Bereaved parents

The loss of a child is one of the cruelest blows that a parent can suffer. It is an out-of-order process that brings consuming pain and grief. It should be noted that bereaved parents do not ever “get over” the death of their child. Nor should they be expected to “snap back” to the person they once were. The death of a child is not an illness from which one can recover. It is a life altering change that parents must learn to live with. Bereaved parents are forced to do what they see as impossible. They must learn to rebuild their life without their beloved child.

Parents are devastated when a child dies. It feels  unnatural for a child to die before his or her parents. Unfortunately, more than 57,000 children under the age of 19 die every year in the United States.

Bereaved parents experience a wide array of frightening and intense emotions. All of these emotions are normal and natural. It is important for bereaved parents to understand that while they will always feel the pain and loss, the intensity does decrease with time.

The emotions that accompany the death of a child can include:

  • depression
  • emptiness
  • longing for own death
  • weeping
  • profound sadness and longing
  • distraction/inability to focus
  • questions of “why” and “what if”
  • guilt
  • anger
  • exhaustion
  • feelings of insanity
  • loss of appetite/weight loss
  • over eating/weight gain
  • denial
  • anxiety
  • difficulty breathing
  • tightness in throat or chest
  • hyperventilating
  • sensing your child
  • inability to function at everyday tasks
  • feeling alone
  • irritability with others
  • fear

Types of child loss

  • Miscarriage
    • Miscarriage is common and affects about 25% of women who have become pregnant. Miscarriages can be extremely challenging for both parents.
  • Stillbirths
    • Stillbirths are less common, occurring in about 1% of all pregnancies. Stillbirths often cause feelings of disorientation, yearning and despair.
  • Abduction
  • Homicide
    • Parents of murder victims face many challenges in their process of bereavement. The suddenness of the death is often so overwhelming that, for a period of time, parents are unable to process the grief.
  • Cancer diagnosis
    • Each day, about 46 children are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S., and 35% of those will die.

Grieving the death of a child is a long, arduous journey. There are no guidebooks or directions through the process. If you find yourself stuck in your grief, you may benefit from the support of a counselor or a bereaved parent’s support group. Many parents also benefit by finding an outlet for their grief such as journaling, yoga, painting, gardening or other creative endeavors. Remember, you are not alone. Be patient with yourself.