by Peggy Sweeney
The death of a child, regardless of their age or the cause of their death, is the most traumatic grief experience. It is very difficult and will take many years for the parents to be able to cope with the overwhelming pain and sorrow they feel. They must 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 the death of a child.
As days turn into weeks bereaved parent may feel as if 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 will want to reinvest in life and living. You may feel anger, guilt, intense sorrow, hopelessness, and loneliness; similar to a deep void inside your very being. A void you fear will never go away. 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, do not hesitate to contact me with a specific request of appropriate titles for yourself or any surviving siblings.
- 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
Alive Alone (www.alivealone.org) 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.
From personal experience as a bereaved parent and host of a monthly support group—Halo of Love—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. They may ask why? Why their child? Why did this happen? These behaviors and many others are not uncommon and are very normal. 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. 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.
I would encourage newly bereaved parents as well as those who are still struggling years after their child’s death to consider attending the Halo of Love bereaved parent support group. It is a safe and loving haven. Those who attend are offered suggestions for coping with their grief and pain. Our format is simple. We begin our meetings with each parent sharing their personal journey through grief if they so choose. A video or audiotape of interest is often a highlight of our meeting. We discuss daily struggles, coping with job and social commitments, or helping surviving children heal their grief. 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.
As time passes, you may see these parents smile or hear them laugh but remember that every day they think about their child and miss them very much. They are slowly, very slowly coping in this world without them.
Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.
About the Author: Peggy is a mortician and bereavement educator with Grimes Funeral Chapels in Kerrville (TX), a member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department and a facilitator for the Peterson Hospice Bridging the Gap program for bereaved children. She has recently been awarded certification in Bereavement Trauma and Emergency Crisis Response. Since 1990, Peggy has developed and conducted numerous workshops such as How to Understand Grief, Children Healing After Trauma (CHAT), and Grieving Behind the Badge that offer help to families and professionals coping with life-altering events. Peggy hosts monthly support groups for parents who have had a child or children die (Halo of Love) as well as bereaved spouses (Comfort and Conversation). If you would like additional information, please contact Peggy at Grimes Funeral Chapels (830-257-4544) or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. An informative blog you may find helpful is journeysthrugrief.blogspot.com