Grief and Loss: Loss of a Child
Losing a child is the most devastating pain a parent could face. The future is forever changed and the grieving may last a lifetime. There are many types of loss including miscarriage, stillbirth, kidnapping, violence, accidents, and illness. Even the death of an adult child can devastate a parent, as it is unnatural for a parent to outlive their child.
What is Parental Grief?
While everyone experiences loss to some capacity, the grief process is unique. No two people will grieve the same way, and each person’s timetable for healing will differ. Many factors influence parental grieving. Cultural norms, religious beliefs, and the specifics of how the child died can all influence how a parent grieves his or her child. Some instances such as an illness or accident, are a visible loss of a child, while a miscarriage can be a less visible, but no less painful, separation.
There are typically five main stages of grief a person experiences. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grieving is intensely personal, and no one should determine what is “grief-worthy” for another. There are also many underlying layers of grief. Parents will mourn the child, but they will also experience additional feelings of loss, such as the child’s smell, voice, laugh, cry, the future memories never to be made, etc.
Symptoms of Parental Grief
Losing a child can result in a number of emotional responses. Parents can be depressed, angry, shocked or confused. Many struggle with feelings of guilt and fear for their other children’s health or safety. Some parents may resent families with healthy children, feel that life is meaningless, or question their faith and beliefs. They can become angry with their spouse for grieving and coping differently than they do.
There are a variety of physical symptoms that can accompany grief. Changes in sleeping or eating patterns, loss of appetite, lack of concentration, and fatigue are common grief effects. Some parents may no longer enjoy activities that once brought great pleasure, and if symptoms worsen, they may even contemplate suicide.
Helping the Grieving Process
Though parents will always mourn the loss of a child, healing is possible. The following is a list of helpful insights for grieving parents:
Mourning the loss of a child will not go away overnight. The pain may last a lifetime, but there are ways to find meaning after the loss. Consider how you might want to honor your child’s life and create a lasting legacy to honor them. Some might hold a memorial service, volunteer, or contribute to a cause their child appreciated. Any way that reminds a grieving parent of their child in a healthy, positive manner will help their transition process toward acceptance.