New research featured in the New York Life Foundation’s inaugural bereavement report, “The State of Grief,” released today, found the pandemic has amplified Americans’ desire to talk about death and loss. The report explores COVID-19’s impact on grief support in America and is part of the New York Life Foundation’s longstanding commitment to generating resources, understanding, and awareness to support grieving children and their families.
While the pandemic has heightened the conversation around death and grief, the need for strong bereavement support has always been urgent, as an estimated 1 in 14 American children experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 181. Now, as Americans confront our individual and collective grief from COVID-19, new research from the New York Life Foundation indicates that 71% of adults—and 79% of those who lost someone close to them from COVID-19—say they want a more open, national dialogue about death and loss. About half of adults (51%) say the pandemic has prompted them to have conversations with family and/or friends on death and loss.
The survey results also point to an urgent need to strengthen our systems of grief support, as nearly two-thirds of adults (64%) say the pandemic has greatly underscored the nation’s need for more bereavement support.
“Historically, we have been a grief-averse society, but our survey indicates that the pandemic may prove to be an inflection point, dramatically underscoring the need for more grief awareness, understanding, and dialogue,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation, one of the largest corporate funders of support for childhood bereavement. “We all need to embrace this moment to encourage open conversations and practical supports—at home, in school, and in the workplace—so people will be properly prepared, cared for, and supported when a loved one dies.”
Americans Challenged to Grieve in Person; Few Sought Bereavement Services
According to the medical journal Pediatrics, over a 15-month period during the pandemic, 140,000 U.S. children lost a parent or caregiver, with children of racial and ethnic minorities accounting for a disproportionate number of the children who suffered such a loss.
“We know that families in under-resourced communities and Black and/or Latino youth have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-related deaths. Unfortunately, these are often the same children and families who have already suffered from prior traumas and losses, making the additional deaths due to the pandemic even more impactful,” said Dr. Julie Kaplow, executive director of the Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center at the Hackett Center for Mental Health in Houston, and executive director of the Trauma and Grief Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.
The survey results also shed light on the grief experience for those who lost a loved one to COVID-19:
- 65% say that they weren’t able to grieve in person with friends and family when their loved one died
- 83% say that they weren’t able to visit with their loved one before they died
- More than half of adults (52%) who lost someone close due to COVID-19 did not seek out any form of grief support during the pandemic.
Yet, the pandemic did spur a greater openness to talking about grief: 63% agree that after losing a loved one to COVID-19, they are more open to having conversations about death and loss.
Schools Have Become Critical Places of Support, Parents Say
Given COVID-19’s immense toll, the survey results reveal a growing focus on what schools are doing to support grieving students—and how their role could become even more meaningful. Among parents with school-age children:
- About 6 in 10 (61%) of parents say the pandemic has opened their eyes to the need for more grief support services in school
- When asked about the role schools can play in disseminating information and resources, 71% of parents, and an even higher percentage of Black parents (83%), think schools should give parents more information and guidance on how to help their kids through traumatic events
- Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of parents agree that grief support should be a priority for schools
As greater focus turns to how schools can serve as centers of support for grieving children, the New York Life Foundation’s Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative, established in 2018, helps raise awareness of the impact of grief on school-age children and directs educators across the country to relevant, free, online grief resources and tools.
With Heightened Focus on Grief Support, Attention Turns Toward Workplace Bereavement Plans
Another critical area for the delivery of bereavement support is the workplace. Yet, the survey results indicate that few employees are familiar with their company’s grief-related policies:
- Just over a quarter of employed Americans (28%) are familiar with the grief support and/or bereavement resources offered by their workplace
- 30% of employed Americans are unsure of their workplace bereavement leave policy, in particular.
When asked what enhancements they would like to see to their workplace’s bereavement efforts, respondents cited paid bereavement leave (67%), extending leave for bereavement (66%), flexible bereavement leave (65%), an employee hardship relief fund (63%), and enabling employees to define what constitutes a “loved one” (58%) as the top choices.
“With heightened focus on grief in the wake of nationwide loss, our research shows that employees are looking to their workplace to serve as a support system when they are confronted with the death of a loved one,” said Maria Collins, vice president of the New York Life Foundation. “Our hope is that we, as a society, can dedicate ourselves to acknowledging grief and providing the support in our homes, schools, and workplaces that bereaved families need to heal and, in time, to thrive.”
The “State of Grief” report, which also features insights and tips from the New York Life Foundation’s extensive network of bereavement experts, is available here.
Free bereavement resources from the New York Life Foundation can be found here.
This poll was conducted by Morning Consult from Sept. 16 to Sept. 19, 2021, among a sample of 4,400 general population adults (73 opted out from participating due to the survey’s topic). The interviews were conducted online, and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on gender, educational attainment, age, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
About the New York Life Foundation
Inspired by New York Life’s tradition of service and humanity, the New York Life Foundation has, since its founding in 1979, provided nearly $380 million in charitable contributions to national and local nonprofit organizations. The Foundation supports programs that benefit young people, particularly in the areas of educational enhancement and childhood bereavement. The Foundation also encourages and facilitates the community involvement of employees and agents of New York Life through its Volunteers for Good program and Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative. To learn more, please visit www.newyorklifefoundation.org.
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1 Statistic derived from the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) developed by leading grief center Judi’s House/JAG Institute.
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