When a Child Dies

The Loss Of A Child, no matter what their age, is perhaps the most difficult grief to bear. The normal grief reactions of shock, denial, anger, guilt, and sadness seem to be magnified and extended when a child dies.

Everyone Who Knew The Child, including the parents, will grieve the child’s death differently. Some parents will find it very easy to express their feelings, yet others will have a more difficult time, keeping their feelings to themselves.

It is important to remember that there is no “correct” way to grieve, and that men, women, and children all grieve differently.

Grief Does Not Come In “Stages.” Although the shock and numbness will eventually recede, the anger, guilt, and sadness will continue to come in waves for months following a death. Be patient with yourself; there is no timeline for grieving, and in general, grief lasts much longer than our culture expects.

Parents Can Be Overwhelmed with guilt after the loss of a child. Regardless if their child’s death was the result of an illness, accident, homicide, or suicide, it is not unusual for a parent to express the thought that they are somehow responsible. It is normal to have feelings of failure and thoughts of “if only . . . .”

Recognizing that these thoughts and feelings are irrational doesn’t mean that you are “going crazy.” They are part of the ordinary grieving process. It is helpful to find someone who will simply listen to your expressions of guilty feelings, without trying to talk you out of them. Eventually, if they are expressed, they will resolve themselves.

Anger Also Is A Natural Part of the grieving process. Because the death of a child is inherently “unfair,” anger is a normal response. Like grief, anger is not an emotion that most people are comfortable expressing, so it is common to keep it inside, increasing the danger that it will “explode” at some point.

In addition, grieving parents may attempt to smother their anger with drugs or alcohol. Besides the potential danger of becoming chemically dependent, drugs and alcohol delay the grieving process and also may further depress your mood.

Because Our Culture Is Uncomfortable with grief and especially with grieving parents, you may feel awkward about letting people see your sadness. Give yourself permission to cry, even at unexpected times and places.

There Are Many Decisions to make after a death and all are emotionally taxing. Attempt to put off making any major decisions until you feel more capable of handling them. For example, do not allow anyone to rush you into decisions about what to do with your child’s belongings.

Some parents want to leave their child’s room exactly as it was; others may want to box up everything. Both reactions are fine. If it is too emotionally painful to see their belongings, ask a friend to come over and box them up for you. Then you can hold them until you are better able to go through them and decide what you would like to keep.

Because the loss of a child is such a difficult grief to bear, you may find yourself unable to resume your normal activities, and even question your faith, or your sanity.

All of these reactions are normal. Remember to be patient, to give yourself time, and to find someone who will listen with unconditional love and support when you need to talk.