40,000 young children who have lost a parent to coronavirus: ‘I had to tell her that Papa wasn’t coming back home’

After Pamela Addison’s husband Martin battled coronavirus for nearly a month in the hospital, the 36-year-old mother had to sit down with her 2-year-old daughter Elsie.

“I had to tell her that Papa wasn’t coming back home,” Pamela recalled. “At 36, I never thought I’d be having a conversation with her about her Dad dying.”

Elsie and her 17-month-old brother Graeme are two of the 40,000 young children in the U.S. who have lost a parent to COVID-19.

Researchers recently wrote that the number of young children who have lost a parent is “staggering,” with an estimated 37,300 to 43,000 already affected.

Martin was 44 years old when he died last spring. Immediately, Pamela noticed the impact on her daughter.

“She stopped eating and looked sad all the time,” Pamela said of Elsie.

“Going through your own grief and seeing your young little daughter like this was quite challenging,” she added. “I feel a lot of my pain as I look at them. They’ve missed out on a lifetime they should have had with their dad … Being a dad was his dream.”

Martin, a speech pathologist who attended Boston University, contracted the virus last March while working in a New Jersey hospital.

“He was in peoples’ faces all the time, helping people who had strokes and oral cancer, and would assess their swallowing abilities,” Pamela said.

He felt the first symptoms a day after Elsie’s birthday on March 18, and later spent 26 days in the hospital. He died on April 29.

“You don’t hear about younger people dying from it, so you feel so alone and isolated, as if nobody else is going through this,” Pamela said.

After seeing her daughter’s immediate struggles, she put her in therapy, which has definitely helped her, Pamela said.

“She has fewer moments of sadness,” the mother said.

“I didn’t realize she was avoiding all the foods she would eat with her Papa,” Pamela added. “She was telling me she was upset, but I didn’t catch those clues until therapy.”

A week or so after Martin died, Pamela received a card in the mail from a fellow COVID-19 widow who also had young children. Pamela realized she was no longer alone, and that many young parents are losing spouses to the virus.

As a result, the New Jersey mother created a Facebook group called “Young Widows and Widowers of Covid-19,” where those widows can come together to support one another. There are now 500 members in the Facebook group.

“It’s now a place to talk about our children’s grief, and figure out how to help them,” Pamela said. “That feeling of loneliness before, I don’t feel that now because so many of us are in similar situations. It’s the best group you don’t want to belong to.”

She worries about the long-term impact the loss will have on Elsie and Graeme.

“My son was only 5 months, so he’s clueless to what has happened,” Pamela said. “When he finds out, I don’t know how that will affect him. He could be angry he never got to know his Dad.”

The researchers who estimated 40,000 young children have lost a parent wrote that “sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children.”

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