Losing a child is one of the most devastating things anyone can go through in life, up there with losing a parent or losing a spouse. Research shows that the loss of a child causes a greater amount of stress than any other loss we experience. However you lost your child, recognize that healing from your life-shattering loss of your loved one is possible, but it will take time.
You’re probably experiencing a range of emotions — pain, no sense of purpose, guilt, rage — everything you’re feeling is valid. It’s important to acknowledge that no two bereaved parents will similarly grieve a child’s death. However, the right tools can help you learn how to deal with grief to navigate this very personal, difficult time. With support, you start on a long journey toward acceptance and peace.
Possible Reactions to the Loss of a Child
Grieving the loss of a child is unimaginable. It can be overwhelming and confusing, leaving you feeling isolated and alone. Understanding the possible reactions you might have to this type of grief can help and provide some form of comfort.
“There are so many feelings that a parent will have after losing a child. Feelings can range from intense shock, confusion, disbelief, anger, depression, hopelessness, guilt, isolation, disorganized thoughts, and feelings of acceptance.”– Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
A very common reaction to a child’s death, you may be in denial about what’s happened and unable to process or accept your loss. While this is normal, it’s important not to stay in this state for too long, or it can lead to further emotional stress.
Experiencing types of anger is also a normal emotion when grieving the loss of a son or daughter. You can feel angry at your situation, at God or fate, or even at those around you who are still alive and well. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings. Talking about your anger with friends or family might help release some of the intensity of your emotion.
Guilt often accompanies grief over losing a child. You might feel guilty for not being able to protect or save your child. Maybe you feel guilty for having survived when they didn’t. These natural emotions can surface after a traumatic event like the loss of a child.
Depression is expected after the death of someone close — especially when it’s a child. However, depression can become debilitating if left unchecked. It’s a good idea to seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in coping with grief-related issues like depression after a loss.
Sadness and crying are both natural reactions to grief. Crying helps release pent-up emotions, making space for healing. When it comes to how to deal with sadness, allow yourself moments where tears flow freely without judgment.
Finally, anxiety can arise as upcoming events like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays approach. Significant dates can spark painful memories, causing pain to resurface as you try to deal with and accept the loss of a daughter or son. When it comes to how to deal with anxiety, try engaging in activities that bring joy into your life, like spending time outdoors and visiting places associated with happy memories.
Understand the Non-Linear Aspect of Grief
Grief is a complex emotion that’s often difficult to understand. One of the most important things to remember when dealing with grief is that it does not follow a linear path. Instead, grief often ebbs and flows, sometimes hitting us in unexpected ways or at random times. Recognizing this non-linear aspect of grief can help you prepare for what lies ahead.
How long does grief last after the death of a child?
Grief is a natural and necessary response to death. It can be an overwhelming emotion that affects us in many ways, both physically and emotionally. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to “How long does grief last?” but the important thing to remember is that the timeline will be different for everyone.
Helping the family while dealing with your own grief
If there are other young children involved, watching you navigate through your grief will be influential for them. It’s best for the surviving child to learn healthy coping mechanisms from a family member.
Don’t Dismiss Your Own Personal Grief
You will probably feel overwhelmed by sadness, guilt, and anger after your loss. Unfortunately, it can be easy to dismiss your grief when faced with tragedy. Make sure you validate your feelings as you process grief, though. Otherwise, you won’t truly heal.
Acknowledge your feelings: It’s essential to acknowledge your feelings and grieving process to take enough time to process them. Resist the urge to push away or ignore your emotions. Allow yourself space and time to grieve properly. You may find comfort in talking about your bereavement with friends or family members.
Seek professional help if needed: If you find that you’re struggling more than usual after the death of a child, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a mental health provider or therapist. They can provide support and guidance as you work through your grief journey.
Take care of yourself physically and mentally: Taking care of your physical and mental health is critical during this time. Try to make sure you:
- Get enough restful sleep each night
- Eat balanced meals throughout the day
- Exercise regularly (even if it’s just taking short walks)
- Drink plenty of water
- Give yourself time to do things that bring you joy
- Read books or magazines
- Do hobbies you love
Spending quality “me time” — also known as self care — has been proven in studies to reduce stress and anxiety.
Find support from others who’ve experienced loss: Finding support from people who’ve experienced similar losses can be incredibly helpful too. Many online forums are dedicated to grieving the loss of a child. There, you can share stories and get tips on how others cope with their parental grief. Opening up to people who can relate to your pain might provide much-needed solace.
“Grief is a process. When a person is grieving, it’s important that they take the time to heal (especially the loss of a child). There is no right way to grieve, and there’s no correct amount of time. Just allow yourself to go through the motions and the process and acknowledge the feelings that you’re having. On some days, you may be more active, and on others, you may not have the energy to do anything — that’s OK. Other things include reaching out for support, attending a grief support group, creating a journal, meditating, and exercising.” – Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
Understand Loss Can Be Experienced Differently for Each Partner
Losing a child can put immense strain on a marriage, as each partner grieves in their own way and may not understand how the other is feeling. This difference in grieving styles can cause tension between partners if they don’t take the time to understand one another’s needs. Try to remember that grief looks different for everyone, even within the same family.
- Emotions: One spouse may become emotionally overwhelmed with sadness and express it openly, while the other may be stoic or try to remain strong for their partner.
- Communication style: One parent might want to talk about their loss constantly, while the other prefers not to bring it up at all.
- Guilt: It’s very common for parents to experience guilt over how they’re handling their loss. Both parents need to acknowledge that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to deal with such an emotional tragedy.
- Disconnect: It’s normal for couples to feel disconnected from one another due to these differences in coping mechanisms; however, communication is especially vital during this time. Make sure to be open about what works best for each of you when discussing your feelings about the loss of your child. This might mean talking often, or it could mean taking breaks from conversations about it. Both parties need to feel heard and understood by one another during this painful process.
Provide Support for the Siblings
When a child dies, it can be difficult for the parents to know how to support other children. However, it’s important to remember that, like the parents, siblings will experience grief differently and in their own way. Here are some tips on how you can help your other children through this challenging time:
- Acknowledge their feelings: Parents need to acknowledge the feelings of all siblings, even if they don’t express them outwardly. Allow children to talk about their brother or sister and provide an open, safe space where they feel comfortable expressing themselves without judgment or criticism.
- Be patient with different reactions: Grief manifests itself differently in everyone, so be patient with different reactions from each sibling. For example, some children may become withdrawn while others act out. Both reactions should be accepted as “normal” responses to such a traumatic event.
- Provide comfort and support: Give hugs, listen when your child wants to talk about his/her brother or sister, and be available whenever needed. If possible, try setting aside special times dedicated solely to talking about memories of the lost child, together as a family unit.
- Encourage healthy coping mechanisms: Coping tools can include things like journaling for mental health or participating in activities that bring joy, art projects, or outdoor activities. This can help keep things positive while providing an outlet for negative emotions stemming from grief-related stressors.
- Allow time for grieving processes to take place: Understand that grieving takes time, so don’t rush your children into “getting over” what has happened too quickly. Let them take however long they need to process their feelings. Only then should you attempt any closure.
“Let children know it’s OK to be upset. Allow them the space to express their feelings. Provide books to read and do activities together that honor the sibling. Attend counseling.”– Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
Seek Grief Counseling to Work Through the Pain
Grief is a natural response to the loss of a loved one, especially when that person is a child. Grieving is a complicated and painful process, but it doesn’t have to be done alone. What is grief counseling? Also known as bereavement counseling or grief therapy, it can help you work through your pain in a safe and supportive environment through a variety of grief therapy techniques.
Learn to Accept Happiness After the Loss of a Child
Finding happiness after loss feels impossible, and it probably seems unfathomable now, but there is a way for you to work through this loss. Your life will never, ever, be the same, but one day in the future, you will start finding happiness again.
Work Through Your Grief with Talkspace
The process of grieving the loss of a child is a harrowing experience, and no two people experience it in the same way. Seeking out professional online grief counseling can be beneficial in helping you work through your grief, as therapists can offer personalized treatment plans tailored to each user’s needs. Finding joy again after tragedy is difficult, but it is possible.
Talkspace is an online therapy platform that provides support for those dealing with the death of a child. Online therapy makes getting help for grief simple, convenient, and accessible. Learn more about how Talkspace can help with your grief today.
- Christ GH, Bonanno G, Malkinson R, Rubin S. Bereavement experiences after the death of a child – NCBI bookshelf. Institute of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK220798/. Published 2003. Accessed December 19, 2022.
- Ayala EE, Winseman JS, Johnsen RD, Mason HR. U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life. BMC Medical Education. 2018;18(1). doi:10.1186/s12909-018-1296-x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6080382/. Accessed December 19, 2022.
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