Grieving the Loss of a Child
July is Bereaved Parents Month. The worst trauma that can happen to anyone is the loss of a child, regardless of the age of the child or the circumstance. The loss of a child is different that other losses; it is an out-of-order, traumatic event. Throughout our lifetime we will experience many relationships, but none of them are as unique and powerful as being a parent. The depth of a parent’s love transcends any other relationship.
For the bereaved parent, the loss of a child is a grief that lasts forever. As time passes, the pain will ebb and flow, but will always be present. The early days are marked with an overwhelming feeling of suspended animation. Everything appears to be in slow motion, with a seemingly inability to move forward. Everything feels foreign, your sense of predictability and security is shattered and you don’t know where to go or what to do. It is a catastrophic life experience.
The fog of early grief expresses itself in varying ways and degrees, but typically has a number of things in common. The emotional heaviness of such a loss drains an individual both physically and mentally. The memory of individuals in early grief is often clouded and blanketed in forgetfulness. Concentration is difficult and the mind tends to wonder. It is not uncommon for those experiencing early grief to find themselves arriving at a place and not remembering how they got there, or not being able to remember how to get to a location. In trying to grasp the loss, individuals in early grief tend to endlessly play over and over what happened. The stress of trying to comprehend what has happened often makes the bereaved parent feel as though they are losing their minds.
Eventually, bereaved parents will slowly begin to move forward. The constant debilitating pain will begin to lessen, permitting them to return their usual routine, but their child will continuously be on their mind. Like the waves of the ocean, the emotional pain will come and go. Memories will flood back and fill their eyes with tears. The grief journey is a lengthy, highly individual and personal process. It is different for everyone and requires patience and acceptance.
There are things bereaved parents can do to navigate these dark days. Working to experience positive emotions provides a buffer against depression and helps grieving parents thrive. Resiliency is an important factor in a healthy adjustment to loss. Below are some helpful tips for navigating this time:
- Grief has no timeline. Allow yourself the time you need to grieve.
- Take care of yourself. Grieving is emotionally and physically draining. Be sure to get some exercise, no matter how little, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water and rest your body. Only take medications prescribed by your doctor and consume alcohol in moderation.
- Connect with nature. Spend some time outdoors. Sun light helps bring a feeling of joy and energy. Take deep breaths and walk around.
- Ask for help. Let family and friends help with housework, errands, etc.
- Understand that grief is a personal experience. Grief is unique to each family member.
- Express emotions. Process your feelings by sharing with others. Keeping a journal can help you process and show your progress
- Prepare ahead for questions/comments. Questions such as “how many children do you have?” or comments like “at least you have other children” can startle your sense of calm. Keep in mind questions/comments like these are not meant to be harmful.
- Prepare ahead for special days. Holidays are a reminder that a child has died. Try to incorporate activities or rituals that make holidays a reminder that they lived.
- Treasure memories. Think of creative ways to embrace them. Memories are existing legacies.
- Connect with your spiritual side. Faith helps people through tremendous loss. A pastor, priest or other spiritual leader can walk with you through the grieving journey.
- Seek support. Reach out to compassionate friends. Local support groups and national organizations are places you can go and be understood. Bereaved parents share an unspeakable bond. They understand the depth and breadth of each other’s pain. They can be very helpful in processing grief and helping to build resiliency.
- Consider therapy. Consider seeking the help of a therapist if unresolved grief and/or depression continues to interfere with the ability to perform routine tasks beyond the first couple of weeks.
Anyone who has lost a child will tell you the grief will be with you for a lifetime. There are no magic words to help you feel whole again, but you can move forward, heal, and lead a fulfilling life with the cherished memories of your child. Work to stay positive emotionally and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
“I miss your love, though mine for you remains as passion with no outlet sea; a teardrop in a desert that what’s left of this parent’s ecstasy” Nicholas Gordon
Contributors: Deb Staley, Manager of Continuing Education, Brook Lane, bereaved parent and Robin Morris, LCSW-C, CCTP, licensed clinical social worker, certified clinical trauma professional