies, the HR Department will handle this type of situation, and some organisations make provision for counselling support for their employees.

Find out what resources are available to support you

Talk to your line manager about your workload, and if you find yourself falling behind, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let colleagues know what is most helpful to you when you are having a particularly bad day. The more they know what they can do for you, the more comfortable they are likely to be in approaching you and offering their support.

Above all, be patient with yourself. However tempting it may be to throw yourself back into work as a way to occupy your mind and avoid the painful emotions associated with the death of your baby or child, it is important that you also pay attention to how you are feeling and don’t expect too much of yourself. You will learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and that may change over time. Maintaining good communication with your line manager and colleagues is important in ensuring a smoother transition back into the workplace.

Information About Children

Grief can feel lonely

This is often made worse if the death was very traumatic. In the case of children , they might be one of the only people that age to have experienced this type of loss. It might feel to them like nobody else understands.

What to Expect With Children Ages 2-4

At this age children lack a real understanding of death and are generally unable to process the permanence of it. They are very present-oriented and don’t understand that death means “forever.” They may ask the same questions over and over again. Be patient, consistent and reassuring. A child who is grieving may have a series of brief but intense responses.

Possible expressions of grief:

Regression to earlier behaviors like thumb-sucking and bedwetting, sleep problems, irritability, confusion.

How you can help:

Provide honest, direct, brief answers to their questions and lots of reassurance and affection. A consistent routine is also helpful. At this age play is their outlet for grieving.

What to Expect With Children Ages 4-7

Children this age may still see death as reversible. They may draw inaccurate conclusions that they caused the death — something called “magical thinking.”

They tend to ask a lot of concrete questions: “How did he die?” “What will happen to him now?”

Possible expressions of grief:

Nightmares, regression to earlier behaviors, changes in sleeping and eating, violent play, attempting to take on the role of the person who died.

How you can help:

Encourage expression of the child’s feelings through physical outlets as well as symbolic play (drawing and stories) and talking about the person who died.

What to Expect With Children Ages 7-13

At this age a child’s thinking has matured and they are more logical. They may still want to see death as something that is reversible, but they are beginning to understand that it is final.

School-age children tend to ask specific questions and have a desire for detail. They may also be concerned for how others are responding to the death. They want to know what the “right” way to respond is, and are beginning to have the ability to mourn and to understand and recognize mourning in others.

Despite their more logical thinking they may become overly fearful of sickness and injury because they don’t quite understand the mechanisms by which people die. Children can also get fixated on why someone died, especially if it violates their logical principles of right and wrong. Under both of these circumstances try to help children develop an explanation for the death that makes sense to them. When they get older they can begin to understand the loss in a more sophisticated way.

Possible expressions of grief:

Regression, school problems, withdrawal from friends, acting out, changes in eating and sleeping habits, overwhelming concerns over their own body, thoughts about their own death.

How you can help:

Encourage the expression of feelings no matter what they are. Explain options and allow for choices around funerals and memorial services. Be present, but allow alone time, too. Encourage physical outlets. Don’t avoid talking about the death or answering questions.

What to Expect With Children Ages 13-18

Teenagers are capable of abstract thought and have a much more “adult” concept of death.

Possible expressions of grief:

Extreme sadness, denial, regression, risk-taking, preference for talking to peers and others outside of the family, depression, anger, acting out, even possible suicidal thoughts.

How you can help:

Encourage them to talk — but not force. Try not to “make it all better” or dismiss their grief. Allow them to mourn. Be available but respect their need to grieve in their own way.

Sibling Grief

Everything is different now

Surviving children not only lost a sibling… but they have also lost the mother and father they once knew.

Siblings will often postpone their grief until they feel “safe” again, emotionally and physically. They need to know the adults in their life are ok and able to take care of them.

Children often need to deal with the chaos outside before they can deal with the chaos inside. A level of stability and routine needs to return. They will carefully watch their parents, intuitively knowing when they are “ok enough” for them to grieve. They often will limit their questions and limit the express of their feelings in front of their parents.

Siblings also seem to take turns, instinctively knowing how much a family can tolerate. Often one child will be struggling and then just as that child starts to feel better, another child will start to openly express their grief.

Common Themes in Sibling Grief

  • Surviving siblings may feel abandoned as often the grieving parents have limited emotional energy to care for them.
  • Siblings may feel unloved as they experience family and friends putting the deceased child on a pedestal and the tendency for others to idealize the deceased sibling; It is difficult to compete with a memory and often children feel as if they can never be good enough.
  • Siblings may feel incredible guilt, remembering every bout of sibling rivalry, unkind word, and every slammed door. There may also be a sense of “survivors’ guilt”. Why him and not me? What could I have done to prevent this?” “my parents would have been happier if it was me”.
  • Loss of the sibling relationship and companionship. There is a special bond between siblings. Siblings report the losing their best friend, their confidante, role model and their playmate. Who else shares many of the same memories? Who else understands the quirkiness of their own family better than a sister or brother? Many siblings as report missing their deceased sibling’s friends as well. Even subsequent child who are born after the death will experience the loss of what should be and could have been They also yearn for and grieve the relationship with the sibling who died.
  • Loss of a shared family history and rituals and traditions. There is are shared common memories, along with critical childhood experiences and family history. Holidays will be different. Family trips will be different. Saturday morning routines may be different. Where they sit at the table for dinner will be different. Children often find great comfort in routine but when a sibling dies, all that was known, may change. Siblings often comment, “we use to…”. The absence of a sibling may even be greater during a special occasion. Parents are encouraged to talk with the children about what rituals they may want to maintain, what rituals are ok to change, and if there are new traditions they would like to introduce. Many families find it helpful to incorporate new traditions that honor the memory of the child who died. Several suggestions are listed under the Remembrance.
  • When a sibling dies, a child’s own mortality is challenged, as he/she is no longer feeling invincible and fear their own death. There may be a heightened anxiety and worry about getting sick. This often intensifies as they approach the age of when their sibling was diagnosed or died.
  • Fear reaching the age of the child can be difficult for both parents and siblings. Unconsciously and sometimes consciously, the sibling may believe they will also die at that age. There is also anxiety and sometimes guilt about reaching milestones that the deceased child never was able to. Many siblings report both an increase in their anger and sadness as suddenly they are doing things first that their older brother/sister was supposed to be doing and that their sibling is no longer there to guide them. 
  • Many parents also find it challenging as they may experience more flashbacks as the sibling approaches the age that the child was sick and died. They also may experience the same anger that the deceased child never was able to experience these milestones or grow older.
  • New roles and responsibilities for surviving siblings as the family structure shifts. it is important to understand the relationship to the deceased child. Who was this child to the family? The oldest? The youngest? The only boy? Or girl? What is the birth order in the family and how does this affect the roles that each child assumes? But also, emotionally, who was this child within the family? The caretaker? The joker? Or troublemaker? Peacemaker? And how does the death disrupt the stability within the family. For example, was it the deceased child’s job to walk the dog or take out the garbage? Who will do those jobs now? Each a reminder that the child has dead.
  • Over-identifying with the deceased sibling. Children may start to take on the special traits of the child who died, in hopes of filling this hole in the family and wanting to make their parents happy but often at the expense of their own needs and interest.
  • The siblings may seek conscious ways to self-destruct (i.e., running away; drugs and alcohol; taking on the characteristics of the deceased sibling, thus losing their own image).
  • Parentification. There may be a sense of responsibility to take care of grieving parents and other surviving siblings. Children may attempt to grow up too quickly to accommodate the gaps of care within their family. Adults need to monitor the appropriateness of roles/responsibilities in balancing the risk of losing their own childhood.
  • Only child. A child may suddenly find themselves an only child, the loss of a companion and confident becomes even more amplified as the sibling suddenly finds themselves alone with the parents. Many siblings talk about a new silence at home, with no build-in playmate, and a challenge in being the new center of attention for their parents.
  • Replacement child. Another difficult decision for families is whether to have more children. Some parents have the illusion that this new baby will make them happy again and can put on to this child the burden of their happiness and again placing the sibling in the position of competing with the memory of the deceased child.
  • Subsequent children. It is perfectly natural and normal to want to have more children, but parents should evaluate their readiness and anticipate that the pregnancy and new baby may reawaken strong emotions. Subsequent children born after a child has died also express the challenge of being born into a grieving family and will grieve the loss of a relationship with the deceased child that they never had a chance to meet. Families seem to vary greatly in the degree they are able to maintain the presence of the deceased child and how subsequent children incorporate the story of their sibling into their own lives.

Sibling Grief Fact Sheets

Support a Sibling Fact Sheet – The Ivy Barclay Foundation

Supporting Grieving Siblings – The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children & Families


Take Care of Yourself

While your first impulse may be to protect and comfort your children, it is crucial that you seek help for your own grief. If you are parenting or supporting a grieving child, one of the best ways to help is to ensure that you are taking care of yourself, too.

Find good sources of support.

Research shows us that how well a child does after a death is linked to how well the adults in his life are doing. This doesn’t mean hiding your grief from your child. Rather, it means ensuring that you have people and activities in your life that provide comfort.

If you need help or some time to take a break and clear your head, prioritize asking for it.

By accessing support, you model for your children ways to take care of themselves, and you reassure them that you will have the energy and presence to be there for them.

Guided Meditaion & Yin Yoga

We have included two taster videos for you to try out, one being a ten minute guided meditation and another a thirty minute Yin Yoga practice.

Meditation is so beneficial and can give people a sense of peace, calm and inner balance. Benefiting your emotional wellbeing and your overall health.
You can use meditation to relax and cope with stress by refocusing your attention on something calming.

This guided meditation focuses on support for families who are grieving.

Yin Yoga is more of a passive style of Yoga, ideal if you are exhausted from grief, shock and trauma. Yoga allows us to sit with the grief and yet at the same time create a space whereby you are connected to the present. Yoga is a great form of self care that can be practiced in the comfort of your own home.

This half-hour yoga session provides release and relief for families who are grieving.

How Breathwork Can Help

Breathwork has been scientifically proven to improve wellbeing by offering positive benefits to our lives. It can be especially invaluable to those experiencing very long-term, traumatic circumstances.

Why Breathwork is so Important

In addition to being a popular relaxation method, breathwork has also proven to offer a wide variety of health benefits. This makes it one of the most natural methods of assisting a variety of issues.

The Ease of Breathwork

Taking a minute or two to breathe softly, in through your nose and out through the mouth, while allowing your focus to move gently to the base of your spine, (don’t try, just allow and it will happen), assists physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health in many ways.

The feelings of relief, softening and safety will increase if you choose to use breathwork daily and gradually increase your breathing time. You will need to experience the benefits of this quick and easy breathwork technique, to really appreciate the changes it will bring.

For quick relief, the breathwork can be done anywhere or anytime. There is no need to be sitting with eyes closed; just breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth will bring relief in any uncomfortable situation. However, the easy, gentle daily practice will help assist with the restoration of a broken heart in times of deep grief.

Some Scientifically Proven Benefits of Breathwork

  • Reduces stress, anxiety and other negative emotions.
  • Helps manage and heal from grief.
  • Helps manage and heal from trauma.
  • Helps lift depression.
  • Increases clarity.
  • Improves mood and self-esteem.
  • Assists taking small steps forward.
  • Increases energy and boosts immunity.
  • Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation.
  • Supports the nervous system.
  • Assists with managing pain.
  • Strengthens lungs.
  • Releases toxins.
  • Improves sleep.
  • Increases muscle tone.

Returning to school after someone has died

How your child’s return to school is managed is very important in helping them settle back in with the least possible anxiety and stress. Here are some tips:

Speak to the school

Before your child goes back, speak to your child’s teacher and any other staff who interact with your child. Give as much information as you can to the school; they will treat it confidentially.

Tell the school what your child knows

It’s important that the school understands what your child knows about the death and also who else knows. It may be that other children have heard about the death if it’s been in the media or is known about in the community. This is particularly important if the death was traumatic or the cause of death has not been determined.

Speak to your child

Tell your child that you have spoken to the school. Reassure your child that they are not being talked about, but that other people need to know because they care and want to help them.

Come in early on the first day

On the first day back to school, try to come in early so that you can avoid being part of the crowd outside the school. This also gives you a chance to discuss any concerns with the teacher.

Keep in touch with the school

On your child’s first day back, it can be useful to ask the school to give you a call part way through the day. They can tell you how your child is getting on (they may behave differently at school than at home) and share any good things that have happened.

Keep the school informed as time goes on

Let the school know if there are any changes to any circumstances at home, or if your child seems to be struggling more than usual. This way, they can keep a lookout for any changes in behaviour as well as be understanding of your child’s circumstances.

Don’t expect too much

Let your child ease back into school life and school work and don’t expect too much from them in terms of homework. Liaise with your child’s teacher about setting short-term, achievable targets.

Going back to school after someone has died can be difficult for everyone although returning to a routine helps kids of all ages do better when they know what to expect. Routine makes them safe and reassures them that the adults are in control and this reassures them.

Schools play a major role in children’s lives, and after a death — either a death in the family or in the extended school community — it is natural to expect that kids may experience grief that impacts their time at school or their ability to do schoolwork.

Information For Teachers

Here are some guidelines for Teachers and on how to help make sure students feel supported and are coping in a healthy way.

If it’s one child who has suffered a loss, work with that child’s parents or caregivers to resume a normal routine as much as possible even if it means modifying classroom work and/or homework for a period of time while the child is still grieving.

Be alert

Teachers should watch for signs that a child might be struggling and need extra help. This could present as children being unable to function in the classroom, withdrawing from friends, displaying behavioural problems or experiencing intense sadness, fear or anger.

It is really important that parents and caregivers are kept informed at all times however daunting the idea of approaching them may seem.

Stay in touch

Teachers and the school administration should stay in touch with parents in the days and weeks after the death has occurred.

Parents should be kept up-to-date about the school’s programs and activities so they can be prepared for discussions that may continue at home.

It is always best to be mindful and chat with students before exposing them to anything that could potentially trigger and re traumatise them.

School management and counsellors should encourage an open door policy.

Information for Employers

Why it makes sense to help your employees

Grief is experienced by many thousands of parents every year and bereavement is one of the most common factors potentially affecting employees’ performance at work, with an estimated one in ten employees affected at any point in time. Yet research has shown that bereaved people are being failed by a lack of support in the workplace.

Research on behalf of Co-op Funeralcare in 2018 showed that over half (58%) of adults felt pressured to return to work after a loss, with 30% feeling they needed more than two weeks off before they were truly ready to come back.

Similarly, a 2018 survey by Sands, consulting over 2,500 bereaved parents, found that:

  • Only 1 in 5 parents had been offered or given any support by their employer on their return to work
  • 2 in 5 said no one talked to them about the loss of their baby
  • 2 in 5 were not offered any additional time away from work.

A basic principle for any good employer is to recognise their duty of care for their employees’ health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Being prepared, being aware of the issues and having in place a bereavement policy can mitigate the costs of bereavement for all concerned, and the subsequent impact on productivity and the business or organisation as a whole.

When employees do receive sensitive and appropriate support, there are numerous benefits in the workplace:

  • Individual performance and return to productivity is managed
  • Improved motivation, commitment and attitude to work
  • Reduced sickness absence
  • Reduced staff turnover as employees are more likely to stay with the organisation
  • Reduced risk of litigation through alleviation of any workplaces stresses
  • For some occupations, effective management of health and safety risks

Being an organisation that recognises the impact of bereavement on all concerned and is sensitive to the needs of individuals who are bereaved, will ultimately make a huge difference to individual performance, staff retention and how people feel about your organisation.

All organisations will encounter bereavement and some have found it helpful to include training for staff on bereavement issues as part of their general programme of staff training. This allows the organisation to be prepared, rather than finding itself having to provide an uninformed response at a time of crisis.

Understanding the impact of a death in the family

Everyone’s grief is unique and the way one parent responds to the death of their baby or child may be very different to another.

There is no ‘right way’ to grieve. People do as they must, in their own time. They have lost an entire future with that child and are likely to be struggling with very painful feelings from this untimely death that is entirely against the accepted natural order.

Grief can manifest itself in a range of ways, both physical and emotional, several of which are particularly relevant to the workplace:

  • Loss of confidence, including fear of returning to work
  • Sleep disturbance: sleeping too much/unable to sleep
  • Decreased energy
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Over-sensitivity to noise
  • Minor illnesses
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Poor memory
  • Preoccupation
  • Difficulty in concentrating/mental lapses
  • Intolerance of others
  • Insensitivity towards other people’s problems

In her book Family, author Susan Hill describes it as ‘having one skin less’. This increased sensitivity makes it important for employers to do all they can to support the bereaved employee and help to facilitate their return to work as much as possible.

There is a difference between the experience of a mother, who has physically carried a child, and a partner whose ‘working life’ would usually continue unchanged after the child was born.

A father’s grief is no less, but men and women can grieve differently. Men are more likely to want to return to work and be restorative rather than focusing exclusively on the loss, as many women tend to do.

When a mother experiences the death of her baby, returning to work may not have been planned for some time, if at all, and being at work when she should have been at home with her baby can be particularly difficult.

How you as an employer can help – a checklist

Some forward planning can help ease a bereaved employee’s transition back into work, supporting the bereaved parent and minimising disruption in the workplace. Some practical aspects to consider are:

Before the employee returns:

  • Identify someone to be the key person in regular contact with the bereaved employee to facilitate communication between the organisation and the employee. That person can keep others updated in line with what the bereaved employee wants colleagues to know.
  • Ascertain what and how the bereaved employee would like others in the workplace to be told. It is vital they have control over this to ensure that any information shared is only that which they are comfortable with others knowing. The circumstances surrounding the death may be very personal to them or particularly traumatic, and not something they want widely known or discussed.
  • Provide information about bereavement leave, salary payments etc. This is important as it can help remove another anxiety from the individual. Recognise the need for flexibility as grief is individual and some employees may need longer than the standard bereavement leave provided by your business or organisation.
  • Ascertain what the employee needs or would like from the organisation while they are away from work – perhaps periodic emails to inform them of any developments, being invited to any informal gatherings etc. Being proactive in making suggestions can be helpful as, at such a time of crisis, it can be hard for bereaved parents to know what they might want or need.
  • Understand the cultural and family traditions important to the particular employee and accommodate these as far as possible.
  • Recognise that where a baby has died, seeing other pregnant women in the workplace can be difficult and bereaved parents are often surprised at the strength of feelings they experience in relation to someone else’s pregnancy. Letting a bereaved parent know in advance of returning to work if anyone else has become pregnant may be preferable to them experiencing the shock of finding out on their return, which can be uncomfortable for both parties.
  • Suggest that when the time comes to return to work, the bereaved employee might like to arrange a prior informal visit to the workplace for coffee or lunch to reduce anxiety around seeing everyone for the first time on their first day back at work.
  • Offer restricted working hours or a different working pattern for the first few weeks/months to ease the employee back into their normal work routine.
  • Support other staff by arranging a session for all affected to provide them with an understanding of grief and to allow them to air their concerns and anxieties about when their bereaved colleague returns.

When the employee returns:

  • Encourage the bereaved employee to let others know what will be most helpful to them and what they would like in the way of support from others.
  • Help other employees understand that a simple acknowledgement, that they are sorry to hear what has happened, can go a long way. Avoiding the subject altogether is unhelpful, as are colleagues’ attempts at ‘counselling’ or sharing their own experiences.
  • Take your lead from the employee in terms of whether they want to discuss what has happened or not.
  • Talk to the employee about their workload and establishing strategies for times when they might find they are struggling or falling behind, having a particularly bad day emotionally or becoming overwhelmed with work.
  • Consider redistribution of those parts of an employee’s workload that are subject to tight deadlines or targets, as eliminating this type of pressure will be supportive particularly in the early days of returning to work. This may, of course, temporarily lead to an increased strain on other employees which will need to be sensitively managed and monitored.
  • Understand that the bereaved employee is likely to be unable to work at their usual capacity, for a period of time, and be realistic in your expectations and supportive of them in managing their workload.
  • Be flexible by accommodating employees’ requests to work from home or take a longer break on an occasional basis.
  • Be aware that some employees may return too soon and throw themselves back into work as a means of avoiding their grief and pain, or may overwhelm others with their constant desire to talk about what has happened. If this persists, they may need more formal support in dealing with their feelings about their baby’s or child’s death. You may then be able to offer access to an employee assistance scheme or workplace counselling through your organisation.
  • Appreciate that for a time the employee is likely to be physically and mentally exhausted, may be distracted or preoccupied and may need to take longer breaks or make more personal calls than usual.
  • Never assume that, just because the bereaved parent may not be mentioning what has happened, they are ‘over it’.
  • Recognise that a father’s grief is no less than a mother’s when a child dies, and appreciate that there is no hierarchy in grief – the loss of a baby at an early gestation may be every bit as devastating to parents as the loss of an older child. No parent ever expects their child to die before them, no matter what age that child may be.
  • Be aware of the significance of the anniversary of the death, the child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and so on, for the bereaved parent and their likely increased vulnerability around these times.
  • Appreciate that when a baby or child has died, bereaved parents are susceptible to heightened concern about the health and wellbeing of any other children they have. A call from school to say a child is unwell is likely to be a much greater cause for alarm than it may otherwise have been. Equally, they may be preoccupied with and concerned about the grief reactions of any other children in the family, and need directing towards some sources of information and help for this.
  • Recognise that for someone who has lost a baby or child in the past, being pregnant again will be a particularly stressful time and there will be a requirement for sensitivity towards their increased vulnerability/anxiety.
  • Maintain good communication with an open-door policy and regular meetings between the bereaved employee and their line manager to offer support and monitor progress over time.

The impact on colleagues

Employers frequently underestimate the strength of workplace relationships and the resultant impact of a death on colleagues of the bereaved employee.

The impact of the death of a baby or child is such that the effect on colleagues can be profound. This is unlikely to be confined purely to those who are close to the bereaved parent and, as a result, colleagues may be particularly distressed themselves.

Other employees may be pregnant at the time or have children of their own, and such an untimely death can be very disconcerting for everyone who knows the family.

“What do I say?”

Colleagues often feel uncomfortable or perhaps uncertain whether or how to approach the person who is bereaved. ‘I don’t know what to say?’ is a frequent comment.

Bereaved parents tell us that it is not so much the words that people use, but the fact that people show they care that matters to them. Unsure as to how they should act, colleagues may actually avoid the bereaved employee out of fear of saying something inappropriate and causing them more upset, or reminding the person of something they assume they would rather forget. However, bereaved parents frequently express that lack of acknowledgement of what has happened to them is the most hurtful thing.

A simple expression of sorrow regarding what has happened can go a long way. It is important that colleagues take their lead from the bereaved person in terms of how much they want to talk about their child’s death.

“What is the best way to provide support?”

Employees often have photographs of their children at their place of work and may feel awkward about this, either in terms of displaying their own child’s photograph or the bereaved colleague keeping a photograph of their child who has died on their desk.

It is perfectly natural for bereaved parents to want to keep their child’s photograph with them, and colleagues should not be worried about referring to it. Supporting the bereaved employee to enable them to voice how they would like people to behave around them, and what would help them most, is likely to ease the potential awkwardness of these situations.

“How do we manage the work?”

Workload distribution is likely to change for a time around a significant bereavement. It is important to recognise that those working to cover for the bereaved colleague, who might be absent or less productive for a period, may themselves become temporarily stressed and overburdened with their additional workload.

Understanding the nature of grief and its impact on a bereaved colleague may help diffuse any growing resentments.

Support Someone Else

How can I help someone I know who is bereaved?

When someone has been bereaved, family and friends can often find it difficult to know what to say or do. Here are some tips that may help.Whether you are family, a friend, employer, teacher or other professional, you can do a lot to support bereaved adults and their families, even in simple ways.

What should I say to someone I know who is bereaved?

If you see someone you know who is bereaved, one of the most hurtful things you can do is avoid them or pretend you haven’t seen them. It can be daunting to know what to say but it can help to remember that the person who is bereaved won’t expect or want you to have all the answers or to make them feel better. However, they will appreciate you saying something that acknowledges their loss.

Try not to avoid the subject but say something simple like ‘Hello, it’s good to see you’ or even something like: ‘I’m so sorry to hear about {insert name/relationship}’. Even saying ‘I don’t know what to say’ is better than saying nothing. Take your cue from the bereaved person as to whether they want to talk more about the person who has died. If you’re not sure, ask them. If they want to talk, listen. If you knew the person who has died and it feels right, you could share a nice memory of them.

If you find yourself getting upset speaking to a bereaved friend, that’s OK. You don’t need to feel embarrassed, and your friend may appreciate that you care. Equally, it’s OK to sit silently with someone, if you both feel comfortable with this.

What shouldn’t I say to someone I know who is bereaved?

Don’t say ‘I know what you are going through’ even if you’re bereaved yourself. Everyone’s experience of bereavement is personal to them and no one can possibly know how it feels for someone else. Don’t say things like ‘you’ll get over it’ or if they’ve lost a child or baby suggest that they can ‘always have another one’. And don’t tell them how they should feel or say things like ‘Stay strong’ or ‘Be brave’ or use cliches like ‘Time is a great healer’, or ‘He/she is in a better place now’.

What help can I offer to someone I know who is bereaved?

Rather than asking ‘Is there anything I can do?’, which can feel quite vague to someone who is grieving, it can be helpful to offer something specific. Some people appreciate being offered practical support like preparing a meal, looking after children for a while or doing some shopping. If you can’t think of something specific, then it’s best to just ask them what would be helpful to them. Sometimes though you can offer powerful emotional support simply by listening, and being company for them, maybe by suggesting meeting for a coffee or going for a walk if these are possible. Stay connected in the weeks and months ahead, even if it’s just by making a phone call or sending a card. Families we support tell us this can be particularly helpful after the initial flurry of support has diminished.

Don’t act on the person’s behalf without consulting them. It may seem helpful to clear out a nursery after their baby has died or arrange the funeral for them, but it is crucial that these kinds of decisions are made by the parents when they feel ready. They have already lost so much – it is vital not to take away their control over important decisions in your own need to be helpful. If they ask you to help, that is different, and being alongside them while they make difficult decisions can be very helpful indeed.

Be patient – even if it sometimes feels that you can’t say or do anything to help, especially in the early days. Just being with your bereaved friend, or keeping in contact, without being intrusive can help more than you know.

I’d like to send a sympathy card. What should I write?

What you write in your card is individual to you and will naturally be influenced by your relationship with the bereaved person and the person who has died. Whatever the situation, you don’t need to write something formal or flowery; just writing ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘I’m thinking of you at this difficult time’ will mean a lot to a bereaved friend.

Don’t be afraid to mention the name of the person who has died and share any memories you might have, especially if they are things that will make them feel proud or remind them of a happy time.

You might add an offer of practical support to your letter or card, if you’re able to. It is helpful to make this as specific as possible, for instance offering to organise some shopping or other practical help. Sometimes a bereaved person isn’t ready to accept help, but it can be supportive to offer it and perhaps add your phone number to your letter or card so they can call when the time is right.

Don’t expect a reply or be upset if they don’t take you up on your offer; being bereaved can be overwhelming. Just keep in touch from time to time and ask them what they would find helpful without making them feel under any pressure to respond.

The anniversary of the death, birthdays and other special days may be very difficult. Sending a card, or just saying that you remember, may be very much appreciated.

Seek support for yourself

Spending time with someone who is grieving often puts us in touch with our own losses. It’s important that you feel supported so that you can help your friend, relative or colleague. This is also important if you are a professional supporting someone who is bereaved

Contact Resources

Red Nose Australia Support

Red Nose Australia support anyone affected by the loss of a pregnancy, stillbirth or the death of a baby or child in Australia.

With over 40 years of experience supporting grieving individuals and families. They understand what you are going through and are here to help.

They are available 24/7 on our Grief and Loss Support Line 1300 308 307 or send them an email at [email protected]

Programs Include

Peer Support

Both online and in-person peer support presented with SANDS. Learn more.

Counselling support

Drawing on 40 years of experience in bereavement counselling, the evidenced based, grief and loss support is available for families in Australia who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy, stillbirth or the death of a baby or child.

Hospital to Home

Hospital to Home is a program operating throughout Australia, providing outreach support within three months of loss to bereaved parents who have experienced the death of a baby or infant through stillbirth (including TFMR), neonatal death or the sudden unexpected death of an infant (SUDI).

Red Nose Australia

Online Grief and Loss Library

Learn more.

Treasured babies

The Treasured Babies program supports bereaved families with gifts of handmade clothing and angel boxes.

More Information

To access any services or to find out what is best suited to your needs call the 24/7 Support Line 1300 308 307.

Or visit the Red Nose Grief and Loss Website

The Ivy Barclay Foundation


1300 845 745

Griefline Helpline provides grief and loss support for all people aged 18+. You can call them between 8am and 8pm AEDT/AEST, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

Kids Helpline

1800 551 800

You can call Kids Helpine anytime and for any reason. it’s free to call – including from your mobile.

Book Recommendations For Adults

It’s OK That You’re Not OK

In It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Megan Devine offers a profound new approach to both the experience of grief and the way we try to help others who have endured tragedy.

Having experienced grief from both sides – as both a therapist and as a woman who witnessed the accidental drowning of her beloved partner – Megan writes with deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing.

She debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, “happy” life, replacing it with a far healthier middle path, one that invites us to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking to overcome it. This is a compelling and heartful book.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

Sibling Loss Across the Lifespan

Sibling Loss Across the Lifespan brings together researchers, clinicians, and bereaved siblings to explore sibling loss.

Unique in both form and content, the book focuses on loss within five key age ranges-childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, adulthood, and late adulthood-and losses within a special topics section that addresses areas of interest across multiple age groups.

In addition to chapters from researchers and clinicians, the book includes personal stories from bereaved siblings who describe the lived experience of this loss.

Red Nose Australia

Resilient Grieving

Resilient Grieving is a practical, research-based guide to finding your own path to recovery from devastating loss.

Dr Lucy Hone works in the field of resilience psychology, helping ordinary people exposed to real-life traumatic situations. When faced with the incomprehensible fact of her daughter’s tragic death Lucy knew that she was fighting for the survival of her sanity and her family unit.

She used her practice to develop ways to support her family in their darkest days, and to find a new way of living without Abi.

In Resilient Grieving Lucy shares her research so that others can work to regain some sense of control and take action in the face of helpless situations.

Buy The Book
Dr Lucy Hone’s TED Talk
Dr Lucy Hone’s Podcast Series on Grief
Podcast Interview with Lucy on Grief
Psychology Today Blog: Resilient Grieving


The Ivy Barclay Foundation

Families Making Sense of Death

This book is an outstanding contribution to existing knowledge about bereavement. It breaks new ground in a number of respects: It advances understanding beyond interpersonal level analysis to explore phenomena of grief and grieving in an interpersonal perspective. As such, it extends the perspective usually adopted in traditional theorizing. The book is a must for both researchers and clinicians alike, indeed, for anyone whose lives are affected by bereavement. It offers new insight and new ways of understanding’ – Margaret S. Stroebe, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Through interviews and analysis, the author explores the healing process within the family context, and looks at the dynamics at work in families in which a member has died. With a keen sense of empathy, the author shares stories which show how, gradually, families come to terms with their grief and make sense of the death, as time goes by.

This ‘family meaning-making’ is not a linear process; it is alternately stimulated and inhibited within a family. The author draws conclusions from her research about which particular social factors and conditions play a role in the overall outcome. She succeeds in showing not only how different families cope with death within the family, but also how skilful and sensitive field research is done.

The Ivy Barclay Foundation

The Body Keeps The Score

Bessel van der Kolk (born 1943) is a Boston based psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of post-traumatic stress since the 1970s.

His work focuses on the interaction of attachment, neurobiology, and developmental aspects of trauma’s effects on people.

His major publication, the New York Times bestseller, ‘The Body keeps the Score’, talks about how the role of trauma in psychiatric illness has changed over the past 20 years; what we have learned about the ways the brain is shaped by traumatic experiences; how traumatic stress is a response of the entire organism and how that knowledge needs be integrated into healing practices.

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Book Recommendations For Older Children & Teens

You Will Be Okay: Find strength, stay hopeful and get to grips with grief

The death of a parent, sibling or friend is one of the most traumatic experiences for a child or young person and it can be hard to know how to talk to them about it.

In this honest, comforting and strength-building guide Julie Stokes, a clinical psychologist and founder of childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish, provides readers with the tools they need to navigate this tough and turbulent time.

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Book Recommendations For Young Children

Forever Connected

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The ABCs of Grief

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The Grief Bubble

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An interactive workbook for children ages 6 and older.

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My Forever Guardian

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The Invisible String

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The Goodbuye Book

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The Memory Tree

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Grieving Child

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A Terrible Thing Happened

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A Poem

The Elephant in the Room by Terry Kettering

There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yes we squeeze by with “How are you?” And, “I’m fine”…
and a thousand of other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else – except the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there,
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It hurts us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.

Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about his illness or death
Perhaps we can talk about his life.
Can I say his name to you and not have you look away ?.
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
Alone ….
In a room …
With an elephant.

Adapted from Food for the Soul (1991: Bereavement Publishing)