Child... Losing Your Future?
It has been said that parents who lose a child also lose the
hopes, dreams, and expectations they had for that child. They lose
a part of themselves. They lose their future because their child
represents their sense of ongoing life. Psychologists believe,
because of these reasons, the death of a child is possibly the most
difficult loss of all to accept.
People who have children often feel that parenting is life's
most important role, regardless of the child's age. Therefore, the
death of a child can be a tremendous assault on a parent's very
What to Expect
If your child has died, you will most likely experience several
common reactions of bereavement. However, your grief can be more
acute than normal. You may go into periods of shock and denial. You
will likely become depressed. If you are normally a committed,
caring person, you could find that you do not care about anything
or anyone. You may find yourself preoccupied with the circumstances
of your child's death, recreating them over and over again in your
mind. You may think you see or hear your child. You might have
dreams and nightmares about them.
The intense grief caused by your child's death can take a
physical toll as well. You may lose weight, have difficulty
sleeping, become irritable or listless, or feel short of breath.
Grief has even been known to cause hair loss.
Anger and Guilt
Perhaps the most acute feelings you will experience are
anger and guilt. Because the
death of a child does not follow the normal order of nature, there
is a strong urge to place the blame on someone or something. You
may be angry at the doctors or nurses who could not cure your
child's illness, or at God for "letting" your child die. If your
child died because of a traumatic accident, you may be angry at
whomever you believe caused it. If your child's actions partly
caused the death, you may be angry at him or her and then feel
guilty about your anger toward your child.
Parents often feel terribly guilty for simply living. If you had
an argument with your child or had to discipline him or her shortly
before the death, you may feel guilty for those actions.
You may feel the most guilt because you believe you should have
prevented your child's death. You may find yourself consumed by
thoughts of "if only."
A father tends to suffer guilt over failing to prevent a child's
death. While both parents feel responsible for their child's
safety, men have often been taught that protecting the family is
their primary role.
The Grief Experience
While bereaved parents know they will experience intense grief,
their child's death can have another effect they did not
anticipate. The death could alter their feelings toward each other.
Almost always, the marriage will never be the same. The change
could be for the better or for the worse. However, the relationship
rarely stays the same.
Parents think their grief will be similar because they have lost
the same child. This similar type of mourning rarely happens. The
relationship the father mourns is different from the relationship
the mother mourns because each parent shared a different
relationship with the child.
Fathers may have a more difficult time expressing their grief,
believing on some level that "big boys don't cry," or that they
need to be strong for their surviving family. Unfortunately, this
may keep fathers from working through their grief and resolving it.
It may become necessary to seek counseling or spiritual help.
Couples may experience difficulty in communicating after the
death of their child. The intensity of grief comes at different
times for each parent. One parent may use work as an escape while
the other finds solace in photo albums and home videos. Dad may
feel the need to box up and store the child's personal belongings
while Mom cannot bear to look at them. A physical resemblance to
the dead child can also cause difficulties between the parents.
A child's death may cause sexual problems within a marriage as
well. Time, patience, and communication are key elements to
resolving these problems. It is not uncommon for these effects to
last up to two years or more following the child's death.
Answering the Questions of Your Other
Your other children will look to you to explain the death to
them. A child's questions will depend on their age, but your
answers should always be honest. Guard against telling children
that their brother or sister is "sleeping," or that "God wanted
their brother or sister." These may simply cause other fears in
your children that may be more difficult to resolve than a more
direct answer. Be direct, without offering more information than
Young children sometimes fantasize that they caused the death by
being mean to the deceased sibling or by fighting with them. In
this case, it is important to assure your child that he/she had
nothing to do with their brother's or sister's death.
Remember, your other children need to resolve their grief. They
will take their cues from you, so support them in their grief by
being open in showing yours. You will not do them any favors by
protecting them from the grieving process; in fact, there is no way
Dealing with Grief
It may not be possible to work through your grief alone. We can
recommend support groups, counselors, books, and videos which deal
specifically with child bereavement. Ask us to recommend a specific
book, or visit your local library.
It is important for parents to realize that severe grief can
make them feel like they're going crazy. If you are afraid your
grief is out of control, you might consider asking your clergy,
doctor, or funeral director to suggest a counselor. You may be
relieved to find that your problems, in this situation, are
Finally, remember that other people will likely feel very
awkward around you because they will not know what to say. You can
help bridge the gap by simply telling them what you need and
letting them know if it is all right to mention your deceased