Coping with the Loss of Your Child

Parenting a child who has passed on By Mary Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Circle 4 Parents

This is the second part of a two part series that covers the absolute hardest times in parenthood: the fears and emotions when dealing with a permanently disabled or terminally ill child, and the second part will be on being a parent of a child who has passed on.

Nothing, and we mean absolutely nothing, is more devastating to a parent than the loss of their child.

Even though there are thousands of books on parenting, there are not many books on how to be the parent of a child who has passed on. Because we must know that we are still a parent of our child, even if our child is no longer alive. As parents, we always hope that our children will outlive and bury us, and not the other way around. We never expect to bury our children, no matter how old or young they are at the time of death. There are many issues that make parental bereavement an issue particularly difficult to move past. And this grief over the loss of a child can be exacerbated and complicated by feelings of injustice, anger, sadness, and guilt – all the understandable feelings that this loss never should have happened. It is normal for most parents to experience extreme pain, alternating with emptiness – a dichotomy that may persist for months or years. Many parents who have lost their child say they feel that they can only continue to somewhat exist and every motion or need beyond that seems nearly impossible. The grief can even become physical illness or pain.

Common Emotions Felt After the Loss:

  • Shock: At first you may be in disbelief, which is your mind shielding you from the pain.

  • Denial: You still may expect your child to walk through the door, or see them on the baby monitor.

  • Anger: Angry at yourself, angry at the world, angry at those whose children are alive.

  • Longing: What would you do for just 10 more minutes with your child?

  • Confusion: Normal memory functions can be precluded, and routines may be out of sync.

  • Powerlessness: An overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that they could not save their child.

  • Guilt: One of the more common responses, parents often replay their actions before and replay scenarios over what they could have done differently.

  • Loss of Hope: It is not only your child who has passed on, but your dreams and hopes of your future and your child’s future that has died.

Coping with Parental Grief

The resolution of parental grief after the death of a child can seem absolutely overwhelming, but when the parent is ready to do so, it is possible. It is important for the parent to understand that their child will never be forgotten, their death will never be forgotten as well. And as time goes by, as a parent you will gain more and more strength to cope with the pain.

  • Dealing with the Guilt: Do not hide from the feelings of guilt, instead, confront and admit them. Going over your actions and intentions at the time of the death, you may actually see yourself in a more positive way. No one is perfect, and accept that you did the best you could have at the time.

  • Acknowledge Pleasure Again: Even though it may seem impossible at the moment, or that laughing may betray your child’s memories, but it is necessary to learn to enjoy yourself again. You are not over grieving if you laugh.

  • One Step at a Time: Dealing with priorities, work, family and life in general may seem overwhelming when you are grieving. Deal with one hour at a time and focus on the most important tasks into normalcy.

  • Let Others Help: There may be many family members or friends who want to help and be supportive but do not know what to do or how to ask. You may need to step out and let others know what they can do to help. For example, helping around the house with other children, go shopping for you, helping out with laundry. Or if there is someone whom you trust and can talk to, ask them to listen. Only you know what you need.

Every family’s journey is different, and it is hard for others in your circle and community to get it, unless they have been through bereavement themselves. Advice from others in the outside sphere can be difficult to hear and take. It is very common for families going through loss to rely mostly on other bereaved families, their spiritual and faith communities or trained professionals such as grief counselors, therapists, psychologists, etc. Even though you may no longer be the same person you were before, and your child is no longer physically on this earth…You will always be their parent.

At Circle 4 Parents, we offer several sessions for parents dealing with very difficult times: Coping with Stress, and Raising a Resilient Family are a few examples.

We also offer one-on-one private coaching sessions to help families with the privacy and support they need.

On behalf of all of us here at Circle 4 Parents, we want to be there for you in times of need and we want you to understand that you are not alone.