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The Loss of a Child

The death of a child is a deeply troubling loss that challenges parents and families on many levels. A child’s death is a family loss and can upset the entire family dynamic, potentially making it difficult to get support from those around you as each person copes differently with their deeply personal sense of loss.

The loss of a child may shatter your assumptions of the natural order of the world, causing you to doubt your beliefs as you ask questions that cannot be answered. The inherent unfairness of such a loss may cause tremendous anger; such anger is natural.

You may grapple with the notion, however unrealistic, that you could have prevented the death. You may succumb to the irrational belief that parents can always protect their children.  You may feel guilty about things that were said or left unsaid, reviewing moments of parent-child relationships. You may fear that this is a punishment for some imagined sin of your past or feel guilty that you live and your child does not. You may even feel guilty about your grief, wondering if it is too intense or not strong enough. You may experience other emotions as well—loneliness, yearning, anxiety, or helplessness.

You may feel unwell physically. It may be difficult to concentrate; images of your child may flood you at times. You may behave differently—perhaps withdrawing, or becoming lethargic, apathetic, or aggressive. You might find yourself in constant activity as you try to fill the empty spaces and avoid pain.

This loss may affect your relationship with a spouse or partner.  Some couples find intimacy difficult, needing the physical closeness even as they  feel reluctant to engage sexually. While the death of a child may strain relationships, there is no evidence to support the myth that the strain is permanent.

Because grief presents such special challenges when a child dies, it is important not to grieve alone. Support groups such as The Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends, one-on-one counseling, or reading books about loss, can offer support, validation, and hope to  help you with this most difficult journey with grief.
 
Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.