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Grieving the Loss of a Child

“it feels totally wrong, unnatural, against the proper order of things, that I should stand at the coffin of my child; it is meant to be the other way around – that our children bury us.”

Whether it is the death of their baby, or of a young child, or even of an adult child, this is what every parent says. The death of a child is the most devastating loss a parent can experience.

The Initial Shock and Numbness

Many parents describe the first few days after their child has died as being on “automatic pilot” – there is the funeral to be organised, family and friends to be notified, notifications to be put in the paper etc, and they are usually surrounded by many caring people. And then they say, “everybody went back home and back to their own lives, and our life is changed forever, it will never be the same again.”

If the child was young and still living at home, the house feels empty, too quiet, too tidy, all the daily chores attending to the child’s needs are not necessary any more; there is so much more time now. All the child’s clothes and toys and furniture are still in the home – what to do with them?

And then the initial numbness and disbelief start to wear off, and all there is tremendous pain and distress.

Grief, Anger and Guilt

The deep sorrow and despair is ever present, every waking moment of every day. With it is an enormous longing to hold their child once more, to touch him or her one more time, to speak words of love, of comfort, of regret.

Some parents feel they are “going mad” with all the pain and grief and need to be reassured that what they are feeling and going through is normal, they are not “mad”.

  • It is not “mad” – to want to keep their child’s clothes and toys and leave their room exactly as it was when the child was alive
  • It is not “mad” – to go to the grave every day and speak there to the child
  • It is not “mad” – to have the urn with the ashes of their child (if it had been a cremation) at home and feel comforted by that
  • It is not “mad” – for the parent to feel they want to die so they can be reunited with their child

Parents will say, “the only thing which would take the pain away would be if by some miracle I could have my child back, and it was all just a bad nightmare.”

The only thing which may ease the pain just a little and for a short time give some comfort, is for the parent to be with another human being who lets them express all feelings, lets them cry, lets them go over every detail of their child’s death many times, lets them be angry – and feel accepted and understood.

The anger is often directed towards health professionals – if the child had been under the care of a doctor, or had been in hospital prior to their dying: “did they miss anything; did my child receive the proper treatment.” The anger can be directed at God: “why did he let that happen to my child? It is not fair, some children are abused or neglected and they live, while mine was well cared for and loved.” Or if the death was caused by an accident, there is great anger at the person who caused the accident.

There may be guilt, “did I not do enough; did I miss something important, and my child could still be alive.”

Loneliness

Loneliness and isolation are often the feelings which appear at the end of the first week. At the time of the funeral people come from far and wide to pay their respects, to share their love, and offer consolation. Friends and relatives then return to their homes, neighbours go back to work. People don’t drop in much any more – and sometimes parents start to feel abandoned by the very people they had always considered to be close friends.

This is often a reality – some people do withdraw from the bereaved parents, because they don’t know how to be with them, what to say to them, or they are scared that if they say anything they will upset the parent. And sometimes parents have to hear ‘good advice’ about ‘how they should get on with their lives now’. What is important of course, is for parents to hear that there is no ‘right or wrong way’ to grieve; there is no prescribed time limit for their grief – they are grieving in the only way which is ‘right’ for them, and that IS the right way.

If you are worried that grieving is an issue for you or someone close to you and would like to start to make changes you can contact Talking Therapy.

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(03) 354 8045 info@talkingtherapy.co.nz