Grieving the Loss of Someone Following a Difficult or Complicated Relationship

Grief has many layers when a relationship is healthy, but even more so when you have a complicated relationship with the person who died. While all grief is hard work, dealing with loss following a difficult relationship can be particularly complex to process.

Feelings and emotions

Following the death of someone who you had a strained relationship with, you might have contradictory, negative, or unexpected emotions. When someone was a source of pain and distress in your family, the remaining family may find it extremely difficult to process and manage grief in a healthy way that brings closure and peace. You may feel alienated because your experiences and your grief do not match the other stories of grief you see in your community,  however, it is important to remember that you are not alone.

Your initial feelings may be ones of relief, which can also lead to feelings of regret for feeling this way. You might mourn the way things were in the past, or feel sadness for what was missing. Other common emotions may include guilt over not trying harder to mend the relationship or avoidance of thinking about the person altogether. Perhaps you feel that the person’s death means the loss of hope for any reconciliation.

Common responses

Some common responses might be:

  • Numbness, shock, or lack of sadness over the loss
  • Happiness or relief that the source of stress and conflict is gone
  • Regret over what was missing and lack of reconciliation
  • Anger toward the person who’s gone or anger towards yourself
  • Grief even though others don’t ‘think’ you should be sad or because you feel you should not be sad

Remember that this is not a complete list. You may be feeling something entirely different, but know that whatever you’re feeling is normal.

Tips to manage your grief

If you’re faced with such a loss, here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Put away ideas of what you “should” be feeling. Every relationship is unique, and your grief will be unique too.
  • Find someone you can talk to openly about these difficult emotions. Sometimes those closest to us have the hardest time supporting us in grief. A mental health professional may give you the help you need to unpack and make sense of conflicting emotions.
  • Remember that it’s not too late to take care of “unfinished business” to move forward. Seek help with rituals or activities that promote healing. Journaling, letter writing, or another ritual of release might be helpful.
  • Know that it’s okay to remember the good and the difficult parts of the relationship as you grieve. Most relationships are a mixture of both.
  • Be gentle with yourself by eating well, moving your body some each day, and getting plenty of rest. Self-care goes a long way toward healing.

Grief can be an emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting process. In order to best support yourself through this difficult time, self-care needs to become a priority. Click here to access resources for parent self-care in our Grief Resource Hub.

For more information about the bereavement programs, activities and support we offer at Feel the Magic, click here.

Two people standing smiling in a park amongst greenery

Understanding Children’s Grief: How It Differs from Adults and What You Can Do to Help

Although they will feel it just as deeply, children will experience and express grief in different ways to adults. Even though a parent and child may have experienced the same loss, the way they both grieve may differ and take varying amounts of time.

Children’s understanding of death is limited to their age and cognitive development, which, in addition to the unique challenges they face, manifests into vastly different grief journeys.

Children’s grief is often intermittent

Some children appear to grieve for shorter periods than adults and they also appear to go in and out of mourning, as a coping mechanism1. A clear difference between adults and children is that children’s grief is often intermittent and sometimes seemingly absent. This is usually a result of feeling overwhelmed by the powerful emotions that accompany their grief. On the other hand, grieving adults often maintain a continual awareness and experience of loss.

Feel the Magic offers camps, programs and resources to help grieving kids learn to better manage these overwhelming grief emotions. Children learn skills, tools and coping mechanisms to help them deal with grief. It might take them some time to process the death and to find ways to express themselves.

Children need reassurance and a sense of security

Children often need to feel comfortable, gain a sense of security and feel safe enough to begin grieving. Whilst most adults who’ve lost a loved one will also experience feelings of insecurity, they’re usually able to recognise that they will eventually be okay.

Children depend on a consistent caregiver to meet their basic needs. Grieving children need a place where they truly belong and can feel safe to explore their grief and heal. Feel the Magic offers children this sense of stability through a community and network of individuals who know exactly what they’re going through.

Different understandings of death lead to different grief reactions

As adults have a greater understanding of death, they are more mature in how they manage their grief. A  child’s grief reactions are related to his or her understanding of death, which in turn is related to the child’s developmental age or stage1. Grief in children and adolescents can differ from that in adults.

Common grief reactions in adults include emotional numbness, disbelief and yearning, whilst children and adolescents commonly experience strong emotions such as guilt, anger, shame and impulsivity. Younger children often express their grief behaviourally, rather than emotionally.

Challenges that come with grief

Bereaved children can face many challenges, such as coping with the loss of a loved one for the first time, adjusting to a disrupted family dynamic, and learning to cope with grief in unfamiliar settings, such as school.

Children will not only grieve the death of their loved one, but also the changes that the death brought about in their world. An adult cannot protect a child from the pain of loss, although creating a warm, safe and accepting environment will support their grief experience and create the foundation for healing.

Grief for children is cyclical

For both adults and children, it is normal to move between intense grieving and times of reprieve. However, children may swing back and forth quicker and ‘jump’ in and out of their grief more frequently. Grief is a cyclical experience for children, and growing up with loss means that they may grieve multiple times throughout different developmental stages.

Adults and children do grieve differently. It is most important to remember that no matter the age or developmental stage of a grieving individual, everyone grieves differently and there is no wrong or right way to do so.

Feel the Magic supports grieving children and their families in navigating their unique grief journey. They learn vital skills, tools and coping mechanisms, and ultimately discover a place where they truly belong and can feel safe to explore their grief. Click here to learn more about the camps and programs we offer.


  1. Sveen, J., Eilegård, A., Steineck, G., & Kreicbergs, U. (2013). They still grieve-a nationwide follow-up of young adults 2-9 years after losing a sibling to cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 23(6), 658-664. doi: 10.1002/pon.3463

Mother’s Day Without Mum: Growing with Grief

Grief is a natural response to loss and can be an extremely challenging experience, especially on significant days like Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day and Grief

Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for children and teens who have experienced the death of their mum, or other maternal figure in their life like a step-mum, auntie or grandmother. It can be a time when grief is brought to the surface, emotions are heightened and may be a confronting reminder that their loved one is no longer here.

Despite the sadness and challenges that a day like Mother’s Day can bring, many grieving children can also experience ‘post-traumatic growth’ leading them to experience full and rich lives after the loss and tragedy and allowing them to grow with their grief in new ways.

Growing With Grief

Post-traumatic growth refers to the positive psychological changes people can experience following a struggle through a life-altering or traumatic experience. Although post-traumatic growth might occur following the death of a loved one, this does not mean it minimises the pain, suffering, and impact of such a significant loss.

While it is true that not everyone will experience post-traumatic growth after a loss or other negative event, it is a possibility for many, especially when they receive appropriate support and intervention.

Post-traumatic growth does not mean that the grieving process is easy or that the loss is any less painful. It simply means that there is the potential for growth following a difficult experience.

Feel the Magic Camper Emily lost her mum when she was just eight years old.

In a moving letter to her late mum Susan, Emily shared how she has taught her nanna and cousins her mum’s sausage roll recipe, listens to her mum’s favourite songs and has found a song that symbolises her mum in hers and her dad’s eyes.

Emily is at high school learning new things and meeting new people. She is now old enough to ride with her dad on the back of the Harley Davidson to visit her mum at the cemetery.

Emily with her mum Susan
Emily with a photo of her my Susan

Emily can smile again. Emily said:

“There’s just something that people need, and I think Camp Magic is probably one of them. You get a lot of people just being around you. You know that they have been through the same thing as you and you feel just really comforted by that. It’s taught me that nothing is too far out of reach, you just got to do it and just reach for your dreams, honestly. I’m very proud of myself”.

Emily’s dad Geoff said:

“It really helps me to know that she is in the best hands. They are able to reassure you that things will get better. She has done extremely well, the way she has coped, the way she has used the tools that Feel the Magic have given her is just absolutely fantastic”.

Emily speaking at Night of Magic 2022

Some of the ways that people may experience post-traumatic growth after the loss of a family member include:

  1. Deeper relationships: Loss can bring people closer together, as they support each other through the grieving process. This can result in deeper and more meaningful relationships, especially as they grow older.
  2. Increased sense of purpose: Some people find that going through a difficult experience such as grief helps them to clarify their priorities and find a greater sense of purpose in life. For some people, this may also lead to changes in study or work to better align with their values and goals.
  3. Greater resilience: Going through the process of grieving can be incredibly difficult, but it can also help people develop resilience, coping skills, and self-soothing strategies that can be useful in other areas of life or during subsequent challenging times.
  4. Increased gratitude and appreciation: When someone experiences a significant loss, they may develop a greater appreciation for the time they have with loved ones and for the beauty of life in general.

It is important to not jump into the possibility of growth immediately following the death of a loved one. However, helping grieving children and adolescents to develop post-traumatic growth can make a significant difference to their futures.

How to support a bereaved child and encourage growth with grief

Implementing these suggestions could help encourage growth and positive outcomes in bereaved children:

  • Social support – Fostering an environment of social support for bereaved children and adolescents is recommended to promote post-traumatic growth after traumatic life events. This may include having trusted adults to talk to about big emotions or having positive social friendships with peers.
  • Resiliency skills – Adults can be instrumental in helping children develop post-traumatic growth by teaching resiliency skills such as teaching positive emotional regulation skills, helping children name emotions and develop their emotional literacy, modelling help-seeking behaviours, and helping them identify their triggers and early warning signs of distress.
  • Early Intervention – Early interventions are often helpful for addressing trauma symptoms in children, and professional support may be required for some people. Helping a child process and make sense of a loss might help reduce feelings of excessive guilt, assist life transitions, and help them make new meaning of their world.
  • Offering praise and hope – When your child makes a positive coping statement or demonstrates self-soothing behaviour, it is a good idea to offer them praise and recognition for these healthy choices. It is also recommended to speak of the future and make plans. This can help counteract the common feeling among children that have experienced a traumatic event that the future is scary, bleak and unpredictable.
  • Parent/guardian self-care – it is important to take care of yourself and manage your own distress too. The use of self-regulation skills and self-care activities and seeking support is modelling an effective way to respond to trauma for your child. By taking care of your own emotional health and well-being, you’ll be better able to help your child.

If you are looking for tips to support a grieving child on Mother’s Day, read our blog: Remembering Mum and Coping with Grief on Mother’s Day.

Read More

Supporting Children and Teens Through Grief, Anniversaries and Significant Events

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Camp Magic

Supporting Children & Teens Through Grief, Anniversaries & Significant Events

Parenting through anniversaries and significant events after the loss of a loved one can be challenging.

Certain dates may serve as a reminder of a loved one’s death, such as the anniversary of the loss, birthdays and significant holidays.

Reminders of the deceased, such as visiting the grave or attending a funeral or memorial for others, may trigger the pain of a loss. Reminders may also be linked to your senses, sights, sounds and smells, such as hearing their lost loved one’s favourite song. Even though reminders of their loss are inevitable, they may elicit a heightened sense of grief for your child.


Since everyone grieves differently, it is difficult to anticipate how your child may feel on an anniversary, birthday, or holiday.

Although, preparing your child for how they may feel on these dates will help normalise the fact that such dates may evoke powerful memories and feelings surrounding their lost loved ones. In fact, knowing that they are likely to experience grief reactions may help them understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.

Planning together with your child will give them a greater sense of control and may help ease some anxiety in the lead up to these dates.

Your child may want to commemorate special events with ongoing emotional connections with their lost loved one. Alternatively, your child may prefer to keep their memories to themselves and grieve privately, and that is okay too.

There is no right or wrong answer with as to what you and your child should or shouldn’t do. Ensure you reiterate to your child that if they change their mind depending on how they feel on the day that is okay too.

Occasions such as birthdays and significant holidays often come with established traditions and rituals. Some families may want to continue their traditions, and others may want to change them as their ‘normal’ has changed. Either decision is okay and whatever you choose together this year can always be changed next year.

Family and friends

Sometimes concerned family or friends may be unsure of how to help as significant dates approach. Be honest that it is a difficult time and let them know what you and your child needs and how they can be helpful.

It might be helpful to share the plans with family and friends once you have decided what you would like to do on the day. Your child may want to schedule social activities or plans with loved ones during a potentially lonely day to provide them with extra support and remind them that they are not alone in their grief.

Supporting your child

Significant dates may be bittersweet as you and your child experience the painful reminders of the loss, difficult memories of the death, and the joyful times you shared with your loved one.

Strategies to support your child:

  • Look at the calendar and make a note of events and milestones that may be difficult.
  • Ask your child in advance what they want to do on these dates and plan together.
  • Try spend time with people who are supportive of you and your child if they want to be around loved ones.
  • Offer your child to write in a journal throughout the day.
  • Give your child permission to not be okay, freeing them from expectations.
  • Consider ways your child could express their feelings in a creative way, such as art, writing, or music.
  • Offer your child a forum to connect with others and share their memories.
  • Offer your child to do something that makes them feel good. This may be as simple as going to their favourite café.
  • Hold a personal ceremony or ritual, such as lighting a candle.

A man, woman and child standing smiling on a hillside

Remembering Mum and Coping With Grief on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be an incredibly tough day for children and teenagers who have lost their mum.

This special day for so many can bring up a lot of emotions for grieving kids. It can make them feel isolated and can be hard for them to navigate without feeling overwhelmed.

Grieving kids are not alone

It is important for them to know they are not alone. There is a community of other kids in similar situations, feeling similar emotions, that get it.

Sadly, 1 in 20 kids in Australia will experience the death of their mum or dad before they turn 18.

Feel the Magic exists to create a community where grieving kids and their families can connect, feel supported and empowered, to begin to live healthily with their grief.

As one Feel the Magic parent said, “We can’t believe this network exists to provide free programs for kids just like her.” And from another parent, “Going to Camp helped Jesse understand he’s not alone in his grief journey. Being grouped with other kids who have experienced a similar situation to losing his mum has given him the opportunity to share his feelings and experiences with people who truly understand how he feels”.

Remembering mum

Children can take comfort knowing that they can keep their mum’s memory alive and celebrate her love and legacy in their own way.

Feel the Magic Camper Emily remembers her mum in her own special ways.
Emily cooks her mum’s sausage roll recipe, just like she used to make. Emily has even taught her nanna and cousins her mum’s recipe. Every time Emily makes them, it brings back memories of her and her mum cooking in the kitchen.

Emily also likes to play her mum’s favourite songs “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” and “Lady Marmalade” – they are both on Emily’s Spotify playlist.

Emily with her dad and mum

A teenage girl holding a photo framed of her mother standing outdoors with trees behind her

Emily with a photo of her mum Susan

How to support a bereaved child on Mother’s Day

Special days, anniversaries and events can be a tough time for anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one, especially for children without a parent. But remembering a lost loved one can provide comfort and meaning during challenging times.

Each child experiences grief differently. It’s important to remember that they might not have the emotional tools or words to express their feelings which is why finding special ways to remember mum on Mother’s Day can be helpful.

This guide is designed to help children and teenagers to honour and remember their mums on Mother’s Day, with helpful strategies to navigate the day.

  1.  Do things that remind you of your mum on Mother’s Day

Doing things that remind you of your mum on Mother’s Day can help you feel closer to your mum. Putting your mum’s favourite flowers in a vase, cooking your mum’s favourite dinner, listening to her favourite music, or doing an activity that she enjoyed or you used to do together, are different ways of remembering your mum on Mother’s Day and maintaining your connection with her.

  1. Do whatever you want on Mother’s Day without pressure or expectations

For some people, it will be a sad day, for others it may be a happy day, and some people will feel neither happy nor sad. Similarly, for some people it will be a day to remember mum, whilst others may want to avoid it. Each year, one’s feelings and desires will change and be different for everyone. It is important that you do what feels right for you. There is no right or wrong way to feel and there is no right or wrong way to spend Mother’s Day. 

  1. Make a special card in memory of your mother

In the lead up to Mother’s Day, the shops and Mother’s Day stalls at schools may be overwhelming for children bereaved by the death of their mum. Even if your mum has passed away, you still have a mum. Buying a card allows you to think about your mother and connect with her. Writing a message to her, whatever you want to say, is a beautiful way of expressing your love for your mum. You could write an update about your life, or share a special memory you have together, or simply talk about how you’re feeling. This process might make the shops and Mother’s Day stalls at school a little easier. Children and teens might also want to celebrate other important women in their life on Mother’s Day, such as an aunty, grandmother or caregiver.

  1. Talk about your mum

Mother’s Day can be a good opportunity to talk about your mum to family, friends, or people who knew your mum. Talking about your own memories with your mum or hearing about other people’s memories is a beautiful way to remember her on Mother’s Day. You might learn things you didn’t know before, such as what she was like as a child.

  1.  Avoid social media on Mother’s Day

For adolescents in particular, it may feel like they are bombarded with social media posts of friends and their mums. If you think that seeing other people’s Mother’s Day posts might cause you distress, try to limit your use of social media on Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for kids who have lost their mum. Although their physical presence may be missing, their mum’s love and presence can stay with them in their hearts. Remembering the happy times spent together and the love mum gave can bring a sense of comfort and healing.

For further guidance, read our blog on Supporting Children and Teens through Grief, Anniversaries and Significant Events.

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Helping Children Navigate Their Grief

The Power of Reading: Helping Children Navigate Their Grief

Grieving is a process that unfolds differently for every child and adult. Grieving children and teens might find it difficult to talk about their loss right away, and some may show signs of fear and need extra reassurance. 

Reading books about death and loss can help a child better understand what has happened and realise that they’re not alone.  

Some children might be ready to connect with books immediately after the death, others might be more ready in the weeks and months following the death. Either way, books can serve as tools to help children process their grief and feel less alone. 

Reading books can show grieving children characters who have experienced something similar. Books can also help children understand complex feelings, explain the facts and permanence of death, or even help children connect with memories of their lost loved one.  

Here are some tips for choosing helpful books and some recommendations for various age groups.

Books for children aged 4-7 years olds

Around this age, children begin to develop an understanding of death. Younger kids might feel responsible for the death of a loved one, or they might have magical thoughts that their behaviour could bring the person back. 

Tips for choosing helpful books for 4–7 year olds 

Look for books:

  • that help explain the basic facts about death 
  • in which characters feel multiple feelings simultaneously. Books can help kids understand that it is possible, and normal, to feel many things at once 
  • that show there is no “right way” to feel, grieve or express sadness or worry
Woman and child standing together smiling wearing blue Camp Magic tshirts
Mentor and Camper at Camp

Book recommendations

Books for children aged 8-12 years

Bereaved children within this age group generally understand that death is permanent. However, they might still have confused or magical thinking that something they could’ve done differently would have prevented the death. They might fixate on the details of their family member’s death.  

Man and child standing together smiling wearing blue Camp Magic tshirts
Mentor and Camper at Camp

Tips for choosing helpful books for 8–12 years

Look for books that:

  • feature characters that the child will see their own culture, family structures, and life experiences reflected.  
  • allow characters to express a range of emotions and behaviours after experiencing a loss. This is important to show children that there is no “right way” to process grief. 
  • are age-appropriate for individual children both in content and reading abilities.  

Book recommendations

Books for children aged 13-17 years

It is important to approach bereaved teenagers with compassion while maintaining boundaries. It is common for grief to manifest as anger in teens, and they might withdraw from school or act out in disruptive ways. Encourage them to find ways to express what they are feeling, and if they are willing to share with you, actively listen and validate the emotions being expressed.

Tips for choosing helpful books for 13–17 years 

  • feature characters that the child will see their own culture, family structures, and life experiences reflected.   
  • allow characters to express a range of emotions and behaviours after experiencing a loss. This is important to show children that there is no “right way” to process grief.  
  • are age-appropriate for individual children both in content and reading abilities.    

Book recommendations

Some reflection questions

Reading can be used as a fun way to encourage young children and teenagers alike to talk about the death of their family member and their grief with a parent or other trusted adult.

We have compiled some questions you can give your child that will help them connect more with the book they’ve read and allow them to express feelings.

  1. It can be confusing to feel more than one feeling at once, like the character in the book we read. What are some feelings that a person may feel at the same time? Would you like to share anything about times when you have felt more than one feeling, such as feeling angry with someone and missing them, or feeling sad about something but happy at the same time?  
  1. What did the character feel after the loss? How did those feelings change over time?  
  1. It is hard to feel big feelings. How did the characters in the book feel? How do their feelings affect their behaviours? Have you noticed any ways that your feelings and behaviours are connected? Are there certain things that you do when you feel sad, angry, or confused?  
  1. What strategies did the character use to cope with their feelings? Which of the strategies seemed to be the most helpful for this character?  
  1. What would you like to say to the character experiencing grief? What things did other characters say or do that were the most helpful to the grieving character?  
  1. Would you like to talk about, write about, or draw any of your favourite memories of the person who died? Is there another way that you would like to remember or celebrate that person  
  1. How did the loss affect the character’s feelings of safety or security?  
  1. How did the character continue to feel connected to their loved one or to remember them after the death? How can you remember loved ones after they die? What can you do to stay connected to them and celebrate their memory?  

Helping children navigate grief through books allows them to feel connected with others, giving them the confidence to express difficult feelings like anxiety and anger. For more advice on how to help your child cope after a parent or other family member has died, visit our Grief Resource Hub.

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A Guide on How to Teach Children About Death