The pain of losing a child is so physically painful, you cannot touch it all the time. Slowly, over time, you move through it, but you don't have any control about when it comes out. It just happens.
The death of a child disturbs the “natural order” of things and causes profound upheaval for those who are grieving. As a parent, you may feel helpless that you couldn’t protect or save your child’s life. You may feel shocked or enraged that they did not get to live longer. You may also feel very alone, especially if you don’t know anyone else who has experienced the death of their child.
The age of your child when they died, the way that they died, your relationship with them, and their “legacy” will all impact your grief. Who your child was to you and how you saw or knew them is unique to you. The way that you experience and express your grief may be different than the ways other people respond to your child’s death. By paying attention to what grief is like for you, you can begin to find what will be most helpful.
You are likely to experience intense feelings, some of which may be conflicting. You may feel overwhelmed at times or confused by a jumble of thoughts. Gradually, you may notice a lessening of intensity, although there may still be times when these feelings return, perhaps catching you off guard.
Part of your grief will come from the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations. As you grieve your many losses, you will be dealing with changes to your identity, roles, and relationships. You may wonder if you’ve lost your identity as a parent. If you are a grandparent whose adult child has died, you may be struggling with taking on a parental role again.
The death of a child often affects more than one family, each of which may have its own style of grieving. Individual members of each family also have their own ways of grieving. Remember that each person also had their own relationship with your child. You may have a partner/spouse who is expressing their grief very differently than you. You may have other children who are grieving the death of their sibling. Your parents or your partner’s parents will be grieving this death and may also be worrying about you. If your child who died was an adult with children of their own, you may be trying to support their family.
Even if you’re feeling alone in your grief, it’s vital that you reach out for support. Let friends and family know what you need; accept help that is offered as long as it fits with what you need. If you find you are struggling with intense or overwhelming feelings that interfere with your everyday life, reach out for help from your family physician, a faith leader, an experienced grief counsellor, or a peer support group for parents whose child has died. Explore books and online resources written by and for bereaved parents.
Your life has been fundamentally changed. It will never go back to the way it was, and the future you envisioned is gone. Without your child, you may not be able to imagine a future at all. Over time, your grief will begin to change, although it will never disappear. You may have some days that are better than others. Eventually you are likely to begin to re-engage with the world and with other parts of your life. At first, you may feel guilty about this. Remind yourself that it doesn’t mean you’re forgetting your child. They will always be a part of you as you carry your memories of them forward, and you will continue to have a relationship with them even though they are no longer physically present.