Losing a Child ...Losing Your Future?
It has been said that parents who lose a child also lose the hopes,
dreams, and expectations they had for that child. They lose a part of
themselves. They lose their future because their child represents their sense of
ongoing life. Psychologists believe, because of these reasons, the death of a
child is possibly the most difficult loss of all to accept.
People who have children often feel that parenting is life’s most
important role, regardless of the child’s age. Therefore, the death of a child
can be a tremendous assault on a parent’s very identity.
What to Expect
If your child has died, you will most likely
experience several common reactions of bereavement. However, your grief can be
more acute than normal. You may go into periods of shock and denial. You will
likely become depressed. If you are normally a committed, caring person, you
could find that you do not care about anything or anyone. You may find yourself
preoccupied with the circumstances of your child’s death, recreating them over
and over again in your mind. You may think you see or hear your child. You might
have dreams and nightmares about them.
The intense grief caused by your child’s death can take a physical
toll as well. You may lose weight, have difficulty sleeping, become irritable or
listless, or feel short of breath. Grief has even been known to cause hair
Anger and Guilt
Perhaps the most acute feelings you will
experience are anger and guilt. Because the
death of a child does not follow the normal order of nature, there is a strong
urge to place the blame on someone or something. You may be angry at the doctors
or nurses who could not cure your child’s illness, or at God for "letting" your
child die. If your child died because of a traumatic accident, you may be angry
at whomever you believe caused it. If your child’s actions partly caused the
death, you may be angry at him or her and then feel guilty about your anger
toward your child.
Parents often feel terribly guilty for simply living. If you had an
argument with your child or had to discipline him or her shortly before the
death, you may feel guilty for those actions.
You may feel the most guilt because you believe you should have
prevented your child’s death. You may find yourself consumed by thoughts of "if
A father tends to suffer guilt over failing to prevent a child’s
death. While both parents feel responsible for their child’s safety, men have
often been taught that protecting the family is their primary role.
The Grief Experience
While bereaved parents know they will experience
intense grief, their child’s death can have another effect they did not
anticipate. The death could alter their feelings toward each other. Almost
always, the marriage will never be the same. The change could be for the better
or for the worse. However, the relationship rarely stays the same.
Parents think their grief will be similar because they have lost the
same child. This similar type of mourning rarely happens. The relationship the
father mourns is different from the relationship the mother mourns because each
parent shared a different relationship with the child.
Fathers may have a more difficult time expressing their grief,
believing on some level that "big boys don’t cry," or that they need to be
strong for their surviving family. Unfortunately, this may keep fathers from
working through their grief and resolving it. It may become necessary to seek
counseling or spiritual help.
Couples may experience difficulty in communicating after the death of
their child. The intensity of grief comes at different times for each parent.
One parent may use work as an escape while the other finds solace in photo
albums and home videos. Dad may feel the need to box up and store the child’s
personal belongings while Mom cannot bear to look at them. A physical
resemblance to the dead child can also cause difficulties between the
A child’s death may cause sexual problems within a marriage as well.
Time, patience, and communication are key elements to resolving these problems.
It is not uncommon for these effects to last up to two years or more following
the child’s death.
Answering the Questions of Your Other Children
Your other children will look to you to explain
the death to them. A child’s questions will depend on their age, but your
answers should always be honest. Guard against telling children that their
brother or sister is "sleeping," or that "God wanted their brother or sister."
These may simply cause other fears in your children that may be more difficult
to resolve than a more direct answer. Be direct, without offering more
information than necessary.
Young children sometimes fantasize that they caused the death by being
mean to the deceased sibling or by fighting with them. In this case, it is
important to assure your child that he/she had nothing to do with their
brother’s or sister’s death.
Remember, your other children need to resolve their grief. They will
take their cues from you, so support them in their grief by being open in
showing yours. You will not do them any favors by protecting them from the
grieving process; in fact, there is no way you can.
Dealing with Grief
It may not be possible to work through your grief
alone. We can recommend support groups, counselors, books,
and videos which deal specifically with child bereavement. Ask us to recommend a specific book, or visit your local library.
It is important for parents to realize that severe grief can make them
feel like they’re going crazy. If you are afraid your grief is out of control,
you might consider asking your clergy, doctor, or funeral director to suggest a
counselor. You may be relieved to find that your problems, in this situation,
Finally, remember that other people will likely feel very awkward
around you because they will not know what to say. You can help bridge the gap
by simply telling them what you need and letting them know if it is all right to
mention your deceased child.