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Help after a sudden death



The circumstances of a death affects the way you and your family may grieve:

Was the death sudden or accidental?

Did death come after a long illness?

Did your loved one take their own life?

Was the death due to murder?

Was the death due to AIDS?

Was someone killed by a drunken driver?

We support families whatever the circumstances of the death, and know that a cause of death can make a great difference to how children and young people grieve and how it feels for surviving parents or main carers. A sudden death gives no time for preparation or time to say goodbye. It can be really difficult if the last conversation with the person who has died was an argument, and there is often an overwhelming sense of words unsaid or that someone has died without really knowing how important they were to those left behind. Younger children may feel they are in some way responsible for the death – this ‘magical thinking’ can lead them to say things like “Daddy was cross with me at breakfast and that is why he had a car crash.”

“We began the day as we always did – dad going off to work, kids off to school. I took it for granted that life would just go on like this. But when the kids came home I had to tell them their dad had died in a road accident. It’s the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”

Bereavement following suicide

The sudden death of a loved one causes great pain and sadness. When the death has been through suicide families often face additional pressures. 

There may be the agonising question – “Why?” – a question for which there may be no answer.

There is often intense media interest and families find themselves reading about their loved one in the press and increasingly on social media

There may be great feelings of guilt –“Should I have know this would happen? Could I have done anything different?

When the police feel that the death is through suicide, although this can only be determined at an inquest, Family Liaison Officers who support families after a murder do not stay involved and this can leave families feeling very isolated at the most difficult time of their lives.

In Oxfordshire the police now suggest that families call SeeSaw if there has been a presumed suicide of a parent or sibling where young people under 18 are affected. We respond to such calls very quickly and are readily available to help survivors find the words to talk with young people.

We believe in gentle honesty and openness and our experience tells us that children manage best if they are told the truth by someone close to them. The risk of them finding out about a suicide in a very insensitive way through playground talk or social media is considerable.

Bereavement following murder and manslaughter

The sudden death of a loved one can cause great grief and sadness. When a death is the result of murder or manslaughter you may face additional pain and experience difficulties resulting from media interest. Parents naturally want to shield their children from distressing details and often struggle to find the words to explain what has happened. 

The issues for a family are very complicated and the responses will depend on who has been killed and by whom – for example, a family member, someone known to the victim or a stranger. Shock and numbness may be the first response to what has happened and this can be mixed in with feelings of anger and a wish for revenge. There may be a sense of fear if the perpetrator has not been found and children will often have feelings of deep insecurity.

SeeSaw Under Fives Booklet


SeeSaw Grandparents Booklet

Suggested Readings

‘The family has been informed: supporting bereaved children and young people from military families

by Helen Mackinnon

This booklet offers information that aims to be helpful to families and professionals who come into contact with children and young people from military families who have been bereaved. It provides insight into the nature of military life and death to relatives, friends and schools who are less familiar with the unique challenges facing bereaved military families.

A volcano in my tummy: helping children to handle anger

by Eliane Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney

Presents a clear and effective approach to helping children and adults alike understand and deal constructively with children’s anger. The book offers engaging, well-organized activities which help to overcome the fear of children’s anger which many adult care-givers experience. By carefully distinguishing between anger the feeling, and violence the behaviour, this accessible little book, primarily created for ages 6-13, helps to create an awareness of anger, enabling children to relate creatively and harmoniously at critical stages in their development.

What to do when you dread your bed: a kid’s guide to overcoming problems with sleep

by Dawn Huebner

Guides children and their parents through the cognitive-behavioural techniques used to treat problems with sleep. Fears, busy brains, restless bodies, and overdependence on parents are all tackled as children gain the skills they need for more peaceful nights. This interactive self-help book is the complete resource for educating, motivating, and empowering children to fall asleep and stay asleep – like magic!