Let’s be honest, can you ever fully cope with losing a child? Right now you might feel like you're losing your mind and you can’t breathe. Or maybe you just feel this dull apathetic emptiness.
People have argued that losing a child can be one of the hardest experiences to go through. There are many ups/downs and intense emotions that have to be felt. Please know, that whatever you are going through, this pain will fade. It may never fully leave, but you know what won’t ever leave - the love you have for your child. With time, most parents find a way to move forward and begin to experience happiness and meaning in life once again.
I hope this article provides you with a bit of comfort and with several resources for help.
There are many reactions to grief, such as despair, denial, guilt, anger toward God/life, overprotectiveness towards surviving children, apathy, and feeling isolated in a crowd. You might play the “what-if” game in your head or believe no one understands you or how it feels to lose the dreams you had for your child.
You may even retreat from your partner if they remind you of your dearly departed child. Many times couples may think that the other person is not grieving properly or that a lack of visible grief means he or she didn’t love the child. Understand that many factors can affect the coping process. Cultural norms, jobs, and daily roles can affect this. For example, since men are often expected to be strong and take care of the family, they may not feel able to cry openly or talk about their grief. If you work, then you may try to escape the constant reminders at home by becoming more involved in your job. Whereas if you are a stay-at-home parent, you could feel like your life lacks purpose since your primary role of being a caretaker is now gone.
Give yourself space to feel your emotions as you go through all seven stages of grief to heal, without shame. There is no timeline. There is no deadline. Just realize that everyone grieves differently and it is all okay. If you have concerns, talk about your grief with your partner. Strive to improve your communications to avoid assumptions and further pain.
Give Yourself And Others Time To Grieve - 7 Stages of Grief
It is important to allow yourself to grieve in your own way and to allow those around you to grieve in their own way as well. Don’t place expectations on them or yourself. If you have concerns, talk openly to them and work to improve communication. Making assumptions could cause further pain in this trying time. Studies have shown that there are usually seven stages people go through in their grieving process:
Depression, loneliness, and reflection
Acceptance and hope
Give yourself space to feel your emotions as you go through all seven stages of grief to heal, without shame. There is no timeline. There is no deadline. Feel your grief, find the value in your grief and choose to allow your light to shine through all the cracks and holes of your heart, lighting up yourself and others around you.
Suggestions To Help Yourself Grieve
Talk about your child often, using his/her name. Pushing down memories/thoughts of your lost child will only prolong the pain.
Ask for help. You are worthy of receiving. Ask family and friends for aid with housework, running errands, food, or caring for other children. Accept help when it’s offered. Then take this time to think, remember, grieve, and feel.
Take your time packing your children’s belongings/room. Don’t rush to pack it up or give away items. Baby steps work better in the long run.
Prepare how you’d like to spend significant days, like your child’s birthday or death anniversary. Maybe you want to spend the day looking at photos or planting a memorial garden. Make sure your schedule is free to allow yourself time to think, feel, and reflect.
BE INCREDIBLY KIND TO YOURSELF. Nobody expects you to be perfect. Randomly crying in public when a memory floods in or snapping when something triggers you is normal. You are a human having a human journey. If you fall off the wagon, you get back on. It’s okay. If you lash out at someone due to your grief, be willing to apologize to them for your actions.
Find a support group where you can express your feelings and receive support. The intensity and isolation of parental grief can be astounding and isolating. Support groups can offer hope and much-needed emotional healing.
Tips For Dealing With Friends/Family Members During The Grieving Process
Don’t take it personally if certain friends don’t want to hang around the “sad” you. Some people can’t deal with hard emotions and avoid them at all costs. If friends avoid you, realize it is all about them and not you. You may even realize which friends can be with you and your emotions. Those are the ones worth pursuing deeper relationships with. Not that you should say goodbye to the friends who can’t handle hard emotions, just know you can’t force them to have a deeper relationship with you due to their current emotional skill set.
Don’t take what people say to heart. You might hear comments like, “At least you have other children” or “You can adopt.” People don’t intend to hurt you, they just don’t know what to say or how to deal with hard emotions.
Prepare ahead of time for difficult questions. It might be helpful to prepare ahead of time for difficult questions like, “How many children do you have?” or “What do you do for a living?” (if you were a stay-at-home mom).
Help Siblings Who Are Grieving
Sometimes, the parents get a lot of attention when a child dies, while the siblings are put on the back burner. The loss of a sibling is tremendous. It's a loss of a family member, a confidant, and a life-long friend.
If the child had cancer, most likely your focus and attention were consumed by that child, while the other siblings’ needs were not. Your surviving children could misinterpret your grief and sadness as a message that they are not as important or loved as the child who died. Make sure you help your children understand the situation.
Tips To Help Your Children:
Be there for your children. Your other children have fewer resources at their disposal and way less emotional intelligence/skills than you do to navigate their grief. Make sure they know they are loved, wanted, needed, and supported. Communication is key.
Make sure they understand they are not responsible for their sibling’s death. Help them to let go of regrets and guilt.
NEVER compare siblings to your child who died! This can be extremely detrimental to a child’s self-confidence and make them feel as though they are not good enough or worthy. If you’ve done this in the past, clarify that they are enough, you don't wish they were their sibling, and that you don’t expect them to “fill in” for the lost loved one. Stay true to your word and be responsible for how you act towards your child(ren) in the future.
Spend as much time as possible with your children. Talk about their lost sibling with them and play together. Try to give each child at least 10 minutes of body, mind, and soul time. This means your phone, partner, or other kids aren’t around. This can give them time to express how they are feeling and may be especially helpful if they have been acting out or getting in trouble a lot.
Set reasonable limits on their behavior. It’s normal to feel protective of your surviving children, but try not to be too overprotective or overly permissive.
Make sure your grieving process is a shared family experience. Include children in discussions about memorial plans.
Ask a close family member or friend to spend extra time with your existing children if your grief is preventing you from giving them the attention they need.
Find a support group or counselor for them if you are having a hard time discussing the death and if your child needs help.
Find Meaning In Life - The Art of Kintsugi
Have you ever heard of Kintsugi? If not, it is the Japanese art of fusing broken pottery back together with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This practice is based on the philosophy to treat breakage and repairs as part of the history of an object, rather than as something to disguise or hide. The method honors all the cracks, highlighting the broken parts with precious metals, yielding a piece that is even more beautiful than it was before.
Practice kintsugi in your heart. Over and over again. As many times as you need.
It may not feel like it now, but grief is an honor. It is an honor to feel and have loved that much. It teaches you compassion, gratitude, resilience, and to love while you can. Realize that when a heart breaks, it cracks, but allows golden love and empathy to shine through to yourself and others. Loss is not easy to go through, but remember the pain you feel now will not always hurt so much. Little by little you will let go of the loss, but never the love.
Extra Resources - Support Group/Information
Grief is a journey. It’s a process that takes time. If you feel you need additional help and support, check out support groups near you.
Grief Share has groups and events all over the world where people can meet weekly to get help with grief