Lost for Words: Children’s Experiences of Grief Following the Death of a Sibling. A Hermeneutic Literature Review

Hearley, Kate
Blackett, Joanne
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Master of Psychotherapy (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy)
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Auckland University of Technology

The phrase ‘lost for words’ captures how hard it can be to talk or think about death. This difficulty can be heightened when children are left bereaved through the death of a sibling. Yet, literature on bereavement predominantly focuses on parent’s experiences of losing a child, rather than those of surviving siblings. This research presents an examination of children’s experiences of grief following the death of a sibling, through a hermeneutic literature review. The literature review explores psychotherapeutic and medical peer reviewed literature representing the voices of bereaved children and those close to them. It also uses art and poetry to add an embodied sense of how grief feels for children.

The findings of the literature review show that children have different understandings of the concept of death depending on their developmental stage. It shows that children process grief differently to adults and that clear communication and the support of empathetic adults are vital to help children make sense of the trauma of a bereavement. It also shows that the sibling relationship is highly significant and the rupture of this bond can have a profound impact on surviving siblings.

The research findings may prompt those working with bereaved families to consider the implications for surviving siblings and provide insight into best practice for supporting grieving children. Ideas for further research are presented at the end.

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