As parents, we devote ourselves to our children, their happiness, and helping them realize and follow their dreams. Parents who have experienced a death of a child carry an invisible weight marking a deep absence and grief in everything we do. From shopping for groceries, sitting in traffic, or walking the dog, the burden of loss is ever-present, while the world moves busily forward as if nothing has changed.
It is common and expected to relapse and re-experience periods of deep grief and pain in the years to come. Some parents seek professional support or find solidarity in connecting with others.
The early days are unimaginable. Over time, as you make it through your day without tears or profound emptiness, it feels like you are losing your child all over again because you are not honoring them or feeling their profound presence and love.
Knowing how or why to reinvest in life is impossible, especially in the first few years. Many parents face a crisis of perspective and feel less purpose in life. How do I imagine myself happy again? How do I celebrate their birthday? Who will fill their seat at the family dinner table during the holidays? What am I doing with my life? Who am I, and what do I believe? This may compel some to leave a job, reorient friendships, or reexamine their religious or faith-based beliefs.
Your grief is often disorienting. Some describe it as a fog. It can be hard to think, remember or work. Common functions, like keeping a grocery list or paying monthly bills, may become insurmountable. This is common and reflects the trauma you have experienced. Only fellow bereaved parents can truly understand the depth of pain and the daily struggle to cope.
Facets of your life will change. Relationships that once seemed part of everyday life will be transformed or fade.
Your loss is so big, so great, that it is nearly impossible for most people to be fully supportive or understand how to help. Many parents feel profound isolation and let down by friends, families, and colleagues. Sometimes, others purposely avoid you out of concern that “it” could happen to them and that you or death could be “contagious.”
Despite the many challenges you will face, there will be surprising and reassuring revelations among your family, friends, and colleagues. Some will step forward and become sound supporters during such a turbulent time. There will be relationships that continue to support your resolve by offering love and compassion. Some may be expected, but often our most ardent supporters surprise us.
YOUR OTHER CHILDREN
Whether young or old, all siblings carry significant grief and heartache when a brother or sister dies and are at risk of their own challenges.
It can be difficult, if not impossible, to support surviving children during such a devastating time. Many well-intentioned people may say, “Kids are resilient.” But know that sibling grief and suffering are significant and often overlooked. It is important to learn how to cope and manage intense feelings. Knowing when and how best to react is critical.
YOUR ONLY CHILD OR ALL YOUR CHILDREN
A growing number of families today have lost an only child or all their children. Many of them have no grandchildren and are too old to start another family, adopt or foster. Parents who have been obliterated in this way suffer extraordinary hardships and loss of identity, as they no longer have a child to parent on this physical earth. Are they still a parent? Their legacy is gone, and they will face issues, such as who will become their healthcare surrogates and who will become their beneficiaries and inherit their possessions and photo albums as they age. Who will look after them and visit them when they are older? It is often a very lonely, frightening world for parents who have lost their only child/all their children.