When a Child Dies

Can there be any grief greater than that felt by parents who outlive their children. It has been likened to ' a hole in the heart' that never heals, a heartache that lasts a lifetime.

We often hear that time is a 'great healer' and indeed, over time, parents and siblings will learn to live with the loss. We adapt, find ways to eat, drink, breathe, sleep, and work again, but we do not heal.

We've talked about grief and grieving , and how grief is a natural response to loss, manifesting in many emotional and physical ways. Grief takes as long as it takes and follows no timetable.

Learning to live again

Finding your way into a 'new life' without your loved one, and learning how to 'be' can take a long time. You have lost a future that had always included your child and it takes time to figure out how to cope, adapt, and learn to go on without them. It won't be easy. If you need some help getting there, working with a grief counsellor may prove beneficial.

Start slowly

Take things day by day - or hour by hour - with realistic expectations. You may find yourself just 'going through the motions' of daily life and that's OK. Even if you think, 'Today I will put out the washing and go to the corner shop for milk and bread', that is enough. Small steps are good steps.

There is no right or wrong way to feel

You can feel whatever you want, whenever you want. Cry, sob, howl when you need to, don't hold it in. Feeling low, as if life has lost a purpose or point, is normal too, as is feeling totally exhausted and unable to concentrate. Denying the reality, feeling guilty and responsible for your child's death, or wanting to blame the doctors, God or someone else, is normal too. Grief can catch you unawares. Something you do, see, taste, touch, hear, or smell can trigger a memory or feeling so intense that you break down. Hearing a piece of music, touching some clothing, even a trip to the supermarket can all be emotional triggers. If you know what the triggers are, take some steps to protect yourself. Visit another shopping area until you're feeling stronger.

Relationships within the family

Prior to the death of your child, your family may have been on a difficult journey for some time. Carrying the burden of emotion is a heavy one and all relationships within your family will have been under considerable strain. Remember that people process loss in different ways. Try to be patient and tolerant.

Being with others who 'know how it is'

Friends and extended family will do their best to comfort you but sometimes the only person who will really understands how you feel is one who has been through the same experience. Attending a support group (facilitated by a grief counsellor) for bereaved parents may help or sitting down with a trusted friend can be very comforting too. People may also tell you about their own losses and times of grief, and tell you how you should be feeling. Always remember that this is your grief, not theirs, and we all cope differently.

Remember your child in your own way

Planning regular remembrances, celebrations or rituals for your deceased child can help you and your family. Daily, weekly, monthly or annually is up to you but making a plan will give the family an opportunity to be together, remember, share memories and to tell stories.

Returning to work

Most employers will offer bereavement leave but this is only a short time when compared to how long it will take you and your partner to grieve your loss. Going back to work is challenging because it can represent a part of life 'as it was before' and life has changed so much. It can also come at a time when you are emotionally vulnerable, exhausted, and on edge but returning to work can be positive, placing some structure into a life that has been turned upside down.

Discuss you return to work with your employer, giving as much information as you are comfortable with. Let your colleagues know so that if you become emotional at work, they will understand why and be more willing to offer assistance. Take time out at work when you need to - a quiet moment to cry, or meditate.

If you would like some support to help your children manage a challenging life event, Kenzie's Gift may be able to help. Kenzie's Gift provides one-to-one therapy for children and young adults.

She understood that grief is not neat and orderly; it does not follow any rules. Time does not heal it. Rather time insists on passing and as it does, grief changes but does not go away.

- Ann Hood (writer)

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