The queen’s funeral this week may have stirred up feelings of loss and sadness for many people
The queen’s death and her funeral earlier this week have received global coverage and the outpouring of grief in the UK has been significant. I am always intrigued when there is huge public grief about a person who was not personally known to them. It may be that the death of the public figure, while saddening in its own right, is likely to echo, magnify or recall other significant losses in our personal lives.
We tend to bury trauma deep in our inner emotional world. We can’t keep the feelings too close to the surface all the time, as they tend to be overwhelming and so we naturally put them aside, often using healthy ways to distract ourselves.
In line with this, most people’s feelings associated with grief, while not always present, will still be there, below the surface and so any event that might echo the loss, is likely to stir the feelings up. If your family has been dealing with grief and loss, then the queen’s death and the associated coverage may have been upsetting all over again.
This reminds us that grief, including grief for children, is not a single event, but an ongoing process. Many people will have become aware of theories about “stages of grief” which nominally describe various emotional states, but often suggests to people that these emotions will occur in a linear fashion and that once a particular feeling has come and gone, that it will not reoccur.
The truth of adults’ and children’s experience is different. Yes, people may feel shock, numbness, deep sadness, anger, despair, guilt, anxiety and so on, but any or all of these feelings may occur, or not occur, may reoccur or not reoccur.
It remains important, therefore, if your child has experienced the death of someone close, or the loss of a significant relationship through separation or emigration, that you remain open to listening to them and staying attuned to their feelings as best you can.
Children can sometimes be difficult to read, emotionally. We often have to rely on their external behaviour to give us a clue about what might be happening internally. For example, if they have become very withdrawn, seem very distracted or are avoiding things they previously enjoyed, it might suggest that they are struggling to process their feelings or are overwhelmed by them.
Anger may be expressed as increased sarcasm, cynicism, irritability, argumentativeness, or increased aggression. Sadness may only be visible in things like decreased appetite, reduced interest in friends, less motivation, or a lack of get-up-and-go. It is easier sometimes when that sadness is expressed with tears, as that makes better sense to parents.
However those feelings are being expressed, I think it is critical that you expect the expression of the feelings and so remain empathetic, patient and understanding, perhaps longer than you may have anticipated you would need.
While the pomp and pageantry of the queen’s funeral on Monday may have been well beyond the norm, there is a real benefit to the rituals that most cultures observe with death. There may be benefit too in creating your own rituals with your children that allow them the time and space to acknowledge the loss. This may be more important when the loss is from separation or emigration, since we don’t have the same cultural rituals in these cases.
Depending on the nature of the loss, you may also have to adjust routines and there may be a lot of change for a child. The more you can keep key routines, like school routines or mealtimes, the same, the more comforting it can be for a child, particularly a young child. Lots of change is likely to increase anxiety since the unpredictability also increases.
They may have questions, or you may have to do a lot of explaining about how the loss might impact them practically. While you may not be able to reassure them that there will be no impact, you can usually reassure them that you will be present and available to respond to them and the circumstances they find themselves in.
If you can, it may also be helpful to include them in the decision-making, or at least listen to their opinions, about any changes that will affect them. This is not to say that you must accede to their opinion. You may still have to decide according to what you think is best. It will help your child, however, to know that they have been properly heard and that their opinion was important, even if your opinion still held sway.
You may have feelings about the death of the queen, or it may be that her death has been yet another echo of your own loss or your children’s loss. Whatever the meaning of her death, for you or your family, I hope that the days and weeks ahead allow you to continue to process your own feelings, or help you to process the feelings of your children.