Death of a Child
THE DEATH OF A CHILD
From the moment a person learns that they will be a parent, they begin to imagine a future for their child. From mental images of what the baby will look like and feel like in their arms, to flashes of the child playing in the sun, learning to ride a bike, and celebrating birthdays, the parent has created a beautiful new world in their mind that will forever include their child. When a child dies, that beautiful world that was created solely for that child is shattered, leaving the parent broken, disoriented, and struggling to cling to any piece of the world that could have been with that child in it.Children are not supposed to die...Parents expect to see their children grow and mature. Ultimately, parents expect to die and leave their children behind...This is the natural course of life events, the life cycle continuing as it should. The loss of a child is the loss of innocence, the death of the most vulnerable and dependent. The death of a child signifies the loss of the future, of hopes and dreams, of new strength, and of perfection. - Arnold and Gemma 1994, iv, 9, 39
A GRIEF THAT WILL LAST FOREVER
Once a person is a parent, they will always be a parent. When a child grows into an adult and moves out, no one says that child’s parent is no longer a parent just because they no longer have a child in their home. It is the same with a parent who has a child that died. For the parent’s whole life, that parent will love their child with all their heart and think about their child every day. The parent may have other children who are living that they care for and love unconditionally, but that will never replace the child who died or eliminate the pain that the parent feels following the death.
A PAIN THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN TRULY UNDERSTAND
The death of a child is a pain so deep that it cannot be expressed in words, and everyone experiences it in their own way. Talking to other parents who have also lost a child is helpful for many grieving parents, because they share a similar pain experience, but even between grieving parents the mourning process can vary greatly. It is not uncommon for grieving parents to distance themselves from old friends or family members. The parent may feel that the person that they were before the death is too different from who they are now and cannot relate to those who knew the person that they were. The parent may also gravitate towards those who are as deeply scarred by a loss as they are.
DEFINING A NEW "NORMAL"
The death of a child is life changing. A parent whose child has died is not the same person that they were before the death occurred. Early in their grief journey they will likely be disoriented because their sense of how their life would play out has been destroyed. As they pick up the pieces of their broken lives, they will often find new strengths and build a new set of beliefs to live by. They may even find themselves driven by a conviction that they must make the most of the time they have because it could so easily be cut short.
THE AFFECT OF THE DEATH OF A CHILD ON A MARRIAGE
Grief is unique to each person, much like a fingerprint. Even though the two parents are grieving the death of the same child, their relationship with their child and grieving styles are different. It is important to avoid judging the other parent for grieving in their own unique way. Parents should also recognize that they are both now different people than they were before the death of their child and it is natural that their relationship will change. Generally it will change in one of two ways: either the parents will find their bond strengthened by having journeyed through this tragedy together, or they will find themselves so different following the death that they no longer know how to relate to each other. Openness and honesty between spouses is essential to maintaining a marriage, especially in times of crisis. Make time to talk and to really listen to each other. Also, recognize that, while it is important to grieve together, it is also vital that each partner have additional support outside of their marriage to find share with and find comfort in.
CONTINUING TO EXPRESS YOUR LOVE AND MOURN YOUR CHILD
A parent’s grief will never cease to exist, but at some point the grief will not consume their life as wholly as it does in the beginning. Starting a set of rituals or traditions to remember the joy that the child brought into the parent’s/family’s life can help parents to keep the child’s memory alive. Celebrating the child’s birthday, lighting a candle on the child’s death date, or regularly visiting the place where the child has been buried or had their ashes scattered are some common rituals that parents use to feel close to their child. Parents may also find it comforting to create rituals that revolve around the interests of the child at the time of their death, for example the parent of a child who really loved to read may choose to volunteer at a library or tutor children at the local school who are learning to read.
FOR MOST, THE DEATH OF A CHILD IS THE HARDEST OF ALL DEATHS TO COPE WITH
It is a loss that the parent, no matter how much time goes by, will continue to mourn for their entire life. There are many resources out there designed to help parents who have suffered this terrible loss. There are books that help parents see that their reactions to the death are normal, memorial items to that help to keep the child’s memory alive, and support groups that help parents to know that they do not have to travel their grief journey alone.
Grief Watch offers a variety of books and memorial items for those who are grieving the death of a child.
The Compassionate Friends offers more than 625 meeting locations around the country for bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents to share and support each other in their grief.
Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Inc provides support for those whose baby died before or shortly after birth.