The death of a child is unbearably tough, but over time you can learn to overcome the pain. Find guidance on grieving the loss of a child here. The loss of a child is unimaginable. Whether anticipated or unexpected, the pain that follows the death of a child is likely to feel overwhelming and endless. With time, healthy coping tools, and help from loved ones and professionals, the worst
The loss of a child is unimaginable. Whether anticipated or unexpected, the pain that follows the death of a child is likely to feel overwhelming and endless. With time, healthy coping tools, and help from loved ones and professionals, the worst parts of grief will eventually pass.
This article will provide an overview of common grief reactions, options for seeking help, and ways to cope.
After a significant loss has occurred, it's common to experience a flood of emotions. These can include:
Parents who have lost a child are likely to experience many of these reactions and more, and they are at an increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Acute grief is the immediate response following a loss. During this time, it's common to be in shock or disbelief and to have a hard time processing the death. The focus tends to be on memories of the person who died, and it can feel all-consuming.
During acute grief, a person's experience tends to be internal, and it's common to avoid other people and normal activities for a while. The circumstances of the death can also impact the severity of the reaction. Death from violence and suicide and unexpected deaths are often more difficult to cope with.
Although acute grief can be overwhelming and extremely painful, most people are able to move through their bereavement over time. Grieving is not a straightforward path or a series of stages to move through, but a back-and-forth journey that constantly moves between pain and joy, difficulty and positive experiences.
Eventually, the worst parts of grief should ease and allow space for finding enjoyment in life again. As this happens, grief is becoming integrated. This means that, while grief may always be present on some level, it does not control or define the person anymore.
For some people, intense grief reactions continue for a long time, and grief doesn't become integrated on its own. When grief causes ongoing worry or rumination about the death, or when a person avoids talking or thinking about the death or becomes stuck in experiencing the most painful parts of grief without relief after several months have passed, it's called complicated grief.
For those experiencing complicated grief, it may feel like the acute grief phase is never-ending. It's common to have difficulty moving through grief in a healthy way and finding meaning from the loss, and many people even consider suicide.
Complicated grief is most common in those who have lost a child. In these circumstances, a mental health professional can help with processing the loss and working through complicated grief to be able to confront the death and heal from the pain.
About 7% of grieving people experience complicated grief, and it's more common for parents who are grieving the loss of a child.
There are different ways to find support while grieving the loss of a child. Whether it's professional help or peer-based, asking for help can be difficult. Yet, seeking support can help you bring meaning to the loss and work through the most difficult parts of bereavement.
Sometimes, it's helpful to speak to a professional to work through the grieving process. When grief does not naturally become integrated over time and remains intensely present and disruptive, a grief therapist can provide the tools to work through the painful memories and experiences of child loss.
Many parents will experience complicated grief while living through a child's death, and it's normal to need support to cope with the loss; the challenges that might come up in relationships with a spouse, family members, and other loved ones; and the interruption to daily life.
To find a grief therapist, look for a licensed mental health professional, such as a counselor, social worker, or psychologist, who has specialized training and experience in grief work. Medical professionals and health insurance providers can provide referrals to mental health professionals, and online provider searches can help narrow down options by various preferences.
Working through child loss can be a lonely experience. Through support groups, grieving parents can come together with others who are coping with similar circumstances. Knowing that others are going through the same pain can bring comfort, and sharing coping strategies to help others can bring a sense of purpose to bereavement.
There are different types of support groups. These include:
For many grieving parents, it's natural to want to isolate from others during bereavement, especially those who bring reminders of the death. It may be painful to answer others' questions, to talk about yourself as a parent who lost a child, and to get through normal daily experiences.
Navigating the loss of a child is difficult to do alone. Though it may be hard, accepting help from others can ease some of the burden of trying to work through the loneliness of grieving as a parent. Try accepting offers for food and other gifts, and push yourself to spend time with others in small amounts. Remember to set boundaries where you need them and that some days will be easier to spend time with people than others.
After child loss, it's important to pay attention to the deceased child's siblings. Sibling grief is a type of disenfranchised grief, which means it's not recognized or supported by peers or society. Thus, grieving siblings need a chance to express their feelings, get support, and learn coping strategies. Depending on the age of the child or children, they might need help learning how to process the many feelings that come with bereavement.
It's also important to pay attention to how siblings are grieving, because surviving siblings will take on the grief of their parents. As parents grieve, they often give less emotional attention to surviving children. This, in addition to the painful experience of losing a sibling, can affect their health and wellbeing and have long-term impacts. For example, research shows that sisters who lose a sibling are more likely to drop out of high school, and both brothers and sisters show lower test scores after experiencing a sibling loss.
About 8% of people will experience the death of their sibling before age 25.
Grieving the loss of a child is extremely hard. One of the most important ways to cope is to take things slowly and not have expectations about how long the painful feelings should last or when grief should be "over." Grief does not happen as a series of stages to work through or tasks to complete, but as an ongoing presence that moves back and forth between being extremely difficult and muted in the background.
Here are some tips to help work through grief:
After losing a child, it's normal to experience a wide range of emotions, including despair, sadness, anger, longing, and even relief. These feelings will be most painful initially during the acute grief phase. Over time, though, the most difficult emotions associated with grief will become easier and will exist in the background rather than be all-consuming.
For many parents, though, losing a child can be so hard to handle that grief becomes complicated rather than integrated. If grief is still raw and extremely painful, or if it brings out mental illnesses like depression, severe anxiety, or other concerns, it's important to seek support from a mental health professional.
Other things that can help are support groups, accepting offers to help from others, and finding ways to bring meaning to the death. It's important to also pay attention to the needs of siblings as they mourn as well.
Losing a child is unthinkable. The pain and raw emotions are likely to feel intense and unending. You are likely to have many different feelings that range and also sometimes conflict. It might also feel like you will never experience joy again or find satisfaction in life.
For grieving parents, it's important to balance the intensity of grief with moments of normalcy. Doing activities that bring you comfort and even finding happiness again are not signs that you are forgetting your child, but signals that your grief is becoming less acute and more integrated. This is a sign that you're healing.
If grief becomes so difficult to manage that it's impacting your ability to get through daily tasks even months after the death, you may be experiencing complicated grief. In this case, or if you are experiencing depression or other mental illnesses, it's important to see a mental health professional to work through the grief and be treated for any complicating illnesses you are experiencing.
Grief, especially from losing a child, is not something you get over. Grief ebbs and flows and changes with time. Some days will be very hard and others will be a little easier. Eventually, grief should feel muted and in the background but most likely will be present in one way or another throughout life.
Grief alone does not cause death. However, there is research that shows that the impact of child loss on a parent's psychological and physical well-being can cause significant health problems that can affect overall wellness and potentially shorten their life. Another concern is the increased risk of suicide for grieving parents.
Grief does not come in stages or checklists. Grief is experienced uniquely by each person and comes and goes in different ways over time. You can think of grief as a bumpy, winding road that sometimes causes slowdowns and sometimes feels smooth.
The stages of grief that were first introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described the experience of a person who is dying him or herself, not who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Grieving the loss of a child takes time and work and will probably always be present in one way or another.