Grieving the Death of a Child
The death of a child – at any age, from any circumstances, is one of the most painful experiences anyone can experience. Your journey through this grief can be long and challenging. In the early moments, you may find yourself in an all-consuming pain beyond description. It can be difficult to live your everyday life because you are consumed by nothing else but the death of your child.
At times, the outside world might expect you to “snap out of it” or “get over it” but it does not work that way. Unless someone has personally experienced the death of a child, they could never truly know the extent of the pain and suffering that comes with this loss. The death of a child is a life-altering change that forces one to build a new life for themselves and their families.
You will experience a wide and often frightening array of emotions after this loss. These feelings and experiences are natural and normal, and although you might feel as though you are going crazy, rest assured that you are not! The most important part of your grief journey is that you find a support system that will give you the opportunity to share your pain and loss without judgment.
Common responses to death of a child:
Shock: After the death and loss of a child you may initially feel numb, which is your mind’s way of shielding it from pain.
Denial: “My child can’t be dead”. You can expect to see your child walk through the door, or to hear their voice.
Confusion: Your memory may become foggy. You may find yourself not remembering where you are going or what you are doing, at times losing focus on getting from point A to point B. Your body is undergoing emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual stress. A sense of being on overload is very common.
Yearning: Many parents share that they find themselves obsessively yearning for even one more minute with their child so they can feel, touch, and/or tell them how much they love him/her.
Guilt: Some parents will have feelings of guilt. Parents often mentally replay their actions prior to the death of their child and often wonder what they could have done more, less, or different.
Anger: Anger and frustration are also feelings reported by some parents and are common to grief in general. If your child’s death was accidental, these emotions may be intensified because of the circumstances of your child’s death. You may also be angry at God and this loss can make you question your faith, distancing you from your faith community or those who want to talk to you about God.
Loss of Hope: After the death and loss of a child you are grieving not only your child, but also the loss of your dreams, hopes, and future for your child. Parents often will experience what is called a “grief burst” at certain milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or special occasions. Parents are often not prepared for these triggers and may feel as if the pain and suffering will never stop. Be aware, but also kind and gentle to yourself when you experience these triggers. Allow yourself a moment to grieve and release all the emotions that come with a “grief burst”. This is a normal, appropriate and necessary part of your healing process.
Powerlessness: In addition to feelings of guilt, parents may have a sense of powerlessness which is attributed to feeling that one was not able to protect their child from harm.
Keep in mind that it can be challenging as you walk this unfamiliar and challenging path. Here are some ways that you can cope with your grief:
Below you will find some ideas that are more closely related to parental grief after the death of a child. However, be open to finding new ways that will help you gain greater strength and better coping tools to help you deal with your pain. It is important to be realistic that you will never get over the death of your child. But parents do survive it!
Take small steps: After the death of a child it is important to break down your routine into small increments and deal only with one thing at a time. These little bits of normalcy and focusing on one thing at a time can help make your grief more bearable.
Accept happiness: One of the major struggle parents will experience in their return to the world of the living is their ability to accept happiness and pleasure – or acknowledge that this even exists. Happiness and/or enjoyment is one of the most important coping tools during your grief process. It is okay to laugh during your pain. You may feel that your laughter or happiness betrays your child’s memory. Remember, your child’s memory does not live in the pain of our grief. As difficult as this may sound, our child’s memory lives within US! These memories help give meaning to our child’s life as well as a to our lives as their parent. It lives in the things that we do in their honor and memory. There is no right or wrong way to honor your child. Do what feels right or is best for you and your family.
Let others know your needs: After the death of a child many people want to help and be supportive, but they are at a loss as to how they can help. Communicate with them and let them know what would be helpful and beneficial to them. Let them help you move forward in the grieving.