“We share a bond even without ever meeting one another, because we share in having lost a parent.”
“We share a bond even without ever meeting one another, because we share in having lost a parent.”- Prince Harry, 2022
I recently read the online article “Prince Harry Shares His Advice For Children Grieving The Loss Of A Parent” as published by www.romper.com on November 14, 2022. I was reminded of the tragic circumstances of his mother’s death and the events that publicly unfolded afterwards.
Prince Harry was 12 when Princess Diana succumbed to her injuries suffered in a car crash in 1997. According to the article, “In honor of Remembrance Day this year, Prince Harry wrote a letter to children via Scotty's Little Soldiers, a British-based charity created to help bereaved children who have lost a parent in the military. “I wanted to write to you and let you know you are all in my thoughts and heart today,” the dad of two wrote in his letter. “We share a bond even without ever meeting one another, because we share in having lost a parent.” Prince Harry went on to say that he understands their pain and grief “first-hand,” and wanted them to know that they are not alone, especially on an emotional day like Remembrance Day.”
According to a study, there is a 3-Stage grieving process in children (Graham, 2013):
1. Understanding what death is, recognizing the event when it happened, understanding its characteristics
2. Understanding that death is real, and it is ‘ok’ to feel emotions
3. Reorganization of a child’s sense of identity and his/her relationships with others and with the environment
Prince Harry has become a mental wellness advocate, and more recently (especially after becoming a father of two) has been specifically speaking/writing about his experiences with grief. David Kessler in his book, The Needs of the Dying, Tenth Anniversary Edition, suggests that when death does occur, children need to be taught these things
• That they are loved
• That they will be cared for
• That the dying person will be in the child’s heart and memories forever
• That not everyone will die at once
• That life will continue
Back in 1997, the public watched as the royal family, and especially the young princes, coped with the death of the much-loved “People’s Princess” (as Princess Diana was affectionately referred to). Her death prompted international mourning and continues to be a fascination today. Prince Harry and Prince William mourned in private I’m sure, but it was the public mourning that we all wanted to see. They were photographed constantly while in public, for example while looking at floral tributes left at Kensington Palace following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Both princes have spoken about how the death of their mother affected them.
According to David Kessler, children can be taught how to mourn productively.
1. Help them to understand and make sense of what has or is happening. Tell them the truth.
2. Help them grieve or express their emotional responses to the present or anticipated loss. Validate appropriate feelings.
3. Teach them that life goes on.
4. Commemorate the loss formally or informally.
5. Let children say good-bye (perhaps via a funeral).
Who can ever forget the searing image of the two princes and their father walking behind their mother’s coffin while perhaps thousands of people lined up on the streets watched them and perhaps millions more watched via the television coverage. The princes have spoken about how difficult that was to do at such a young age. While we are not royalty ourselves, there are ways that we can help a grieving child. The following is a short list of several actions that may help make the process easier:
• Offer unconditional acceptance
• There are no rules for grief, and everyone experiences loss in their own way. The same is true for any child.
• If the child seems unaffected when everyone else is upset but then several weeks later experience a delayed reaction, it can be helpful to let them know that this is normal. There is no set timeline for grief that everyone must follow.
Not all children who experience grief will need counselling. It is especially recommended for children who experience a violent or sudden loss or death of their primary caregiver. If they exhibit these signs, then it is also recommended to seek counselling.
• Prolonged depression
• social withdrawal
• appetite loss
• loss of interest in daily activities
• wishing they could go with the person they’ve lost
• refusal to return to school
• suicidal ideation
In conclusion, although Prince Harry’s quote “We share a bond even without ever meeting one another” was aimed towards children, I think we can agree that the loss of a parent at any age is bonding.
(Excerpts taken from my “Children and Grief” Eventbrite presentation of August 12,2022 and from “A Deeper Dive into a Child’s Grief” Eventbrite presentation of September 11, 2022)