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Pandemic grief: Tucson organization helps children cope with loss

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 9:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - About 1.5 million children have experienced the loss of a family member in the last year due to COVID-19, according to a Lancet Global Health study.

Nearly a year after her father lost his life to the virus, Kara Vatthauer and her family are still grieving.

“I would say it’s up and down. Little things remind you of moments and then you get sad. I try not to cry too often, but I still do once in a while and I’m sure that’s going to continue probably for the rest of my life,” Vatthauer said.

In Arizona one in 14 children experience the death of either a parent or sibling before they turned 18.

“We have 17 grandchildren. Each and every one of them experienced that. I think of the 17, 15 were still under 18, so that’s a lot of children,” Vatthauer says.

And that number is expected to increase. Tu Nidito’s goal is to create an understanding about children and how they process grief.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in our referrals and also people coming to Tu Nidito because someone in their life has died as a result of COVID,” Amanda Marks, Tu Nidito’s community impact director says.

The organization held it first public grief education workshop Monday, Sept. 27 with educators, parents and kids attending.

Marks says school age children are experiencing different kinds of grief throughout the pandemic. They lost the ability to go to school in-person and seeing their friends on top of losing a loved one.

“They’re just grieving and they don’t know how to make sense of what they’re experiencing and how out of sorts they may feel and so, they’re acting out,” Marks said.

Marks says grief will look different depending on a child’s age. You could see a change in their behavior, academic performance or stamina. Marks hopes workshop participants will walk away with a new or better understanding of what their child is experiencing and how they can support them.

Tu Nidito hopes to have more workshops like this on a quarterly basis and once the COVID transmission rate is lower, they plan to have the workshops in-person.

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