by Peggy Sweeney
Editor’s Note: My child died as the result of an ectopic pregnancy. It wasn’t until several years later, while attending a prenatal workshop as a bereavement educator, that I grieved my child’s death, named my baby (Noel), and found peace in my heart.
Regardless of age or cause, the death of a child is the most traumatic grief experience. It is challenging and will take years for the parents to cope with the overwhelming pain and sorrow they feel. They may eventually learn to survive in a world without their child. Family and friends who have not had a similar experience do not understand the day-to-day struggles or the unique grief that accompanies a child’s or children’s death.
As days turn into weeks, bereaved parents may feel as though their friends and family members have lost interest in their grief. They may suggest or even demand that you get over your grief and get on with life. In reality, you will never get over your grief, but you can learn to weave it into your daily life.
What was normal for you before your child’s death is not normal now. Your life will never be as it was. It will take many, many months or years before you want to reinvest in life and living. You may feel anger, guilt, intense sorrow, hopelessness, and loneliness, similar to a deep hole inside your very being. A deep crack you fear will never mend. Thoughts of suicide are commonplace. Your world has been turned upside-down. During the early months of your grief, every minute of every day is a struggle. You are not going crazy. You are grieving the death of your child.
I recommend the following books for coping with the death of a child. For additional titles, visit our booklist.
- The Bereaved Parent by Harriett Sarnoff-Schiff
- Don’t Take My Grief Away by Doug Manning
- When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner
- Recovering from the Loss of a Child by Katherine Donnelly
- Empty Cradle, Broken Heart by Deborah L. Davis (miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death)
- A Guide for Fathers: When a Baby Dies by Tim Nelson
- Grieving Dads to the Brink and Back by Kelly Farley
Grieving Dads website
Alive Alone is a support resource for bereaved parents with no surviving children. Kay and Rodney Bevington provide a newsletter as well as a self-help network.
How You Can Help Bereaved Parents
From personal experience as a bereaved parent and former host of monthly support groups, I would like to share this advice for family members and friends who want to help. I realize that you may be uncomfortable when someone is grieving. You are unsure of the right words to say. I understand. Once upon a time (before my child died), I did not know the right words to say to my friends who had a child die.
Be quietly present in the parents’ lives. Allow them to talk openly about their child as often as needed. They may cry uncontrollably. They may rant and rave. Their faith in God may be in question. They may ask why? Why their child? Why did this happen?
These behaviors and many others are not uncommon and are very familiar. You do not need to have ready answers for their questions because there are usually no exact answers or solutions. Please mention their child’s name often! Bereaved moms and dads worry that this child may be forgotten. On the anniversary of the child’s death or their birthday, you can help the parents’ cope with this painful day by giving a loving hug and whispering, thinking of you today. Remember, you will not be able to restore the death of their child. But you can be someone who helps them on their very long and arduous journey through grief.
Suggestions for the Moms and Dads
I would encourage newly bereaved parents, and those who are still struggling years after their child’s death, to consider attending a bereaved parent support group. It is a safe and loving haven. Those who attend are offered suggestions for coping with their grief and pain. These sharing sessions help the parents learn that they are not alone in their suffering and pain and that most bereaved parents experience similar emotions such as fear, depression, anger, and guilt. Here are some suggestions for resources to find help:
- Compassionate Friends – local chapters that support bereaved parents and siblings
- Parents of Murdered Children – local chapters that support bereaved parents
- Your local funeral home, hospital, or Hospice may provide support groups or workshops
- Psychology Today ~ find a therapist in your area
- Alive Alone ~ for parents with no surviving children
- Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors
- Healing Hearts – infant bereavement resources
- Through the Heart – pregnancy loss support and education
As time passes, you may see these parents smile or hear them laugh but remember that they think about their child every day and miss them very much. They are slowly, very slowly, coping in this world without them.
Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.
January 2021 Journeys Through Grief will premier our first Bereaved Parent newsletter. You may sign up on the link below