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Donica Salley, a 50-year-old cosmetics sales director in Richmond, Va., understands well the ramifications of losing a parent.

When she was 13, her 44-year-old father drowned while on vacation in the Bahamas. “My mom tried to fill the void and the hurt by buying me things.” Two years ago, Ms. “There’s something about being with people who’ve been through it.

Adults visit physicians, speak of depression, but are never asked if a childhood loss might be a factor.

New research suggests it’s time to pay closer attention.

The complete survey of more than 1,000 respondents, set for release later this month, was funded by the New York Life Foundation on behalf of Comfort Zone Camp, a nonprofit provider of childhood bereavement camps.

Among the findings: 73% believe their lives would be “much better” if their parents hadn’t died young; 66% said that after their loss “they felt they weren’t a kid anymore.” Childhood grief is “one of society’s most chronically painful yet most underestimated phenomena,” says Comfort Zone founder Lynne Hughes, who lost both her parents before she was 13.

He lost both his parents to cancer before he was 13.

Herman’s yearnings, saying they, too, would trade a year of their lives.

Their responses, part of a wide-ranging new survey, indicate that bereavement rooted in childhood often leaves emotional scars for decades, and that our society doesn’t fully understand the ramifications—or offer appropriate resources.

One 10-year-old girl told the others about a day when she was 5 years old and got mad at her father.

He came into her bedroom to kiss her good night, and she pretended she was asleep because she didn’t want to talk to him. “She’d been carrying this story with her for five years,” says Mr. “It’s so powerful to see the raw emotions these kids share.” Some activists say it’s vital to start helping young people even before their parents die.

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