Grieving the Loss of a Child: Common Emotions & Paths to Healing
Though less common, parents who have lost children are never alone.
The death of a child is among the most severe forms of grief one can experience. While grieving the loss of an adult in one’s life is difficult (a sibling, spouse, parent, grandparent, etc.), the child-to-parent relationship can make such a loss especially devastating. There are many unique emotions and stages to grieving the loss of a child. It can be helpful to understand these emotions so that they can be processed in a healthy way.
Some Common Emotions
The Feeling of Failure
Despite the cause of death, many parents will feel a tremendous sense of guilt or failure to protect their child from harm. Though accidental deaths are most likely to result in the feeling of failure, even terminal illness can make parents feel like they have failed to do enough to keep their children healthy. These emotions stem from the innate sense of duty that devoted parents feel to safeguard their children from all threats.
Anger or Injustice
Between instances of grief, anger may trail close behind. Despite a parent’s spiritual outlook or worldview, many can’t help but experience a sense that an injustice has occurred—that their child has not only died but has been taken from them, a fate that this child did nothing to deserve. This anger may be projected towards a societal structure, a divine being, or even themselves. Though this emotion can overtake a person, it can potentially be helpfully redirected towards growth—perhaps towards a good cause or communal initiative.
Anxiety About the Future
Some people who have never experienced anxiety before—a dread of the future—will suddenly develop such sensations following the death of a child, especially if such a passing occurred suddenly. This anxiety may be in regard to how they will feel in the future or how others will treat them. Some parents may grow withdrawn so as not to have to face either the pity or the judgment of other people.
Helpful Grief & Recovery Methods
A form of emotional salve for many grieving parents is cultivating a sense of gratitude for the time they spent with their children. Reflecting on positive and tender moments instead of the tragedy of their passing can help in transforming their memory into a blessing. Meditating on the positive impact the child had on the parents’ lives can help transform pain into gratitude.
Remembering to Care For One’s Self
Grief can consume one’s focus on their own personal maintenance. Getting back into the swing of taking care of one’s family and one’s self can help provide much-needed momentum in the face of negative emotions. This shouldn’t be thought of so much as a distraction from grief, but rather a means of processing grief through action.
Communicating & Processing Grief With Others
While most will experience the death of a parent, grandparent, or even spouse, not everyone will lose a child. The perceived abnormality of the situation can make someone feel isolated—that no one understands what they’re experiencing or that worse, that others will judge them. Thankfully, most every town or city has a variety of specialized support groups for grieving parents. In these groups, grieving parents can meet and speak with other grieving parents to share their emotions and build a sense of community around shared loss. Many parents who have lost a child report that the decision to join a support group was, in fact, a game-changer on their road to healing.
Not Feeling the Need to Stick to a Timeline
Though there are average durations for the many stages of grief, none of these are exact or recommended to follow for the proper processing of grief. A grieving parent should not feel anxiety over their own inability to “move on” as quickly as others may have. Everyone is different and some people simply need more time. It is important, however, to believe what many grieving parents have reported—that the pain grows less severe over time and that the blessing of the child’s memory overshadows the tragedy of their passing.
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