Without being able to explain it, many of us feel a communal “blanket of grief” that weighs on us in ways we haven’t felt before. We have been coping for years with losses from Covid-19, overdoses, and suicide. Grief support systems have not kept up, and we as a community must step up to support grieving children and families across Maui. 

The waves of deaths over the past few years have hit Maui’s small communities disproportionately hard. Because individuals in small communities often have multiple roles, one death in a small, rural community can have a more profound impact than it might in a larger city. For example, in a small town, one person might be the Mayor, manage a store, and be the primary caregiver at home. 

The numbers of bereaved children are on the rise in Maui. The Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (https://judishouse.org/cbem) estimates that one in fifteen children on Maui below the age of 18 will experience the death of a sibling or parent. That’s 2,200 children below 18 who are grieving in Maui County!

The death of a parent has a profound impact on children. Children process grief slowly over their lifetime, revisiting the death at different stages of their lives. Childhood grief, without intervention from counselors or other professionals or support groups, can lead to sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression or PTSD, substance use, relationship issues, decreased academic performance, teenage pregnancy, and suicide. While these are real consequences, they are not inevitable. 

As adults, we must challenge ourselves to develop the skills to comfortably and with confidence talk about death and the real impacts of loss. 

  • Model comfort around the topic of death, even if you feel some discomfort. 
  • Encourage grieving children to talk about their feelings. Ask them questions and listen to their stories. 
  • Incorporate the person who died into holidays and traditions as each year a child’s understanding of the death of that person will change. 
  • Even if family life is disrupted by death, keep kids participating in the activities they love and engaging with the people they love. 

Grieving children can not only survive but thrive after the death of a loved one, especially with the continued presence of caring adults who are ready to listen and help them with their grief. 

Nā Keiki O Emalia provides support to children and teens coping with the loss of someone important to them. We welcome community participation in our programs. If you’d like to serve, educate or advocate for Maui’s grieving children, call 808-214-9832 or email [email protected]