The death of a loved one is always difficult, but the death of an infant, child or adolescent can result in a profound, intense grief for parents and siblings that can last for years. After such a death, a pediatrician’s continued involvement with the family can be a source of comfort and support.
A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides guidance for pediatricians on how to support family members. The report, “Supporting the Family After the Death of a Child,” is published in the December 2012 issue of Pediatrics (released online Nov. 26).
Even if the pediatrician was not involved at the time of the death, it is important for the doctor to meet with parents face-to-face or by phone to acknowledge the loss and allow the parents to talk and ask questions. It is equally important for pediatricians to maintain contact with surviving siblings who are still patients and provide guidance or emotional support. Siblings suffer their own special loss and their needs are often neglected when others focus on the parents’ loss. If the death of a child or adolescent is a result of suicide, guilt experienced by parents can be especially great. Fatal injuries or homicide caused by drunken driving or other forms of negligence can also produce extreme anger, and parents may require special help or counseling.
No matter what the cause, every family member will mourn the death of a child in his or her own way, and support groups can provide an accepting environment for parents and siblings to resolve their grief and help cope with the loss.