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Childhood bereavement

Tuesday 11 January 2011, 10:08

Keri Davies Keri Davies Web Producer, The Archers


Liz Koole of the child bereavement charity Winston's Wish, writes on the challenges facing Lily, Freddie and Elizabeth, now that they have lost Nigel

The death of a parent is one of the most fundamental losses a child will ever face. Studies show that if childhood grief is not dealt with appropriately it can have a deep and lasting effect on a child's emotional well-being.

It's important to remember that Nigel's death will have come completely out of the blue for Lily and Freddie, and everybody, both children and adults, will be in a state of shock and disbelief. Both children were at home at the time and they will have been aware of what happened. Although they didn't see Nigel's body after the fall, they may know that Elizabeth did. They may want to avoid all discussion with her about this because they think it is too painful for her.

Elizabeth too may want to avoid talking directly with them about their dad's death, for similar reasons. She may feel that she is protecting them from the distressing detail. This will be difficult for the children, as they will not have participated in anything which will help them believe or make sense of what has happened. The difficulty is that Elizabeth and the children will find themselves in different places emotionally.

The challenges for Elizabeth will be to find room for her own grief while also supporting her children. This is difficult, as children grieve differently from adults, leading parents to worry about whether their children are grieving appropriately. Supporting children is difficult when you are not feeling very strong yourself, so it will be important for Elizabeth and those around her to find support for her as an adult, while also seeking to understand how the children may be feeling and how they may be affected.


The challenges for Lily and Freddie will be to gradually understand what has happened. To do this, they may want to know details of the accident so they can piece the story together so it makes sense when they remember it in the future. They will also need people to help them sort out their feelings about what has happened, and to know that it is all right to have a whole variety of feelings. So people may expect them to feel sad, but they may also feel angry towards their dad for climbing on the roof and not being careful enough. They may also feel anger towards other family members who, in different ways, may have played a part in the sequence of events - Kenton, for suggesting the banner on the roof; David for encouraging Nigel to take it down that evening.

Then they will feel guilty for being angry and confused as to what they do or should feel. Adults don't find it easy to talk about feelings. Children also find it difficult, so it is likely that they will express their feelings in their behaviour. Difficult behaviour is hard for a bereaved parent, but it's good to try and understand what it might be saying. It will be important for Elizabeth to allow the children space to talk about how they feel, and to know that it is okay if their feelings are different from hers.


All of us respond to the death of someone we love in different ways, but there are certain expectations in society as to how someone who is bereaved should feel or behave, so Elizabeth may find that the way she outwardly expresses her feelings is very different to the way she feels in herself. Bereaved people often say they are okay, even though they really feel terrible, because they know it is difficult for others to hear how they really feel.

Children often want to assume a more adult role when a parent dies. Indeed, in Freddie's position continuing the Pargetter name and reputation may lead him and others to assume he is now 'the man of the house'. Family and friends need to recognise that he and Lily need to grieve as children.

Children also worry about forgetting someone, so it's important for Elizabeth to find ways to help Lily and Freddie remember their dad. Children nearly always want to talk about someone who has died, so finding room to include their dad in everyday family conversations will be important. Having things to keep that belonged to their dad which have meaning for each of them will also be important.


The bigger picture will be for Elizabeth to know that, although the children will be deeply affected by their dad's death, they will also just want to get on with the business of growing up. So it can sometimes seem that they have forgotten what happened.

For her the task, together with those who are supporting her, will be to lay good foundations for the children to grow up with. Children revisit the death of someone important throughout their childhood, as the person who has died 'grows up' with them. With good information, things that help them remember, and knowing that how they feel is okay, Lily and Freddie will hopefully grow into adults who understand what happened to their dad and what he meant to them (and their mum).

When children are bereaved we cannot - and should not - take away their grief. But by helping them to engage with it, express it and share it, we can help them live with it, through it and beyond it, enabling them to face the future with confidence and hope.

Liz Koole is family services manager for Winston's Wish.

  • Picture supplied by Winston's Wish, which offers practical support and guidance to families, professionals and anyone concerned about a grieving child
  • The Child Bereavement Charity supports families and educates professionals both when a child dies and when a child is bereaved
  • The Way Foundation supports young widowed men and women in the UK
  • The Dying Matters Coalition promotes public awareness of dying, death and bereavement


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    What about listener bereavement?

    The Archers has been wrecked, many ask questions? Answers are there none

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This is too weird for words...you go to all this trouble to write about child bereavement when you the script-writers caused it (unnecessarily) in a fictional world. We already know about childhood bereavement because it was flagged up and discussed by your good selves with the death of Sid and bereavement of Jamie storyline.

    I agree with Brian, what about listener bereavement?

    I'm not getting personal am I and is this a viscious, vitriolic attack?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I'm sorry, is this a joke? If so it is in extremely poor taste. Is this a case of the ventriloquist's dummy has taken over the ventriloquist? You, the writers and editor, created this "bereavement". Do you actually understand that?

    More words fail me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The storyline has raised some important issues that will unfold over the next few weeks and months. If we're interested in the issues, we can read this helpful and easily-understood article.

    If it's just a story to you, don't bother to read it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I am laughing at last! The Archers's production team has gone totally mad. I still want someone to explain to me the meaning of 'celebratory' as I obviously do not understand the dictionary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.


    It is just a story... that has accompanied me throughout my life.

    I am not interested in "issues" nor do I want... If any of these issues affected you help line nonesense.


  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Daft ain't it?

    Keri we've a surfeit of bereaved children in TA - must be the most unlucky small village in the country competing with Midsomer in the bonkers stakes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Radio 4 has plenty of serious programmes which deal with ishoos. Violence, drug addiction, death, depression - if we want to listen to a programme about such things then that is fine. And if they are discussed by professionals I am sure they are most helpful to those who feel they need information and support.

    But this is a 12 minute radio soap about country folk - and it has already dealt with the loss of a father in the last few weeks- we went through that with Jamie.

    But TA is not a documentary about bereavement; please spare us this sanctimonious twaddle.

    Oh my, they have all gone bonkers

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Yep, it does seem somewhat....let's just say strange. On the other hand, it could be an attempt to distract attention from what we're all still complaining about...

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    This is all illuminating stuff, clearly based on long experience and very valuable in the right context.

    What I'm wondering right now is why it needs to be posted here, to answer concerns that wouldn't have arisen if the production team, editor and script writers hadn't convinced themselves that they would entertain us on such a special occasion, with a death.

    Where are the answers to our serious concerns about the programme? ... and I don't mean the identical response that everyone is now begging to receive, which really says the same 'we know best and you'll like it in the end' .... except I won't because I'm now an ex-listener .... or does that make my points completely invalid?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Obviously that should have been ..... everyone is now beginning to receive.....! (It's the stress of it all)...

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This is strange to say the least. It's information I might choose to look for if I had to explain a bereavement to my child, but thankfully I don't have to. It stems from the culmination of the most hamfisted plotline in a piece of radio light entertainment.

    So I'm left wondering what was the point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Thank you for this good and helpful advice. It will come in useful for those who care for my grandchildren should anyone think it a brilliant idea to murder me as part of a 60th birthday celebration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I never write at number 11 I understand your stress!!!! We were BEGGING for responses! I sent at least 6 begs to the complaints dept. then other emails to PM, BH etc add to that all the BEGGING we all did to VW to reply to us.

    Raggedexile, hilarious!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Raggedexile no 13 - thank you so much! The laughs help!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I really don't know what to make of this!

    Presumably the script writers could have done with this kind of advice ..... but I can't find any mention of the word funeral so no advice for Lizzie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Hear, hear! Thanks Raggedexile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    @ #13 HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA thank you so much for a good laugh! LOLOLOLOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Comment 13 Raggedexile - spot on !!! This is a farce. I am heart sorry for Graham Seed . . . I am also sorry, now, for the rest of the cast . . . . . TA have had some cracking story-lines over the years and dealt with some pretty hefty issues . . but it has been reduced to a joke I have no interest in listening now; very sad. VW if you think you can just steamroller on and everyone will forgive, forget and fall into step again . . well I am sorry but you are wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The Archers as I know it is no more - what is the world coming to when a celebration consists of the death of a very popular cast member, god help us if there's cause for something awful to happen!


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