Acknowledging the complex grief associated with COVID-19

Over the past few months we have experienced more loss than most people have in their lives and this is especially true for our younger population. First, we lost our work, next we lost school, then we lost the ability to see our friends and extended families, and then we lost our routines and sense of safety. We may have even lost sight of how to navigate this new COVID-19 world. Well, what most news sources and social media articles are failing to mention is that we are all experiencing complex grief associated with the pandemic.

Grief is an emotion someone feels after the loss of someone or something. Often times grief is associated with the loss of an important person in one’s life, but people can grieve the loss of something too.

Here are some of the losses and grief that you and your child might be experiencing right now and some ways to help cope with these feelings.  


Non-death loss is the loss of something in one’s life and this can cause someone to grieve. Non-death losses are all of the things that changed after the pandemic hit. The loss of routines, going to school, seeing friends and family, and so much more.

Secondary losses are the other losses that come with losing a loved one, or a major loss in one’s life. Control is one of the major secondary losses that is being experienced right now along with relationships and friendships with colleagues, classmates and teammates, and routines, celebrations and events.

A way to ease the pain is to acknowledge these losses and brainstorm ways to help bring some of these things back. Schools are now having online sessions, and people have been very creative in coming up with ways to keep connections with family and friends. For example, doing an activity with a grandparent over a video chat, such as baking or reading a book together.


Anticipatory grief is the feeling that occurs before an impending loss. This may feeling like being on edge, finding yourself or your child angry at things that are out of control, or always thinking about the worst-case scenario. Anticipatory grief may also cause exhaustion, withdrawal, or avoidance.

With the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, things are forever changing month to month, week to week, day to day and even hour to hour. Once we have had a chance to wrap our heads around the changes, things seem to change again and now we are in a state of always anticipating the next big change.

Some things that you can do to help with this type of grief is to establish routines. Routines help take out the stress of wondering what the next big change is and create some stability in the “new normal.”


Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without closure or a clear understanding of what happened. This coronavirus seemed to change life as we knew it so quickly. On March 11, 2020 Canada declared a pandemic and then in the next few days schools across Canada were closed without even a chance for good-byes. There was little time to understand and process what was happening to Canada and the world. A lot of things were lost in the first few weeks of this pandemic, creating many ambiguous losses.

Helping your child learn about COVID-19 and all of the new terminology that is being used may help them have a better understanding of how their world has changed and may create a sense of normalization. For most people the term social-distancing is new, as well helping your child understand that the coronavirus, novel coronavirus and COVID-19 are all terms that are being used interchangeably to describe the virus that is affecting the world right now. 

We are all learning together during this time and as you can see everyone is going through a lot. As restrictions begin to ease up in some areas, other things may take a little longer to return to as it once was, so it’s important to be kind to ourselves and others as everyone deals with grief and loss differently.  It’s okay to make mistakes, have do-overs and acknowledge the complex grief that you and your child have experienced.

UGotThis! A COVID-19 Workshop for Teens

Wow, what a whirlwind couple of months it’s been for everyone! COVID-19 has brought us a lot of change. Our routines are different, we haven’t seen close family members for almost two months, some of us are working from home, our favourite stores and restaurants are closed, going to the grocery store is a planned adventure… the list goes on!

For kids and teens, a change in routine is especially hard.

During challenging experiences, children and youth need is a listening ear, the acknowledgment that what they’re feeling is normal, and some strategies to help them cope with change. We are here to help!

Upopolis is hosting UGotThis! A five-day workshop for youth aged 10 – 18 years old, in response to COVID-19 and self-isolation. The workshop offers youth exercises to explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding the pandemic and isolation, tips to help plan their days, support in developing positive coping strategies, encouragement on setting personal goals, and live support chats to connect with child life specialists and other youth participants. The skills youth learn during the workshop can be transferred to the remainder of this pandemic, and can be used to help them cope with any potentially challenging events they are faced with in their future lives.

Your child does not have to be part of our Upopolis community to join, the workshop is FREE, and it is facilitated entirely by certified child life specialists who are trained to support children and youth through life’s challenging events. In order for children and youth to come out of this experience positively, they need to be given the tools to be resilient.

Check out a sample of one of our lessons from Krista, a Upopolis child life specialist, at this link:


Do you want to sign up your child or know a youth who needs some support during the pandemic? E-mail support@upopolis.com to get them started!  

The ABC’s of Grief

Grief is such a tricky thing, because everyone grieves differently, and each loss can be grieved differently. The loss of a loved one is hard for even the most experienced adult, and there is no exception for a young person. The way someone grieves can be based on previous experiences in life and the developmental stage of the person going through the loss.

Here are three ways that you can support the young person in your life through grief.

Allow your teen or child to grieve.

  • Help them process their feelings, in a supportive way. Try just listening to them and acknowledging their thoughts and feelings.
  • Children grieve in “puddles” meaning that they tend to be sad or angry one moment and then the next moment they are back to laughing and playing. This is all completely normal.
  • Teenagers on the other hand grieve more like an adult but don’t yet have all the life experience to cope with all of these big feelings. They understand the permanence of death, and have the ability to deal with loss but only based on their previous experiences.

Be there for them.

  • Be there for them when they need to talk. Teenagers may feel that no one understands what they are going through because they are in an egocentric phase of development so it is very important to empathize with them and just be present when they need someone.
  • Be there for them when they need a break from the grief. Younger children have this innate ability to take breaks from their grief through play, and this time might be a good opportunity for you too, to take a break from those hard feelings for a moment. Teenagers may need to be encouraged to hangout with their friends.

Connect them with a community.

  • The importance of finding your “tribe” is so important especially to youth who strive on community and social acceptance. Finding that group of friends is even harder, and more important when a youth have gone through something that not many of their peers have, like the loss of a parent or a sibling.
  • Help connect them with a supportive community of peers who understand what they are going through. This community could be a local grief support group, or a bereaved summer camp or the Grief Pop-Up on Upopolis.

Introducing the Upopolis Grief Pop-Up

Upopolis saw this need and has created a special place for youth going through grief. This community aims to help these youth find someone else who just gets what they’re going through.

Meeting the Needs of Siblings

A brother or sister’s illness or hospitalization can have quite the impact on siblings. This medical situation is entirely new to them and the family as a whole. The sibling may hear and see things they don’t fully understand, their routines may be shaken up, and they may be separated from their family during hospital visits, admission or appointments. These siblings often find their brother or sister is receiving special attention and they themselves tend to feel left behind.

This is all normal.

The family may start to feel challenges affecting their dynamics and relationships, and the siblings can often start to feel lonely, isolated, confused, guilty, angry or worried. Parents may start to find the siblings of these children with illness or hospitalization are expressing their feelings through new behavioural issues, such as a difference in eating and sleeping habits, aggression, becoming withdrawn, difficulties in school, regressing to skills of an earlier age (such as wetting the bed), and clinging to parents.

This is all normal, too!

So how can we support these siblings?

Being aware of these changes and talking openly with your child is the first step in supporting them during this stressful time.

Tips for Supporting Siblings

  • Talk openly and honestly with your child about the events or situation affecting the family using information and language they understand. It is important to do this throughout your journey.
  • Continue daily routines and schedules as much as you can. Keep up their expectations (they still need to do their homework!) and engage in regular family traditions (do you have pizza night every Friday? Bring it into the hospital with them!) This gives your child a sense of security and stability.
  • Talk with your child about how they are feeling about their brother or sister’s illness or hospital admission; ask them if they have any questions or concerns.
  • Acknowledge these feelings and thank them for telling you! It’s normal to be feeling the way they are and your child needs to hear this.
  • Keep all your children connected with one another. This can be done through phone calls, texts, video chats, sharing drawings or photos, and making gifts like cards for one another.
  • Try to maintain alone time with the sibling. Would you have normally gone to their soccer game? Arrange for someone to stay with your other child so you can make these special moments.
  • Continue to reassure siblings that they did not cause this, they most likely will not get sick themselves, and that they are valued and loved.

Who else can help you?

            It really does take a village to raise a child! Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

  • Let your child’s school know about this situation so they have someone available there, like a teacher or counselor, to support them.
  • If you are not able to be with your child, make arrangements with an adult who your child is familiar with to spend time with them.
  • Look into support groups for siblings. Siblings will have the chance to meet and interact with others who are sharing the same feelings and experiences as themselves. This helps relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Do you know a youth who is a sibling and is in need of more support? Upopolis can help! With a doctor’s referral, your sibling can join our new Sibling Pop-Up, a safe, online space where siblings can meet and connect with one another. Visit upopolis.com – Healthcare Professionals to have your child referred to our online platform, or e-mail support@upopolis.com for more assistance.

The takeaway? It is important for siblings to know that everything they are feeling is normal, and that they are a valued member of the family. Expressing their feelings, whether that’s with you or another support person or group, is key to helping them cope during these stressful situations. You may find that with some love and attention to detail, this stressful time turns into a positive experience for siblings and can help them develop into understanding and resilient adults.

Coping: Be Prepared

I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out the best way to cope and reduce my anxiety for an upcoming medical procedure.

This is what I have learned:

  • Gather the facts; get your hands on age-appropriate information (only from a trusted source like UKNOW, the age-appropriate medical information database on Upopolis). Research tells us that our imagination is so much worse than the truth.
  • Write down your questions. After you’ve read up, write down any questions that have popped up. If you have time before you go to a test or procedure check-in with your Child Life Specialist or someone from your healthcare team. If you don’t have time to meet before, bring your questions to your procedure, ask them there.
  • Go over the procedure in your mind. Visualize it. Pay attention to what you are doing during the procedure. Are you watching? Are your eyes closed? Do you want to know what’s happening next?
  • Bring an object of comfort with you. Do you like music? Do you like to read? Do you have something you like to snuggle with? You may not be allowed to bring it into the procedure but it will be really nice to have it right after.
  • Finally, reflect. What worked? What didn’t work? Write it down so you can bring these findings with you next time.

I found the biggest thing for me was reflecting. Getting to know and understand myself and how my body reacts in times of stress was HUGE in helping me conquer my anxiety. What works for you[ ?

Tips to help support your youth as they return to school

It’s that time a year again, the youth are heading back to school. For youth experiencing critical illness or living with chronic illness back to school preparation does not just happen in September. Youth must often prepare for school re-entry post treatment or following an extended absence. Along with the typical back to school preparation which includes clothing and school supply shopping, these youth must also prepare themselves for the questions and reactions that they may get from teachers and peers. As well as for treatments, medications or side effects that will be done or experienced at school.

How do we as parents help to prepare our youth for the questions or reactions of their teachers and peers upon returning to school?

Brainstorm questions that your child might get asked. Sit down with your child and think about all the questions that they anticipate a teacher or peer asking them. You may want to invite a friend or two who spends lots of time with your child to help add questions to the list. Then, spend some time coming up with answers to the questions that your child is comfortable sharing. There maybe questions that are “off limits” and that’s okay. Be sure that your child knows that they can opt not to answer every question and that they have a response to let people know that this is not something they are willing or ready to discuss.

How would your child prefer to share information about their illness or absence.

This is a conversation worth having with your child and the school. Find out what the options are for sharing and education peers and teachers about your child’s diagnosis, treatment, and side effects. A little knowledge can go a long way to help people understand and be comfortable with unknown situations. Your child may want to address their teachers and peers immediately with a class Q&A or a presentation, maybe they would like you or a member of their health care team to be there for support. Give your child the options and let them decide how they are comfortable moving forward; be sure they know what platforms and support are available to them. To ensure you cover everyone questions, you may want to set up a Q&A box before the presentation or return to school date.

Are there treatments or side effects that are anticipated to happen during school time?

Be sure that there is a well communicated plan for treatments that must happen during school times.  Your child and their teachers should be a part of developing the plan to make sure that it gets carried through and that it works for everyone involved. For example, if your child is going to be late for every English class because they must stop at the office for medication, be sure the English teacher is aware. This will keep them from wondering where their student is, and it will keep them from drawing attention to your child as they slip back into class. Have a plan for the unplanned. Yes, if you know that side effects might occur, be sure there is a plan for when they do. Communicate this plan with the teachers too. For example, if your child gets nauseous. Have a paper with a symbol in the poach of your child’s binder or backpack. If they need to leave the class quickly, they can place this paper on their desk. Teachers will then know what is going on, can put in place the follow up actions, and will not draw unwanted attention to your child.

Having these conversations will help your youth get their best start to the school year or upon their return following an extended absence.