A middle schooler in Florida describes the difficulty of seeing other kids spending time with their fathers. “If you go to a store,” he says, “the hardest thing is if you see someone else with their dad and you see that they’re having fun with their dad.” His father succumbed to COVID-19 just six months ago.

Fifty percent of caregiver loss has affected elementary and middle-school age children. The response from administrators at this young man’s middle school has felt greatly disconnected from his needs. His mother, who has been her son’s main advocate, describes the middle school as “authoritarian.” When the teen got into trouble after his father’s passing, he had a poor experience with school leadership. “It was horrible,” he recounts. “The principal and there was a team there, they made me talk about my dad and I didn’t want to talk about that stuff. And they kind of forced me to.”

The school guidance counselor reached out to him once or twice at first but doesn’t check up on him anymore, even through email (which would be his preferred method so as not to be singled out in front of his peers). While formal support from the school has fallen short, he doesn’t mind going to school “because I get to be with my friends.” The teen has one friend in particular who has similarly experienced loss. They like to be around each other and share an understanding. The 13-year-old also currently takes care of a cow through the school agricultural program. This has been a good outlet for him, though the program ends in a month.

Outside of school, he has tried a grief support group but found it unhelpful. He says he might have liked the group more if they gave participants more “space between how many meetings you go to. Because you need time to think about it and then you just don’t want to constantly go to another meeting, like every week.”

Additionally, he has attended one-on-one therapy. “I guess she thought she was helping me by talking to me about the stuff,” he says of his therapist. “It’s different with my sister because she likes to talk with everybody. But I don’t really.” The grief journey of every child is unique. No single intervention will be a right-fit for everyone. The 13-year-old advises those who want to help: “If there’s other kids like me and if they’re having trouble … it’d be better to ask them if they don’t like talking about it.” It will be critical to meet COVID-bereaved children where they are at with compassion and empathy.