The last months have been difficult for all of us, with the pandemic forcing us to re-evaluate so many areas of our lives, from how we work to how we connect with our loved ones. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has given us another crisis to think about: an epidemic of bereavement. Over 1 million children have lost a loved one due to the pandemic, and with restrictions cutting many people off from their support networks, it’s forcing us to think about how we can support those who are facing their first Christmas after a loss.
Just as the pandemic has forced us to ask questions about our society as a whole – what a healthy work-life balance looks like, what roles in society we consider to be essential, or how we should support those struggling financially – the grief pandemic is demanding that we seek a better understanding of the devastating, long-term effects of complicated grief in children and young people, and how we can prevent these effects in challenging times. Apart of Me founder Louis Weinstock and a team of expert contributors have issued a report which makes the case for the essential importance of community to help young people grieve, and they pose one central question:
How can we design better communities to help young people grieve?
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The difference between society’s view of grief, and the real human experience of it, can make bereavement a lonely time. This is especially true for younger people. The report explains that over a quarter of children and young people feel a lack of companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others. With the feelings of isolation making it difficult for young people to open up to their peers, and a lack of understanding of grief in wider society, grief can be a particularly lonely and difficult experience for young people to go through. While the physical limitations on human contact caused by the pandemic have shed light on this issue, they are not the root cause of it. We need to find new ways to support young people through grief, and empower them to support themselves and each other through the process too.
It is this challenge that our report seeks to address. Complicated grief is the term for persistent, long-term challenges bereaved people face. In an age of social media, where trends and ideas come and go like the weather, the initial outpouring of support for someone experiencing grief can quickly fall away as this complicated grief begins to take hold. At Apart of Me, we believe there is a better way for young people to be supported through this difficult time: being part of something bigger than themselves, an ongoing project that allows them to freely express their feelings and use their experience as a source of growth.
In the report, we look at how much online communities help young people grieve, and in what ways they might hinder hinder grief. We look at some of the barriers young people face today in accessing community. And we will share some design provocations to get you thinking about how you can facilitate better communities that can help young people to grieve.
In the report, we identify five key cornerstones, principles that any community seeking to support young people through grief should consider:
We hope that this report inspires you to build better communities for grieving young people, because ultimately death is the one universal, and we are all in this together. The novelist Cormac Maccarthy writes that The closest bonds we will ever know are bonds of grief. The deepest community one of sorrow. In this Age of Aloneness, grief is a glue that can bind us back together.