Helping kids cope with loss


Not too long ago, we heard that former Springbok captain Joost van der Westhuizen was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Yesterday the news broke: Joost's J9 Foundation released a statement to say he had passed away.

Joost is survived by his estranged wife, Amor Vittone, and their children, Kylie (10) and Jordan (13), who stood by him and supported him.

He was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) in 2011, and although he was only given two years to live, he pushed on. Why he survived longer than doctors expected could be attributed to how his body reacted to the illness, or perhaps it could have been a father's will to survive for the sake of his children?

In an interview with You magazine, Joost spoke about being on a medical trial for a drug which might combat the disease. He said being on the trial gave him hope, because he wanted to talk again, he wanted to hold his kids again, he wanted to watch them grow up and be happy.

How do you tell a child?

Dealing with grief and loss is tough. People have said it's a little easier when someone is dying from their illness, as it gives one time to prepare for the inevitable; that it's not as sudden as losing someone to a heart attack or a fatal car accident. But it's still a shock.

Because children are not always able to comprehend what they're feeling, they need adults to help them through the grieving process. Usually, kids' first great loss would be the death of a pet, which could be traumatic for a child. But when it's a parent – how do you break the news?

Here, Jennifer Crocker wrote about how she had to tell her children that their dad was terminally ill and was going to die: 

Cath Jenkin had to tell her small daughter that her gran had cancer: 

Helping your kids to deal with grief

Jodi Lord, a Cape Town based counsellor, says children need to be equipped with the skills to deal with death from the first time they experience it. Thereafter, the coping mechanisms would be put in place and they will be prepared for what they encounter in the future.

Children have to go through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – even though they may not go through it like adults would. 

Here are some articles we wrote that may help:

You have to be honest with your kids. They don't need to know every gory detail, but they may have questions about where someone has gone to and the answer, generally, depends on your religious or spiritual beliefs.

Children should also be allowed to feel whatever it is they're feeling. Their emotions should not be shut down; kids don't need to hear quips like "tears won't bring him back" or "be strong", "you're the man/woman of the house now" or "you should feel...".

Have you ever had to share the news of a beloved's death with children? Share your advice and comments with us by sending them to for possible publication.

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