Traumatic Loss and Bereavement

In contrast to adults, when children suffer the death of a parent, sibling, or close friend, it is more likely due to violent death, accidental injury, or sudden catastrophic medical event. It is not uncommon for children and adolescents to be with a parent when the parent dies under traumatic circumstances. In childhood, loss of a parent or sibling under any circumstances can be devastating. However, the experience of a traumatic death can lead to posttraumatic stress reactions that complicate the grieving process.

The mind of the traumatically bereaved child continues to focus on details of the way the person died. If a witness, the child can keep seeing horrific images of the death that get in the way of remembering and reminiscing. A child may even avoid thinking about the lost loved one or doing things that are reminders of the person. Children are challenged by three sets of reminders: (1) trauma reminders of the manner of death; (2) loss reminders, especially situations or times when the child misses the lost loved one; and (3) loss reminders of how life has changed because of the traumatic death.