Mission: To save lives and reduce hospitalizations by protecting children, families, and communities against influenza.


Grief & Emotional Support

An Introduction for Parents

from Alissa Kanowitz

As a parent who lost a child to the flu, I know what it is like to feel such an incredible loss. After my daughter, Amanda, died I had few places to turn for support to help me cope with the unthinkable. That is why I co-founded Families Fighting Flu. I wanted to prevent other families from ever experiencing this pain, but for those who do, I wanted to let them know that they are not alone and to provide a lending hand.

After Amanda died, so many people tried to help me through my grief. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciated this outpouring of support. However, it is hard to always know what to do in a situation like this. There are times when even a comment from a well-meaning friend can hurt. This Emotional Support guide has been created to serve you and others close to your child in your time of need. Families Fighting Flu is there for you, to listen and to help you get through this unbearable time, to answer questions you may have as you grieve, how to support your surviving children, and where to find additional resources.

This will also be helpful for your friends, your family, your child’s school and others affected by your loss. The resources included will not only help them understand what they might be able to do, but also what they should not do.

Unfortunately, there is nothing I can say to ease the loss of your child. But, I will let you know that there are others like you who have experienced a similar loss of a child from the flu. And, if and when you are ready, we are here for you.


Alissa Kanowitz, Amanda’s mom (1999-2004)

Coping with Loss

While everyone grieves differently, the following tips and recommendations will help you to cope with some of the more challenging experiences associated with bereavement:

  • Recognize that grief can be experienced in many different ways – socially, spiritually, and even physically. Pay attention to your body’s natural response to grief but don’t be afraid to seek the help you need, especially if your health and well-being begin to deteriorate.
  • Learning to live with the loss of a child affects you personally but it can also impact your relationships with others. When you feel comfortable doing so — and to the extent that you want to and can — share your feelings and concerns with your friends and family.
  • Accepting encouragement and support from friends and family can be a tremendous source of strength and encouragement. It’s important to remember, however, that the difficulties of fully understanding your loss may lead others to say or do the “wrong thing” for the “right reason.” Try not to let the well-intentioned mistakes of friends and family cause you pain or anger. Remember, they are also struggling to make sense of this new reality.
  • Consider joining a grief support group with individuals who have experienced similar tragedies and understand the unique pain and sorrow you now face. Doing so will allow you to open up and share your feelings in a safe space where your feelings can be acknowledged and supported among friends.
  • Families Fighting Flu (FFF) members are available to talk to you and understand the unique feelings you are experiencing as a parent who lost a child to the flu. If you would like to speak to a FFF member, please email us at contact@familiesfightingflu.org.
      • If you feel more comfortable sharing your feelings privately, consider speaking to a therapist, psychologist, counselor, cleric or friend who can give you the professional support you need to work through the grieving process.
  • Though grief can at times be overwhelming, try to maintain a sense of structure and purpose by remaining active. Identify activities that you enjoy — even for short periods at a time — that will give you a reason to get out of bed. Consider channeling your grief and emotions creatively through writing, painting or music. Volunteering with meaningful organizations like FFF is also a wonderful way to commemorate the memory of your child while also building a support network of other families who understand what you have experienced.
  • Be prepared for tough questions. Just as you will wrestle with difficult issues as you process your grief, so too will your friends, family and even acquaintances who want to know more about what happened and how you are coping.
    • Even a seemingly mild question from a stranger or acquaintance like “How many kids do you have?” or “Who is your oldest child?” can throw you for a loop. Know that you will be asked these types of questions and reflect beforehand on how you feel most comfortable responding.
  • Be aware that those around you may be afraid to use colloquial phrases like “I’m dying” or “I’m going to kill you.” Remember that these expressions are certainly not meant to cause you pain.
  • Remember that you will probably experience a heightened sense of pain and loss during milestones like birthdays, holidays, family gatherings, the anniversary of your child’s death, or even the first day of school. Having a plan for these days and creating new rituals can help alleviate some of the anxiety with those milestones. Create commemorations and memorials — if and when you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Life will go on. This may be impossible to grasp at first. Eventually, after the tremendous pain of acute grief subsides and you gradually come to terms with the permanence of your loss, you will move forward. Life will never be the same, but you must remember, it can still be good. Try to allow yourself to enjoy experiences that make you happy without feeling guilty. Your happiness was an essential part of your relationship with your child; continue to embrace what makes you you. Your child would want for you to be happy again and enjoy life.
  • As time passes, distance can and will make your grief easier to manage. At the same time, however, you may also feel like you are moving further and further away from your child. Remember, nothing — including death — will ever diminish the love you and your child share. You were, are, and will always be a loving and devoted parent.

Page last reviewed: May 2020. 

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