The information contained on this page is provided by parents who have themselves been bereaved. Although we know that consolation is impossible, we offer you our experience at this terrible time. The Death of a child!
How you might feel
Most people experience a whole range of different emotions; initial feelings may include disbelief, numbness, anger, sadness, guilt, emptiness, maybe even, in some instances, a sense of relief. It is very likely that if you have other children they will also have equally strong feelings, and may need a trusted person or friend in whom to confide.
Some parents will need to talk about the child’s death over again for many months. Some parents will not want to talk about it at all, and will wish to try and “divert” their feelings, some of the time, into work and hobbies, sometimes to an obsessive extent. The greatest difficulty may be experienced where one parent needs to talk, and the other cannot listen or express their own feelings.
It is very common for partners only to have energy for their own grief and be temporarily unable to help each other. You may have to acknowledge together that you are expressing your grief in different ways, and respect each other’s need to find support in your individual ways. Having someone listen to the way you feel is almost always helpful. Try not to be afraid to ask for help, outside the family if necessary, especially if you feel that your need to talk is a further “burden” on relatives and friends.
Talking to someone you met perhaps at the hospital may be helpful, or you may find support through the hospital Social Work Department, your GP or Health Visitor, or child’s teacher. There are also specialist voluntary groups and organisations for families whose child has died in particular circumstances. There may also be groups of parents, perhaps in your area, who meet through such organisations to share experience and mutual support. Some addresses of these organisations and of telephone support services are included in the Links section on this website.
As Months and Years go on
The numbness you felt initially will pass in time, but feelings of occasional disbelief, terrible sadness, anger, guilt and emptiness may remain very powerful. Many bereaved parents mention similar experiences.
• The feeling of being on an emotional roller-coaster.
• The need to talk about the child constantly.
• Trying to put on a brave face for others.
• The question “Will I ever feel better?”.
• The feeling that there is no point in getting up to start the day.
• The feeling that no future can be envisaged – to the extent of thoughts of suicide.
• The feeling of constant struggle to live hour by hour and day by day.
As at the time of your child’s death, do not be afraid to ask for help; talk to someone you trust about the way you feel.
The anticipation of anniversaries may be especially difficult, and unexpected and poignant feelings and reactions may take you by surprise.
Other people’s reaction
Some people, while meaning well, may say very clumsy things. They do not mean to hurt you further, but they can have no idea of the depth of your grief.
• Some may not know what to say, and say nothing at all.
• Some may feel they cannot face you. They may avoid you.
• Some may feel they should not mention your child, for fear of upsetting you.
• Some may be frightened of the reality that they or their own children could also die, because this has happened to you.
• Most will not know how to react.
• Some people will think you should be “over it” in a matter of months.
• Some people may, very tactlessly, try to find something “positive” to advise, such as focusing attention on other children you may have, or by using unhelpful clichés.
Tell them how you want them to react. If you want them to talk about your child, and to use his or her name, tell them.
It is not uncommon for friendships, or for your circle of friends, to change in these circumstances.
Even if you have included brothers and sisters as openly as you can, their needs over months and years to talk about their brother or sister, and what happened, will change as they mature, and you may find that much basic information is required, perhaps over and over again.
Any child born into your family in the future should know about his or her brother or sister, and be given the opportunity to ask and talk about him or her.
If your only child has died you may feel a desperate and bitter sadness, that your parenthood is no longer visible to others. Whether you have other children or not, if you long for another baby, but pregnancy is not possible, or does not occur, this can be an added grief.
If you are already expecting a baby, or become pregnant again soon after your bereavement, you may feel very frightened about your ability to love and care for this new baby. Alternatively, you may worry that focusing on the new baby will prevent you “remembering” and grieving for your child who has died. You may also sometimes find yourself becoming particularly anxious about the well being of this baby – or of other children you may have.
All of these feelings are normal, and you may be helped by talking about the way you feel to someone you trust.
The death of a child is the most devastating thing that can happen to you. Surviving it may seem impossible for a very long time. Your life will, of course, never be the same again, but a life worth living is possible.
As you go through the rest of your life, memories and thoughts of your child will always be with you. Nearly everyone needs help in some way, so do not be afraid to ask, no matter how long it is since the death.
For support see The Compassionate Friends Website