Select Page

Coping With The Loss of A Child

It’s hard to imagine that the world hasn’t stopped. It’s hard to believe that everything keeps on going. When the horror of losing a child becomes a reality for you or someone that you love, you want to do something – anything – to help someone who has lost a baby, infant, or child.

But… how?

The path after someone has lost a child seems so fraught with peril, normal comfort measures seem too stupid, too trite for someone who has experienced such a monumental loss. But you can’t simply ignore the reality: your friend has experienced one of the worst horrors a person can go through – they have lost a child. It is up to you to be there for them.

Here are some tips coping with after losing a child.

Processing The Grief After Losing A Child:

Grief is a process. Although parents would wish otherwise, grief cannot be bypassed or hurried; it must be allowed to happen. Parents do not go through grief and come out the
other side as before the loss. Grief changes parents. One approach to understanding bereavement, developed by Dr. J.W. Worden (2002), identifies grief not as a succession of phases through which a person passes with little or no control, but as four tasks for the bereaved person:

Accepting the reality of the loss:

When someone dies, there is always a sense that it hasn’t happened. The first task of grieving is to come full face with the reality that the child is dead, that the child is gone and will not return. The opposite of accepting the loss is not believing through some type of denial. Denial usually involves either the facts of the loss, the significance of the loss to the survivor, or the irreversibility of the loss. To accomplish this task, the parent must talk about the dead child and funeral, as well as the circumstances around the death.

Working through the pain of grief:

It is necessary to acknowledge and work through the pain of grief or it will manifest itself through some symptoms or atypical behavior. Not everyone experiences the same intensity of pain or feels it in the same way, but it is impossible to lose someone with whom you have been deeply attached without experiencing some level of pain. The negation of this second task is not to feel.

People may avoid feeling pain by using thought stopping procedures or by avoiding reminders of the child. Many emotions such as shock, anger, guilt and depression may be expressed. The bereaved need to allow themselves to indulge in the pain: to feel it and know that one day it will pass. Some say it is easier to express emotions with someone who knew the child or who can relate to the experience directly.

Adjusting To Life In Which Your Child Is Gone

Caring for a child takes an amazing amount of time and energy. Parents and other caregivers once consumed with the constant task of meeting the needs of a child are suddenly forced into inactivity. Where responsibility was, is now emptiness. During this adaptation to loss, people can work to avoid promoting their own helplessness by gradually re forming schedules and responsibilities. Creating meaningful rituals like a special memorial or keeping a journal or writing poetry are helpful components of completing this task.

Emotionally relocating the deceased and moving on with life:

Survivors sometimes think that if they withdraw their emotional attachment, they are somehow dishonoring the memory of the child. In some cases, parents are frightened by the prospect of having another baby because he or she might also die. For many people, this task is the most difficult one to accomplish. They may get stuck at this point and later realize that their life in some way stopped at the point the loss occurred.

Some bereavement experts note the grieving process includes not only the parent adapting to the loss and returning to functioning in their life, but also includes changing and maintaining their
relationship with the infant or child. It is normal for parents to report that they having an ongoing relationship with their child through their memories and mental life.

How To Cope With The Loss Of A Child:

No matter how deep your grief and pain, no matter how alone you feel, you are not alone.

Factors that may interfere with the grief process:

  • Avoiding emotions
  • Overactivity leading to exhaustion
  • Use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Unrealistic promises made to the deceased
  • Unresolved grief from a previous loss
  • Judgmental relationships
  • Resentment of those who try to help

Complicated grief is delayed or incomplete adaptation to loss. In complicated grief, there is a failure to return, over time, to pre-loss levels of functioning, or to the previous state of emotional well-being. Grief may be more difficult in younger parents, women, and persons with limited social support, thus increasing their risk for complicated grief. The grief surrounding a child’s death is unique in its challenges and may necessitate professional counseling from the clergy, grief counselor, family physician, or mental health professional.

You are not to blame for the loss of your child.

The emotions experienced after the loss of a child can range from shock, to anger, to depression and back again. You may feel like you will never be whole again.

Many parents grieving the loss of a child have trouble sleeping. If that’s the case, ask a family doctor for a mild sedative. It’s very important to be rested as best as you can.

Grieving mothers and fathers may express their grief differently. A grieving mother may want to talk it out, while a grieving father may suffer in silence. This may cause both parents to feel like they cannot relate to each other

Grieving fathers may seek diversions – extra work or a new project – to cope with the loss of their child, hoping these diversions help them to stop thinking about their grief. They may have a hard time asking for help It may be especially difficult if one parent works at home, surrounded by the reminders of their lost child.

In the first weeks after a baby has died, the day of the week and hour of their death will be the most difficult time. After awhile, it may be the day of the month the child died. After awhile, it will stretch out to other anniversary dates, like the child’s birthday and holidays. What’s important is to focus upon what you need to happen during those days – if you need to get away from it all, do that. If you want to celebrate with family, do that. But make sure you do what is most important to you during those hard days.

Name your baby – if you’ve experienced a stillbirth or a miscarriage and haven’t named your child, yet, do so. This will help to give your baby an identity, and it will be comforting to you when friends and family call your baby by name.

Collect some mementos of your baby – you may feel too grief-stricken to think about keeping your baby’s things, but it is important. Later, you will realize how meaningful these hats, pictures, or stuffed animals can be.

if possible, be with your baby – even when he or she is dying. It may seem an insurmountable thing – to watch your baby die, but parents who have lost children say it is very important to do so if you can.

You’ll probably be asked about an autopsy. An autopsy may provide some answers as to why your child died and help provide some closure. It’s something you can elect to do or not do.

Invite friends and family to your baby’s funeral. While many people may not have met your child, having your loved ones with you can be very comforting. This is a chance for public recognition of your baby, a celebration of life.

Get into your grief, not out of it – many people want to rush around, keep busy, work harder, to have another baby – all to escape the grief. It doesn’t work that way. Your baby will live on forever in your heart and not acknowledging your loss may hinder the grieving process.

Take good care of yourself – grieving and loss depresses the mind and body. You may not want to eat, brush your teeth, take a shower, but you need to. Sometimes, the smallest step can make you feel very accomplished.

Write it out – write it here, for The Band, or in a private journal, but the act of putting words together in sentences can mean all the difference in the world.

Get help – talk to family and friends, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a grief counselor. There are many support groups available for grieving parents, which you may get from the NICU staff at your local hospital.

While you want to believe that you will recover quickly and entirely from the death of your child, that’s rarely the case. The journey through grief takes time and much work. The days will become less painful,

Admitting to themselves and others that their grief is overwhelming, unpredictable, painful, draining, and exhausting—that their grief should not be diminished or ignored.

Allowing themselves to be angry and acknowledging that they are vulnerable, helpless, and feeling disoriented.

Trying to understand that to grieve is to heal and that integrating grief into their lives is a necessity.

Acknowledging the need and desire to talk about the child who died as well as the moments and events that will be missed and never experienced with the child.

Maintaining a belief in the significance of their child’s life, no matter how short.

Creating memorial services and other rituals as ways to commemorate the child’s life.

Deriving support from religious beliefs, a sense of spirituality, or a personal faith.

Expressing feelings in journals, poetry, prayers, or other reflective writings or in art, music, or other creative activities.

Trying to be patient and forgiving with themselves and others and refraining from making hasty decisions.

Counting on, confiding in, and trusting those who care, listen, and hear, those who will walk with them, and not be critical of them, those who will try to understand their emotional and physical limitations, while also trying to understand and respect the limitations of their caretakers.

Increasing their physical activity and maintaining a healthful diet.Volunteering their services to organizations concerned with support for bereaved parents.

Obtaining help from traditional support systems, such as family, friends, professionals or religious groups, undergoing professional counseling, joining a parent support group, or acquiring information on the type of death that occurred as well as about their own grief.

Reassuring themselves and others that they were and still are loving parents.

Letting go of fear and guilt when the time seems right and the grief seems less.

Accepting that they are allowed to feel pleasure and continue their lives, knowing their love for the child transcends death.

How To Help A Friend Who Has Lost A Child:

When faced with the loss of a child, many people are afraid to say the wrong thing, so they say nothing. This is a mistake. Many people are afraid to bring up the deceased child, fearing it will open wounds and raw feelings. You may think that bringing it up will not help, but your friend has not forgotten for one second that her child has passed away – not saying the child’s name will only hurt the family because it will make the grieving family feel their child is forgotten

Comforting a Grieving Parent:

Send a photo or keepsake with the child’s name on it. It will be cherished by the grieving parents.

Send a card when you learn that your loved one has lost a child. They will hold onto these keepsakes for a long time.

If you don’t know what to say, tell your friend. Chances are, they don’t either. Simply knowing that they have someone patiently there with them can make all the difference.

If your friend begins to cry, don’t feel badly like it’s your fault. Grieving parents may cry a lot, and it’s not your fault. Just hold their hand or (if you’re in public together) take them some quiet place to allow them to calm down.

Not all grief looks the same. While some people will grieve the loss of their child by crying, not all will cry in front of you. That does not mean that they are “better” or “over it.” They will never be over it.

Grief is hellishly uncomfortable. If you begin to feel uncomfortable around your grieving loved one, stay anyway.

Ask, “can I help you with anything?” If your friend says no, ask again. Then ask again.

Figure out, through other friends or family members, what sort of help the grieving parents need and do it without being asked. Grief may make it very difficult to manage even the simplest tasks – they might not even know what they need.

Let your loved one talk about their lost child.

Share stories about the baby or child.

There is no time-line for grief.

When you visit, bring a bag of groceries, throw in a load of laundry, clean up the kitchen. Daily responsibilities are extremely difficult while in the throes of grief.

It’s okay if you only have fifteen minutes to stop by and visit. Do it anyway.

If you’ve agreed to help your friend, DO IT. Find someone else to do it, if you can’t manage it. Asking for help is REALLY hard, so if you’re asked, HONOR it.

Follow the lead of the parents. Discuss what they want. If they go to those places, you can discuss those things, but don’t try to steer it there. Sometimes, the grieving parents may want to talk about their child and the unfairness of it all, and other times they may want to hear funny stories or talk about reality TV.

Address the unfairness. People often worry about addressing how awful the situation is, but the parents want to hear that people get the hell they are in. The parents feel alone when they don’t think people understand how awful this is. Saying things like, “This is the worst thing. I am so sorry and sad that it had to happen to you and your child,” helps.

Food is very helpful. The last thing you want to do when mourning is worry about eating. There are always people around after a death, and the last thing you want to think about is feeding them. A gift of food also tells the parents they are loved.

If you’re financially able to, send some money to the grieving parents. The cost of a funeral for a child is high, and is often (especially if the loss of the child is not expected) not planned for.

Say or express something you never have before. If you have never told the person that you love them, come right out and tell them that you love them. If you’ve never held their hand, hold their hand. Give hugs. These expressions mean a lot.

Do not be afraid to take initiative.

Be there for your friends. Call, email, text. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Let them know you are thinking of them, and their child, all the time. Don’t drop away after the funeral – that’s when they’ll need you the most.

Be the kind of friend that you would want to have.

Remember the living children. When visiting, bring a toy or something you think the child would like.

Try to remember the dates that are associated with the loss. They may include:

  • The anniversary of the child’s death.
  • The date of the miscarriage.
  • The due-date of the miscarriage.
  • The birthday of the lost child.
  • Your friend’s birthday
  • Holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Make a donation to a specific cause or charity in honor of your friend’s lost child.

Be patient with your friend.

How NOT To Help A Friend Grieving The Death of a Child:

Don’t be afraid of intruding. You’re not.

Don’t be afraid of offering practical help. Your friend probably has no idea what he or she needs, so take some initiative.

Don’t avoid or ignore the grieving parents. They are already grieving a loss, and losing a friend or loved one only compounds it.

Don’t leave when you become uncomfortable. It will only make your friend feel worse – guilty about their grief.

Don’t avoid talking to your friend because you don’t know what to say.

Do not say, “It is for the best,” even if you believe it. It is trite, unfair bullshit.

Don’t shirk on promises – if you’ve agreed to do something for the grieving family, failing at your responsibilities will feel like a bigger slap in the face.

Don’t be hurt if the grieving parents say something mean or hurtful. They’re not quite themselves, which means they lash out. Be patient.

Religion is a potentially explosive way to comfort. Unless you absolutely know 100% the person will be comforted by mentions of faith, don’t go there. Religion is a very complicated thing in the wake of a child’s death, and they may be angry at God or confused as to how to incorporate the death of a child into the religion that they have known to have their best interests in mind.

Even if the grieving parents are intensely religious, they may be having a crisis of faith in the wake of a child’s death, and they could be angered/saddened by mention of religion.

Especially stay away from, “God wanted her more than you,” or “God needed her more.” I don’t care if it is the all powerful creator of the universe, you don’t tell any Mama that anyone wants her baby more than she does.

So many people hate seeing their loved one in such pain and want to fix it. Consequently, they start talking about how you have to move on, that you will see them again, the child is with God, it will get better in time, etc. – all things they think will “fix it.” Don’t try to do this.

Don’t be afraid to bring up the lost child – the grieving parents will already be thinking of their child.

If your friend doesn’t want to discuss their lost child or their feelings, accept that and move on to another topic.

Don’t say, “I know how you feel,” because you do not. It minimizes the grief and grieving they’re going through.

Don’t say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Your friend does it because he or she has to.

Don’t mention silver linings. That feels condescending and rude.

Don’t put a time-table on grief. No one knows how long it will take to grieve the loss of a child, so don’t expect that your friend will simply “get over it” in a specific period of time. They won’t.

Don’t refer to the child in impersonal ways – instead, use the child’s name. It may feel uncomfortable to you, but it will remind your friend that the world has not, in fact, forgotten their lost child.

Don’t forget about the siblings of the lost child. Not only have they lost a brother or sister, they’ve lost their parents during the grieving process.

Never discount your gut. If your friend seems to be suicidal or is beginning to isolate, seek professional help.

Don’t forget the anniversary dates – almost no one remembers the second anniversary of a child’s death. This makes parents feel as though the world has forgotten their child.

Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Many people feel they have to be strong for their friends, that they can’t cry or show emotion. You can be strong AND be emotional. If tears come, don’t fight them. This shows your friends that you, too, are crushed and sad and lost.

Page last audited 8/2018