The kids who have lost a parent to the pandemic

A caregiver’s death during a pandemic presents unique challenges for grieving kids. Job instability and general stress may have depleted the abilities of other adults in their lives to support them. And they have to live with constant reminders, in the media and daily life, of why their parent is gone. “[The] replaying of an event can retraumatize children,” Bordere said. “The masks, the numbers that we’re updated on—anything related to COVID will be a trigger for a child who has dealt with a loss.”

Not every child even gets room to process their emotions. Bordere told me that Black children are frequently penalized in school for perfectly normal reactions to a death, such as crying, distractedness, and fatigue. This punishment can impede their grieving process. In a study from before the pandemic, Black Americans were found to be more likely than white Americans to have experienced a death in their family during childhood.

And children in general may struggle more than adults with how inexplicably the virus arose and with not getting to be present for the end of their parent’s life. “Children are imaginative, particularly younger children,” Bordere said. “They’re left with [mental] images that may be far worse” than what actually happened in their parent’s final days.