Loss of Child
Those parents who have lost a child know that it may be one of the hardest experiences on earth. You will survive this death and go on, although there will always be a clear before and after, much like a soldier who is missing a limb. And, like veterans, you will find that few understand this loss as well as others who have lived through it. While you can expect all of the same physical, emotional and mental effects of grief as anyone, there are also some unique aspects to experiencing the death of a child.
Just as with all grievers, parents may experience sadness, despair, helplessness, and loneliness. Parents are more likely than those grieving other losses to experience anger, vulnerability, anxiety and hyper-vigilance. Guilt or regret can be major factors for grieving parents, partly because parents may feel it’s their job to keep their child safe, even when that isn’t possible.
A child’s death can lead to a larger reexamination of beliefs because a child deserves to live a longer life. A child’s death is always out of order in the scheme of life. This may shake up our belief that life is generally fair or that we can trust things usually make sense. You may feel that life is chaotic and unpredictable. You may feel unstable, wondering which other assumptions we shouldn’t take for granted. You may also find yourself questioning your spiritual beliefs. All of this is normal and you will come to new understandings that fit for you, given time.
Parents are mourning both for what they lost and for what they never had: the future. There is a lot of potentiality to grieve with the loss of a child, no matter their age. This can be especially hard because our child is part of ourself and our dreams for our child are our own dreams, too.
Our language doesn’t have a word for a parent whose child dies, so there is forever the awkward question of how many children you are the parent of. This can be hard to answer when others ask it, but it can also be difficult in terms of self-identity. Your role as a parent has changed, no matter what it was or how many children you have.
Other issues may arise, too. Depending on the age of the child, they may have died at a time when the relationship was going through a hard or disconnected phase. There may be tasks to do in handling what was left behind that are particularly difficult, triggering or exhausting.
Finally, a grieving parent may be supporting other children emotionally at a time they feel least equipped to do so. This goes both for young children and for adult children who have lost a sibling. If they are in a relationship with the other grieving parent, this relationships may not offer much support and the death can stress the marriage. Family relationships can also be strengthened in families that communicate well and can support one another.
A grieving parent needs what all mourners need but in much greater quantity. A grieving parent needs space to feel, breaks from feeling, support from others, hope, rejuvenation, and, most of all, time. Some research shows that losing a child takes a longer time for adjustment than other losses. Think in terms of allowing your grief, but make sure you dose yourself and don’t grieve every moment. It is also important to live.
You will get through this. Many people have. While you will never be the same, with time and care you can eventually reconcile to the loss and move forward taking your beloved child with you in a new way, remembering them with love.
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