Surviving The Loss Of A Child

The loss of a child is often considered one of the worst and most painful losses a person can experience. Parents are meant to take care of their children and they are commonly expected to pass on before them. For many parents, the loss is so overwhelming that they have difficulty moving forward with their own lives. Some get so overwhelmed with the loss that they get stuck in the grief process.

On the other hand, there are parents who process through their grief and are able to find meaning and acceptance. It takes effort and time to move through the grieving process. Grief is definitely a process; it unfolds over time. For most parents the sadness never goes completely away; however, they do find the strength to move forward and lead happy, healthy lives. The keys to coping with such a devastating loss are in understanding the grieving process and applying coping strategies.

While everyone's grieving process is unique, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (a famous psychiatrist) identified five common stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not necessarily linear; some people move back and forth between stages and experience some stages several times. Even after moving through the stages and reaching the fifth stage, there can be something that triggers anger or depression again. It is a fluid process and as long as you keep dealing with the emotions that surface and actively working toward acceptance, you are working the grieving process.

Denial is often the first stage, when the parent simply can't believe she has really lost their child. The denial can show up as avoidance or as outright denial that anything has happened. Many grieving parents feel angry about the death of their child, that the loss is unfair. Anger is a natural part of the process and needs to be addressed. For parents who have lost a child, the bargaining stage may look more like guilt. If only we had done something sooner, listened more, gone for a second opinion, etc. Feelings of guilt can complicate the grieving process for parents. The depression stage involves sadness, crying and withdrawal. It can be mild depression, or it can require treatment.

Acceptance is considered the last stage. Some people are never able to reach this stage. Others find their way to acceptance after cycling through the other stages (sometimes more than once). Acceptance means that the parent has incorporated the loss into their lives in a meaningful way. They still experience sadness, but are able to live a full life of their own despite their grief.

As you move through the stages, remember that you may go back and forth between some stages several times. You might skip a stage. Healing is an individual process and each person's timing is different. The grieving process cannot be rushed or ignored. Each person must trust his or her own timing and process. It is important for friends and supporters to understand this also. The grieving parent cannot simply put it behind them or move on when others believe that it is time to do so. If someone is stuck in severe depression, then it is important to suggest they seek extra support from a therapist. Otherwise, understand that anger, crying and/or sadness may last longer for some people.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is always painful. The loss of a child can be particularly devastating. The grieving process for parents is often complicated by guilt that they somehow failed to protect their child. While the loss of a child may feel completely overwhelming and utterly devastating at first, with time and effort the healing will begin. You need to use healthy coping strategies to help move through the grieving process, and be aware that there is no set timetable for healing; it will unfold in the right time for you.

When facing the loss of a child, time can help heal your wounds. But there are also coping strategies you can use to help you through the grieving process.

Express your feelings
Grieving is a natural process and involves many different emotions. You need to honor each emotion and give it voice either through journaling or talking with a friend or therapist. Keeping your feelings bottled up inside will only compound the grief and likely lead to an emotional blowup or severe depression. You will need to express your emotions frequently and honestly. A journal is handy because you can use it anytime - especially when you don't have someone around to talk with.

The emptiness parents feel after the death of a child can be enormous. They miss being able to hold their child and talk to him. They miss seeing him, smelling him, hearing his voice. Find ways to stay connected to your child through photographs, memories and a few special items. You could make a scrapbook with your favorite photos and other memorabilia. While preserving a child's entire room for a prolonged time is likely a sign that a parent is stuck in the grief process, keeping photos and a few personal items is valuable.

Things that remind you of your child can help you feel connected to him: songs, a favorite bird or animal, a place they enjoyed, and so on. I feel connected with my grandmother when I see turkey vultures, because she talked about them frequently. When I see one, I feel like she is watching over me. It warms my heart and fills me with fond memories. Be open to these special little reminders and/or messages from your child.

Get involved in activities
Some depression is common after the death of a child. When you are depressed you don't want to engage in activities or connect with other people. This, however, will make your depression worse. It is important to stay active. Choose activities that ignite your passion and can help you focused on the positives in life. Take a class or join a book club. Start a weekly gathering with some friends. Do something that will get you out of the house and give you a break from your grief.

Stay involved with your other children
Make sure they know that they are still loved and important to you. Schedule some family activities so you can all be together and support one another. It is important to have time to support each other in the grieving process, too, but here I'm suggesting fun activities to reconnect with life and happy times.

Maintain your social support
Reach out to your friends and let them know how you're feeling and what you need. Remember that they likely want to help, but don't know what to do, so tell them! You may also find it helpful to join a support group for bereaved parents. Many people find these support groups comforting. In general, the connection with others can help you defeat isolation and depression.

If you know a friend or family member who has lost a child, pick up the phone and call. Check to see if they need anything. Give them the opportunity to talk, share and cry. Don't worry about finding the right thing to say. Simply listening and being there is what is most important.

Meditation is a great way to connect with calm and peaceful feelings. Start slow (a few minutes a day) if you have never meditated before, and work your way to an amount of time that is comfortable for you. It often helps if you choose the same time to meditate every day. Make meditation a priority. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It can also improve immune function, lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate. Meditating can be a time when you connect with your essential spirit and your higher power. Let the peace and calmness help wash away your despair and sadness.

Another type of meditation will allow you to feel connected with your child. Hold something that reminds you of your child while you meditate. Feel yourself connect with her energy. Imagine your child being there next to you so you can talk. If you feel you have unfinished business or things you didn't get to say before her death, this is a good time to say what you need to. Enjoy some time in your mind's eye connecting with each other.

Find meaning
One of the most difficult and most powerful coping strategies is to find meaning in your life and your loss. Some parents feel like their lives stopped the moment their child died. In order to honor the memory of the child you lost, as well as the rest of your family and yourself, you need to continue living a full life.

Many people are able to find meaning through their spiritual beliefs. The idea that everything happens for a reason (even when that reason is unknown) brings great comfort to some parents. Others believe that their child had accomplished their purpose here on earth and then moved on to the spiritual realm. Another way that parents find meaning after the loss of a child is to get involved or start an organization that relates to their child. For example, you could join an organization working to cure the illness your child suffered from.