When Your Child Has Died

The death of a child is unthinkable and may seem unbearable. Life is never supposed to be like this. Parents should never have to bury a child, but sometimes we do. How do you go on living? How can you find anything to give to the rest of your family? This article will help you understand your feelings and what to do with them. You will learn coping techniques for you and your family.

by Sherry Williams White

The unthinkable has happened. You have had to bury your child. Life was never supposed to be like this. You never anticipated the death of your child. As shock waves move through your body, mind and spirit, you become aware that this is one of the most difficult and painful times in your life. Not only do you grieve the loss of your child, but of your hopes and dreams for the future. Your greatest fears have been realized.

Many people may feel they have failed their sacred duty of protecting their child and life may no longer seem worth living. You are living a nightmare that no one should have to experience.

What's Happening to Me?
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response. It is a complex process that affects every aspect of your life. Love, anger, fear, frustration, loneliness and guilt are all a part of grief. It is important for you to know that grief is not a lack of faith or a sign of weakness. You grieve because you have loved.

Physical reactions to grief may include appetite changes, sleeplessness, irritability, sighing, crying, upset stomach and heartache.  You may feel numb and frozen inside. You may not be able to concentrate or remember things. Depression or feelings of emptiness may temporarily overcome you. You may experience sexual difficulties and find yourself turning away from your partner.  You may feel like crying all the time or have trouble shedding tears. These feelings and emotions sometimes come in waves and can be paralyzing.

Anger and guilt are common emotions. You may feel angry with God, your spouse, your child, with others, or even with yourself.  Feeling helpless often adds to your anger and you may lash out at the very people you love the most. Grief hurts.

The ‘if only' thoughts and the ‘should have' thoughts can attack at any time and send you sliding into despair as you realize there is nothing you can do to change what has happened. Blame and doubt become constant companions as you ask yourself why you couldn't protect your child.

You may think you hear or sense your child's presence and wonder if you are going crazy. Your arms may ache with pain while your heart seems to burst with emptiness. As intense and scary as these feelings may be, they are a normal and natural part of grief.

How Long Does Grief Last?
Grief lasts far longer than anyone expects. There are no time frames for grieving, although many think it should be over quickly.  Everyone will grieve in her own way and in his own time. So, do not interpret others grieving styles as meaning they loved the child less. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there is only your way. Everyone grieves differently so give those around you, particularly your spouse and other family members, space and allow them to cope and handle things in their own way.

You will not get over the death of your child, but you will learn to live through it. There will always be moments of pain and sorrow as you remember the birthday, anniversary of the death or as you mark the passing of events you planned to share with your child. Be prepared for these moments of grief and do not be alarmed as they continue throughout your life. Parents do not stop loving a child simply because the child has died.

What Can I Do Now?
Acknowledge your loss and begin to accept the pain of grief. Do not avoid it or try to lessen the pain with drugs or alcohol. Drugs may stop or delay the necessary grieving process. Learn with others. Writing letters to your child will ease you into the journaling process and allow you to vent your feelings or say the things you wish you had said and ask for forgiveness if you feel the need to do so.

It may help to find a support group. Ask your clergy, funeral director or mental health professional for referrals. You may find The Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents and siblings, to be helpful. You do not have to grieve alone.

Tell family and friends what you need. They want to help, but may not know how. Be specific in requesting help. If you need the laundry done, say so. If you need a listening ear, let them know. Tell people that it is ok to talk about your child, to say his name and to share memories with you.

Take care of yourself physically. Grief places tremendous stress on your body. Even though you are tired and feel you have no energy at all, you need exercise. Try stretching or taking short walks. Even a little activity, brakes the stress cycle and recharges your batteries. Maintaining a healthy diet will help combat the effects of grief. Try to stay away from complex carbohydrates and caffeine. Keep cheese, yogurt or peanut butter and crackers around for snacks. Drink plenty of water. If you don't feel like eating big meals, eat a little snack. It is better to eat less and more often to keep your energy going.

Take time going through your child's belongings. Do not allow others to rush you or to take over. You can do whatever you wish, a little at a time. You might think about letting family members select something special to help them remember your child.

Create rituals to help you remember your child. Have other family members help you think of healthy ways to commemorate your child's life. Establish a scholarship, donate toys or books, build a playground or plant a tree.

What About the Other Children?
Children are often the forgotten grievers in a family. They are experiencing many of the same things you are, so share your thoughts and tears with them. Crying together can be a healing experience. You can not protect each other from the realities of grief, so keep communications open. Make sure your surviving children know they are loved and included in family decisions and rituals so they do not feel abandoned by you or the child who died. Let them know that no one is forgotten in your family.

Be careful not to elevate the child who died to sainthood. Brothers and sisters often feel angry when no one remembers their silling's less than perfect qualities. Talk openly with one another and use this time of grieving to strengthen the family ties. The very foundation of your family has been shaken and you need each other to help rebuild your family's sanctuary.

Your child died. He did not disappear from your thoughts or your heart. Try to remember your child's life, not just the details of the death. You will find hope and healing in the months and years ahead. Be gentle and kind to yourself and to each other.

Be patient. Grief takes a long time, but love lasts forever.

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