The Sweeney Alliance
The death of a child, regardless of their age or the cause of their death, is the most traumatic grief experience. It is very difficult and will take many years for the parents to be able to cope with the overwhelming pain and the sorrow they feel. They must eventually learn to survive in a world without their child. Family and friends who have not had a similar experience do not understand the day-to-day struggles or the unique grief that accompanies the death of a child.
As days turn into weeks, bereaved parents may feel as if their friends and family members have lost interest in their grief. They may suggest or even demand that you get over your grief and get on with life. In reality, you will never get over your grief but you can learn to weave it into your daily life. What was normal for you before your child’s death is not normal now. Your life will never be as it was. It will take many, many months or years before you will want to reinvest in life and living. You may feel anger, guilt, intense sorrow, hopelessness, and loneliness; similar to a deep void inside your very being. A void you fear will never go away. Thoughts of suicide are commonplace. Your world has been turned upside-down. During the early months of your grief every minute of every day is a struggle. You are not going crazy. You are grieving the death of your child.
From personal experience as a bereaved parent, I would like to share this advice for family members and friends who want to help. I realize that you may be uncomfortable when someone is grieving. You are unsure of the right words to say. I understand. Once upon a time (before my unborn child died) I did not know the right words to say to grieving parents. Be quietly present in the parents’ lives. Allow them to talk openly about their child as often as needed. They may cry uncontrollably. They may rant and rave. They may ask why? Why their child? Why did this happen? These behaviors and many others are not uncommon and are very normal. You do not need to have ready answers for their questions because there are usually no exact answers or solutions. Please mention their child’s name often. On the anniversary of the child’s death or their birthday you can help the parents cope with this painful day by giving a loving hug and whispering thinking of you today.
I would encourage newly bereaved parents as well as those who are still struggling years after their child’s death to consider attending a bereaved parent support group; such as, Compassionate Friends. It is a safe and loving haven. Those who attend are offered suggestions for coping with their grief and pain. The format is simple. We begin our meetings with each parent sharing their personal journey through grief if they so choose. We discuss daily struggles, coping with job and social commitments, or helping surviving children heal their grief. These sharing sessions help the parents learn that they are not alone in their suffering and pain. Most bereaved parents experience similar emotions such as fear, depression, anger, and guilt.
As time passes, you may see these parents smile or hear them laugh but remember that every day they think about their child and miss them very much. They are slowly, very slowly coping in this world without them.
Copyright Peggy Sweeney
About the Author: Peggy Sweeney is a mortician and bereavement educator. Since 1990, Peggy has written numerous educational programs and taught countless seminars on coping with loss and grief for families and professionals. Her many program offerings include: Surviving the Holidays, Grief and the Chemically Dependent, When a Child Dies, and Grief Visits the Classroom. Peggy is a member of The Compassionate Friends Hill Country Chapter for bereaved parents.