The Loss of a Child
The death of a child is rare but it is wrenching. Families faced with this loss often find it difficult to access support from friends and family as the loss is so shocking and painful that others may not know how to respond. In many cases, relationships and marriages do not survive the loss of a child. But while there is no “recovery” from such a tragedy, many families, typically with help, find a way to stay together, support their other children, and move forward.
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Efforts to bring grieving to a speedy end will generally fail; there is no expiration date on the pain. Parents may struggle to concentrate or work, control anxiety or stress, and often feel lethargic. There may be bitterness toward doctors, or toward relatives and friends who continue to live happy lives. A sense of alienation from the world is common. Spending time reflecting on positive memories and giving attention to a partner or to other family members can help an individual manage their own emotions. Experts suggest that parents allow themselves time to grieve, resist making sudden major life changes, and seek support, perhaps from a professional counselor.
It is not unusual for people to pull away from a family that has experienced the death of a child. Many people find it nearly impossible to imagine what the family is experiencing, and just as difficult to fathom what they could say to make it better. But while parents may seek time alone and may not be immediately responsive to offers of support, their friends and family should stay connected—sharing stories of the deceased child that the parents may not know, resisting judgment of their grief or the time they devote to mourning, and accepting the feelings they express, even if they are difficult to hear. Under no circumstances should someone say “I know how you feel,” or in any way suggest that it’s time to “get over it” or “move on."
The loss of a child affects each parent powerfully, but perhaps in different ways. One may cry uncontrollably while another may retreat into silence, and so accepting and acknowledging each other’s coping styles is essential: The partner who cries less does not necessarily feel less. Also, one partner may seek more intimacy and physical contact while the other withdraws from it. Open communication and assurances of support, along with time, can help partners maintain their bond through an experience that often leads couples to separate or divorce.
Approximately 6,000 teenagers or young adults commit suicide in the U.S. each year. The death of child from suicide is especially hard for parents to handle because of the guilt that families may feel. Parents can blame themselves for not noticing the signs, or if they did, for not taking the right actions. Focusing on caring for other children, if the family is larger, can help, as can seeing a therapist to talk about the trauma, finding support groups of others with similar experiences, although they may be easier to find online than in person, and sticking to one’s self-care regimen, including exercise. The grief may never completely fade, and painful episodes are likely to recur, but many can find post-traumatic growth, purpose, and a recognition of their own personal strength.
As many as one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, according to recent research, forcing many families to face a complicated mix of feelings, including grief and shame, that they may resist talking to others about, especially if friends and family did not know they were expecting a child. But experts suggest that opening up to loved ones, a therapist, or a support group can help parents deal with their grief, especially mothers who cannot shake the belief that the loss of their pregnancy must have been their fault, or that they or their bodies are lesser of inferior, even though the direct cause of a miscarriage is often not clear and often has little to do with a parent’s actions.
For more, see Miscarriage.