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Thousands of children face ‘pandemic grief’ after losing parent or guardian

Memphis, Tennessee – Life expectancy in the United States has steepest fall since World War II. Largely driven by the Coronavirus pandemiclife expectancy has fallen by a year and a half to its lowest level since 2003. For Hispanics and blacks, it has dropped to three years. Meanwhile, the pandemic has left a staggering number of orphaned children.

Alyssa Quarles is overwhelmed with guilt over not being able to save her 48-year-old father, Theodis, after contracting COVID.

“As the days went by he started to say, ‘Help me. Please don’t let me die, “” she told CBS News, crying. “Like I don’t know what to say to him. Like I don’t think he’s going to die, but he keeps saying it. It was difficult.”

He died just before Christmas. The tree is still standing – a sign that the family cannot let go.

The Quarles girls are among at least 113,000 American children struggling with “pandemic heartbreak” after losing a parent or caregiver to the virus, according to Lancet and the Journal of the American Medical Association. A quarter of them are under 10 years old, while 20% are black. Minorities are disproportionately affected.

“In my head, I feel like it’s my fault,” she said. “That he’s passed away. That’s why I’m not going to see a counselor or anything because I don’t feel like I really deserve to talk to anyone.”

Every day is a challenge for mom, Vickie, and her five daughters, each of whom grieve in their own way, including 14-year-old Anaya. “I shut up sometimes,” she said. “I’m staying in my room and don’t want to talk to anyone.”

Today, the youngest Quarles girls are in therapy. Asia turned 11 without her father. “When you look at my kids you can see that something is missing,” Vickie said.

Researchers see an increase in depression and PTSD in children who lose a parent. It can leave them traumatized, confused and angry. Asia receives therapy from Lauren Strini, who teaches children how to express their emotions in healthy ways.

“Grieving is just one of the thoughts or feelings we have,” Strini said. “I think it’s important for people in mourning – for grieving children, in particular – to know that anger is okay.”

In a virtual therapy session, Asia told Strini that playing guitar and listening to music helps overcome these harsh feelings.

“These are things I did when he was here,” she said.

Alyssa said: “I think we could find a new standard for ourselves without him being here, but we could still keep his memory alive at the same time.”


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