Chapter 3: Ways your grief may be affected

If your child died after a long illness

I've been there
Aimee and Michi talk about the gradual loss of their daughter.(3:22)Video transcript
Courtney explains that while she was overcome with sadness she was relieved that her daughter was no longer suffering.(3:22)Video transcript

Knowing my daughter could not survive her cancer, and seeing her life so diminished, part of me felt relief when she slipped away, for her and for us. But almost as soon as I had that thought, I had this immediate yearning for her and wanted her back.

As a parent, it’s extremely difficult to witness your child’s physical or emotional suffering. If your child was ill for some time, you may feel a sense of relief for them and/or yourself after their death. 

It’s not unusual to have vivid recollections of your child’s last days or the moments of their death. You may revisit or even question treatment or care decisions that were made. These memories can be very painful or distressing. Over time, they will likely lessen as you more easily recall memories of earlier times before your child became ill.

What may help

  • Remember that it’s normal to have a range of feelings at this time, some of which may be intense and unexpected. In addition to sadness, you may feel angry that you were “robbed” of your child or that no one was able to prevent their suffering.
  • Feelings of relief are normal. Keep in mind that one feeling does not “cancel” another. You may feel relief at the same time as sadness and longing for your child.
  • As you grieve, you may spend time revisiting past events, which may bring up painful memories. While some of these may never go away entirely, with time and support you will likely find ways to remember happier or more comforting times in your child’s life.
  • Acknowledge the emotional strain and physical fatigue that accompanies a long illness. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Listen to your heart and do the things that work for you.
  • This is also a time to shift your attention to your own health. As much as possible, rest, eat well, get some exercise, and reach out to people who can be supportive.