PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ As many as 113,000 American children may be dealing with so-called “pandemic grief,” according to a recently published study in The Lancet journal.
The study’s authors estimate that, during the first 14 months of the pandemic, more than 1.5 million children around the world may have lost at least one parent, custodial grandparent or grandparent who lived with them. Researchers estimate 113,000 caregivers died in the United States overall.
The figures are staggering in comparison to a JAMA Pediatric study published in early April, that estimated approximately 40,000 children in the U.S. had lost a parent to COVID-19.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there were 185,195 children living with one or more parents in Rhode Island between 2015 and 2019. Of these, 34% (62,877) of children were living with an unmarried parent, which is down from 36% between 2010 and 2014.
The same survey also found between 2015 and 2019, there were a total of 14,517 children in Rhode Island living in households headed by grandparents.
It’s not clear how many primary caregivers have died in Rhode Island, though state health data shows most deaths have involved Rhode Islanders over the age of 60.
However, the virus has made an impact on Rhode Islanders of all ages.
Dr. Mary Sullivan, chief nursing officer with Bradley Hospital, tells 12 News children’s lives have been significantly disrupted amid the pandemic.
“Schools were closed, they didn’t have extended family or extracurriculars anymore, and that in itself is a form of grief because they’ve lost that normalcy of their lives,” Sullivan said. “When you combine that with a loss of a parent, it’s a lot to cope with.”
Sullivan said children can get overwhelmed with their emotions when this happens, which can result in a lot of guilt, asking questions such as, “‘Why did I see that grandmother was pale?” or “Why didn’t I notice the grandfather had a cough?'”
“It just brings up a lot of questions for a young mind,” Sullivan added.
Sullivan said there are ways to help a grieving child, including keeping a consistent routine and providing opportunities to remember the person that has died.
“Go to a favorite store or park and say, ‘Remember when we were here with the person that died? Isn’t that a nice memory?'” she said. “Offer reassurance that there are people that will take care of the child, that they’re not alone.”
Doctors at Bradley Hospital also developed a coloring book in hopes of empowering children to open up to adults about their feelings of grief.
FRIENDS WAY, the only bereavement center in Rhode Island, serves children ages three to 18 and families from throughout the region.