Traumatic Grief and Unconfirmed Death

An unconfirmed death refers to a situation in which the family does not know for sure whether the person has died and has no guarantee that the person will return. Such situations can occur during war, through kidnapping, or during natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes. In cases such as these, children may continue to hope, imagine, or plan on the person's return, and feel guilty or disloyal when engaging in rituals such as celebrating holidays without the missing person. The lack of certainty surrounding the death can be confusing and can mean that traditional—and potentially comforting—rituals such as a funeral cannot be observed. Unconfirmed death can also lead to traumatic grief reactions in children.

NCTSN Resource

Coping with Unconfirmed Death: Tips for Caregivers of Children and Teens (2009) (PDF)

Unconfirmed death can be traumatic for children and teens, in part because the lack of certainty about the death makes it difficult for them to complete many of the tasks of normal bereavement. This publication offers caregivers advice on helping children deal with the complex emotions that arise when the death of family member or other important person in a child's life is suspected, but not confirmed.