The awful reality of losing a beloved child is something we face with extreme difficulty. But it is possible to cope with it and to keep on living, slowly learning to accept it and eventually finding some kind of personal peace or closure.
It is very important to remember to take one day at a time. From our various experiences we have gathered together some thoughts on things we found helpful to keep us going – or things we wish we’d known at the time:
He will always be your child
You will never stop loving your child, nor being his parent, just because he is no longer with you – this brings both pain and comfort. It means that you live with the pain of your child’s loss forever, and that your heart will always yearn for him to come back. But it also means that you have a very special bond with your child that stays with you always. No one can ever take away your memories, your dreams and your love for your child.
No ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve
Everyone will grieve in his or her own individual way – it is important to remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. There are ‘patterns’ of grief, often referred to as ‘stages’ but many grieving parents will not go through these ‘stages’ in the typical order described in many grief books.
It is also important to stress that you have to grieve as YOU feel you need to – no matter if others might expect something different or might consider you selfish for not following their expectations or customs.
Allow yourself TIME
One thing that is very important is to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to grieve. It can be very damaging to feel that you ‘ought’ to have got over it and to have ‘moved on’.
Experts agree that it takes many years for a bereaved parent to work through the grief process. So much will depend on the particular circumstances and so many things can complicate the process and serve to make it harder and longer.
Go with the flow
Grief is a frightening new universe. You might be used to feeling ‘in control’, feeling confident in facing the world, proud and strong and invincible – and now suddenly you might feel totally lost, powerless and terrified. Try not to worry about feeling out of control – allow yourself to go with the flow.
Grief for a lost child is agony – there is nothing wrong with howling, crying hysterically, hiding away – do what you have to do to get through each moment.
The only way is THROUGH it
There are no shortcuts to grieving – it is a natural, unavoidable process, and part of life. Taking medication may be a temporary fix but it will not solve the problem and one day you will have to face life without that help.
We have to face up to the reality of our child’s death, and to go through the pain of grieving their loss, if we are ever to find any kind of resolution and be able to move on with our lives with any kind of meaning. Facing up to reality means things like seeing and touching your child’s body, putting their possessions away, and talking openly about your child and about how you feel.
While you have to go through it, you don’t have to deal with it all at once. It is equally important to ‘pace’ yourself over your loss. If you don’t feel you are strong yet to pack away his things, or look at his video, you don’t need to do it now. And some parents prefer to leave their child’s room intact instead of putting away their things. Remember that you can revisit these issues when you feel stronger, even if it means taking years to mull over them. It’s OK. But you will need to go through it at your own pace.
Be patient and kind, and nurture yourself
Whatever the circumstances, you must be patient and kind with yourself – and with your partner. The death of a child can put unbearable stress on the relationship of the parents, as you have both suffered an unbearable loss and so in many ways are both unable to help each other, whilst both needing love and support more than ever before.
Try to nurture yourselves, give yourselves little treats, no matter how small – anything to make life a little easier or more comfortable. Take care of yourself physically – try to eat properly, to rest and sleep.
Divert your energy
You may suddenly feel that although you have a lot of free time on your hands, your life no longer has meaning or purpose. Falling into a lethargy of despair could be damaging to you physically as well as psychologically, if left unchecked. It may then be a good idea to divert this energy elsewhere.
If you can muster the energy, it can also be very beneficial to be physically active – many parents have found running, or long early morning walks, therapeutic – this may have the added benefit of reducing insomnia. Many people feel that by pouring their energy into physical activity, particularly if it helps others, they are helping to expel their own emotional pain.
Memorials – remembering with love
Memorials provide an invaluable way of staying connected with your child, of acknowledging them and remembering them with love. Memorials can be private or public, and have many forms of expression.
Talk about her, tell your story
Most of us will find it immensely difficult to talk about our child’s death, particularly in the early weeks and months. But it can be very therapeutic. Many people, friends and acquaintances and maybe even relatives, might be afraid that if they mention your child’s name that it will cause you even more pain. It can help you as well as others to let those around you know that it is OK to speak of your child – that remembering your child is painful, but not as painful as NOT remembering your child. Others will be put at ease by your instruction, because they also do not know what to do or say to help you.
Help siblings to remember without fear
One of the most difficult parts of dealing with your grief for your lost child is to try to explain things to surviving siblings, and to help them to understand what death means whilst not frightening them.
Siblings keep the continuity
You may have lost your only child now without knowing if you will have another. Or you may already have other children. Whatever the circumstances, it may be helpful to allow some continuity to help in your grief process.
Keep some of his things with you for his siblings (present and future). You would be amazed how a simple object can connect you to your lost child. But remember that you must pace yourself and go slow if you need to.
You are not alone – journey with your spouse
Remember that you have your spouse to journey with. He or she feels the loss as intensely and feels the heartache as deeply. You may need time on your own, but allow time together too.
There are many excellent books on grief: guidebooks written by counsellors and psychiatrists as well as personal accounts by bereaved parents. There are also many excellent websites on the internet, particularly reading other bereaved parents’ accounts of their own experiences.
Parents who have a religious faith have often found that it has given them enormous strength – and some say that they do not think they could have survived without it. Others have turned away from their faith, feeling ‘let down’ by God. Some have turned away in anger only to turn back to find comfort once again. Some parents have felt that their faith in a loving God and in an afterlife gives them hope – most importantly, hope that their child is in a happy place, and that they will be reunited once again after their own death.
Religious rituals have been enormously comforting to some parents. And parents who might not have any religious faith have found comfort in spirituality, believing that their child’s soul survives and that there is a deeper meaning behind their child’s death.
So give yourself time, allow yourself to ‘go with the flow’, and don’t set yourself great expectations of how you ‘ought’ to be facing the world. Take tiny steps as you move through this unfamiliar new world, congratulating yourself (and your partner) for just getting out of bed and getting through another day, and not giving up and hiding in a darkened room.
You will never ‘get over it’
Remember, you never ‘get over’ loss. You only learn, ever so slowly, to live with it. Many other people will be expecting you to move forward at an astonishing rate of recovery. Be kind, gentle and patient with yourself while your broken heart tries to learn to accept the unacceptable – it is by nature a very slow process, full of setbacks and challenges.
NOTE: This piece is taken from the book, Farewell, My Child (2nd edition), published in 2012 by the Child Bereavement Support Singapore (https://2886d147-e274-480b-ac85-0d0ac892e2f4.filesusr.com/ugd/8e3ff4_f166f5b094ca478dacb87d1ebbf593b3.pdf)