The death of a daughter or son is often expressed as the most overwhelming and heartbreaking loss a person can experience. As you search for answers that no one can provide, it may seem like no one understands the monumental feelings you are going through.
Grieving the loss of a child might seem like a state of mind that you will never overcome, but although you will never forget the life and love you felt, coping with losing a daughter or son is possible. Understanding what you are going through, reaching out to others throughout your stages of grief, and honoring your child are important steps to take when learning how to deal with the loss of a child.
Stages of Grief After Losing a Child
The 5 common stages of grief you may have heard of are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross presented this model in her book On Death and Dying — an industry-standard on grief. When dealing with the death of a child, however, parents feel that these stages of grief don’t accurately describe the way they feel after losing a son or daughter.
There are no universal symptoms that define or describe the feelings of a bereaved parent — everyone grieves in their own way. Healgrief.org provides a list that better illustrates the feelings and emotions a parent might experience:
- Shock: Your mind’s method of sheltering you from pain.
- Denial: You can’t accept the fact that your son or daughter is gone. You expect to see them coming home or hear their cry over the baby monitor.
- Replay: Playing out the “what if’s” over and over, as if your child could have been saved if you or someone else had acted differently.
- Yearning: Continually praying or obsessively longing to see your child again.
- Confusion: Your normal memory functions might be altered. Pain changes your emotional and psychological systems as your mind attempts to process the shock.
- Guilt: One of the most common emotions in response to the death of a child, parents often feel overwhelming guilt.
- Powerlessness: Parents also often feel powerless because they weren’t able to save their son or daughter.
- Anger: Anger — common in many forms of grief — may also leave parents upset that life seems to go on for others as if nothing has happened.
- Loss of hope: Parents can feel hopeless not only for the loss of their child but for their potential future.
Psychological Effects of Losing a Child
Feeling like normal life can return again after the loss of a child can seem overwhelming, if not impossible. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to remain both realistic and optimistic; to understand that there are certain psychological effects that the loss of a child has on a parent.
You may be forever changed and you may not ever get over the loss of your child, but you will survive it. A common expression you may have heard is ‘Time heals all wounds’, which not only isn’t true for the loss of a child but acts more as a source of added sorrow. Healgrief.org explains,
“Parents often experience an upsurge of grief at the time they would have expected their child to start school, graduate, get married, etc. Parents are rarely prepared for these triggers and the wave of grief they bring. Be aware of these triggers, and allow yourself to grieve. This is a normal, appropriate and necessary part of the healing process.”
You may not know when you will be triggered with a wave of grief, but understanding your grief will give you better coping tools.
Coping With the Death of Child
Reach Out to Your Loved Ones
Isolation is a common reaction of many parents experiencing loss. Your family and friends may not always know the right thing to say or do, but they want to be supportive of your healing process. Do not be afraid to ask for help from those around you.
Don’t Hide Your Feelings of Guilt
Parents often feel they could have done more and relive the scenario in their minds. It’s important to address these feelings, which are very common. Focus on your intentions and remind yourself that you did your very best for your child.
Take it Slow
The death of a son or daughter is a loss like none other. The feeling that your life will never return to normal is overwhelming, and you shouldn’t try to confront your grief all at once. Adding small increments of normalcy back into your life will aid the process, such as small errands, household tasks, or a walk around the block.
It’s Okay to be Happy Again
Taking a moment for yourself is important to any self-care, but especially during grief. Know that giving yourself the opportunity to laugh and enjoy your life is not a betrayal of your child’s memory. It’s important to take the time to enjoy life after losing a child.
Memorial Ideas for Loss of Child
Memorial items for the loss of a child go beyond a plant or cutting of flowers. There are many memorial ideas that express love and celebrate their memory.
Unique Ways to Honor a Deceased Child
Personalized wind chimes can include special moments or figures, a quote or poem, or even a photo. The soothing sound of wind chimes also reduces stress or anxiety. Perfect Memorials offers a beautiful set of memorial wind chimes for a son or daughter.
There are many options in memorial jewelry, including hand-stamped pieces to include a personalized message or special memory, a special locket with their picture, lock of hair, or ashes – even a sample of their handwriting, fingerprint, or picture.
Garden stones are a popular memorial choice. A garden can symbolize growth and life, which can be very comforting to a grieving parent. They can also be customized to represent the child or placed near a memorial tree or other plants to symbolize how their memory will always leave an impression on their family.
Grief Support For Parents and Other Resources
Thousands of books on the death of a son or daughter and support groups are available with a variety of focuses. Some authors share stories of other grieving parents, others take a psychological approach to explain how and why we feel the way we do after experiencing a loss. All may offer grief support for parents.
Books About Losing a Child
- Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child written by nine grieving moms who share their stories of grieving after a loss of a child and what to expect in the first year and beyond.
- When the Bough Breaks Dr. Judith R. Bernstein represents mourning through interviews with fathers and mothers grieving the death of a child – ages ranging from 5 to 45.
- Shattered: Surviving the Loss of a Child Written by hospice chaplain and grief specialist Gary Roe gives personal advice and understanding of the topic. It is book 4 in Roe’s Good Grief series, and among the best books for grieving mothers.
- Saying Goodbye Without Saying Hello RaeBeth McGee-Buda tells her story of grieving the loss of a baby. After losing a baby, the journey of a grieving mother can be complex.
The loss of a child can make you feel isolated and misunderstood. Visiting a grief group or reaching out for more information from those who understand first-hand gives the opportunity to hear how others experience grief.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free referral and information service that offers counseling and coping tips and can connect you with local support groups in your area.
- Thousands of GriefShare support groups hold weekly meetings around the world, welcoming anyone at any stage of grief to join at any time.
- Grief Anonymous offers support and outreach across the nation, including medical research, downloadable information, support hotlines, and social security benefit information.
Finding the right online group can be difficult, especially while in bereavement. Looking for internet support can be exhausting, but there are dozens of legitimate and highly respected groups available for parents who lost a child. Visit Dying.lovetoknow.com to view a list of specialized groups or general loss support groups.