Tips For Coping & How To Recover From Grief
The loss of a child is not something that you can simply deal with. It is not a singular process that one works through and comes out better for in the end. In reality, it is a difficult ordeal that is unique to the individual. No one will ever truly know what you are going through, even parents in similar circumstances. Your journey is singular. It will be difficult and often times confusing.
A tragedy like this redefines the way that you see the world, and it can have a huge impact on how you interact with it. In fact, for a while, it might not seem like you are a part of the world at all.
You may find yourself watching life go by and wondering how everyone just keeps living normal lives because yours has changed so fundamentally, and this can be incredibly isolating. For now, you need to allow yourself to grieve.
In this guide, we are going to discuss grief as we know it, but we want to say upfront that not all of it may apply to your grief specifically. Many different people experience grief in their own way. Some of what we say might hit home and other elements might line up better with someone else’s experience instead. It is our hope and our belief that with this article we will be able to offer the kind of insight that can help you to heal over time.
There is no easy way to heal your broken heart, but many different people across time and space have had to cope with similar circumstances, and we have tried to learn from their experiences to help you. We aim to offer you a little bit of insight into what grief does and how you can begin to work through it.
Losing A Child: Where To Begin
When you lose a child, it often feels like reality stops. Your world, your beautiful world filled with so much light, has lost one of its chief light bringers, and for a long while after, things may feel very dark. You are not alone in this, and you are completely justified in feeling like your world will never be the same again. A new world is waiting, but for now, you must focus on mourning what you lost before you move forward.
Everyone feels differently when they lose a child. You might find what other survivors experience to be relatable, or you might feel as if you can’t relate to it at all. There is no right or wrong way to feel. You have experienced a trauma, and for now, you simply must allow yourself to feel your emotions, no matter how painful or even irrational they might seem to you. It isn’t your job to make sense of them yet. There are no rules when you grieve.
For this reason and more, it is important to allow yourself to feel and then focus on the essentials. For the time being, your emotions will be an active part of your day and you must be open to allowing that to happen.
You woke up filled with sorrow and had a gut-wrenching cry? That’s fine. Take a minute and eat a quick snack for breakfast so that your body is taken care of.
You stared listlessly out the window for two hours because moving felt impossible? Your actions are justified, now take a five-minute shower before you head back to the couch.
Take time out of your day for your emotions, but remember to always take care of yourself as you do this. The bare minimum is fine for now. Do what you must, then allow yourself to process what has happened.
The Psychological Impacts Of Child Loss On Survivors
While survivors often find themselves sucked into their own world, their journey can be a bit confusing for those around them. Survivors might be more prone to reaching out or they might withdraw completely. They might be more irritable, while some may be gentler than ever.
It is important for all members of a support team to understand that everyone copes with this tragedy differently, and for a while the impacted individuals might not seem like themselves at all.
In order to find the best way to help someone through this, you must begin by working to understand them. As a start, you must recognize that you will never understand them completely. Their emotions and their experience is singular. While you might very well be grieving the loss yourself, your experience will always differ from theirs.
To understand them, open your heart and mind to the reality that something life-changing has happened and they will likely not be the person that you knew for a long time. Be patient, kind, and truly listen when they tell you how they feel. While grieving may be normal, child loss is not.
For a long while, children will be a sensitive topic for the affected individual. If they have other children, they might struggle in unique ways. It might be painful to see their surviving child because it is a reminder of what they lost, or they might become overbearing quite suddenly out of fear that something equally as terrible could happen to their other children.
Whether they withdraw or embrace their children, it is important to offer them additional adult support to help them reach a solid middle ground for the sake of any remaining children.
Beyond their own children, whether they have additional children or just had the one, families can be a bit rough for the survivor. In their reality, their family has been fundamentally changed and can never truly be whole again. Seeing whole families, particularly those with plenty of healthy children, can cause further sorrow or even anger.
For the survivor, it is common to feel like it isn’t fair that they lost their child, and seeing people who have not can act as a painful reminder. It is important for the individual to understand that their emotions are valid, and it is equally as important for anyone supporting someone through this tragedy to be there and be ready to lend a hand.
The Impact Of Child Loss On A Family
For a family, there are few things more devastating than losing a child. It of course impacts the parents, but the entire family mourns when a child has been lost, which is why it is important to understand and process your grief while still actively supporting the parents.
You might find that the parents of the lost child are more withdrawn at family events, or even seem angry to be there. They might cry. They might struggle. Every family gathering will feel empty without their child there, and they might struggle to enjoy it. This is why it is so important for the family to remain loving and supportive.
When a child is lost, the impact on the family is severe. It might cause problems depending on how the parents cope, or even what factors were involved in the loss of a child. Emotions can run wild and tempers can flare. Relatives might feel that they are losing the parents to grief while trying to grieve the lost child themselves. It makes people very sensitive, and it has been known to pull families apart in some instances.
The beautiful thing about family is that it is often the very things that tear us apart that bring us back together again. Tragedy can severely strain family bonds, but it also gives us an opportunity to come together closer. Hold your loved ones close, support the survivors, and remember to focus on the good times that you all had with the deceased. You have all suffered a great loss and it is more important now than ever that you come together and really hold each other close.
Tips For Family Members That Are Supporting The Parents
Be understanding of the person’s emotions and behaviors.
Lend A Hand
Bring them food, groceries, and essentials. Offer to help them clean or to help with the children or pets.
Check in frequently to let them know you care. Invite them for a walk or to your home to get them out of the house.
Listen to what they have to say and do not pretend to understand where they are coming from. Focus on making them feel loved and supported.
Marital Impacts Of Child Loss
If there is one area of deep impact that is felt by the loss of a child, it is the marriage of the surviving parents. When you lose a child, it is all too common to feel alone in your suffering, even with your spouse right there with you. You might find it difficult to face them because they remind you of your child. Unresolved conflicts might arise.
These factors tend to have an even deeper impact in the event any sort of blame is be assigned to one parent or another. Suddenly things like you let them go or it is your fault they didn’t visit more might be thrown out, and this is when things can go very badly.
Despite the fact that there are many false statistics thrown around that say married couples almost always split after the loss of a child, this is actually not true. However, the fact remains that marriages can be strained by it.
As you both undergo your individual grieving processes, you might find that you just don’t have the time for your partner that you once did. They might be grieving differently, which might upset you. One spouse might need to talk about it while the other can’t handle thinking about it.
These things happen, but much in the same way a loss can strengthen families, it can strengthen marriages too. As you move on your individual journeys of grief, remember that your spouse is grieving too and offer them support when you can.
Tips For Family Around Surviving Parents
No Comments Or Criticism
Only offer advice when asked. Do not comment on the marriage nor offer criticism for how either parent is coping.
Encourage & Support
Encourage them to pull together and support them individually if they need time apart.
Focus On The Positive
Remind them they are great together and focus on the amazing parents they are/were.
Lend A Hand
Help them with necessities, other children, pets, housework so that they may focus on grieving.
Grief & Social Interaction
After a person has experienced the loss of a child, it is common to struggle with social interactions. Grief is a very solitary emotion, and it can make it feel like no one in the world can possibly understand you. It is normal for this to strain social connections, but it is also the job of friends and family to be there to support a survivor in their time of need. When things go badly for us, we tend to learn who really cares about us.
It is important to understand that as a survivor, you might not feel like yourself or feel like having fun. As a support member or relative, it is important to remember that the individual will need time in order to work through this terrible tragedy. Even parents who know it is coming cannot brace themselves for the pain that they feel when it is done, so be prepared for a lot of irregularity and a storm of emotions.
Survivor Do's & Don'ts
Be gentle with them. Survivors might not laugh, joke, or have fun like they used to.
Be understanding. Do not highlight when they behave in a way that they normally wouldn’t.
Listen to them. Survivors have a lot to process and may need you to lend an ear.
"I know how you feel." You really don’t, so don’t downplay their emotions
"They are in a better place." Religious connotations aside, many people actually find this hurtful
"You're going to be okay." Again, this oversimplifies what they are feeling, and for a long while it won’t feel that way
" Just get over it." This is unbelievably insensitive and should never be used because we all process grief in our own way
"It's time to move on." Avoid pressing them to move on before they are ready and give them as much time as they need
The Stages Of Grief & What You Can Expect
The Stages of Grief are a collection of stages that most people go through during loss and has been reaffirmed time and time again by prominent psychologists. Some people skip stages, and these stages do not look the same for everyone who faces them. As a survivor and as a supporter, it is important to understand them in the event that they are experienced.
In this stage, the survivor cannot accept reality for what it is. They might know and understand that their child has been lost, but it will simply not feel real. Survivors should give themselves time to process what has happened.
What family can expect and do to help:
The individual will be in a state of shock. Help them to manage necessities like cooking and cleaning.
Survivors often become angry at the injustice that they have been forced to contend with. They might be more argumentative or even look for someone to blame for their loss.
Survivors should work to remind themselves that while it is not fair, assigning blame or being angry will not make anything better and they should find constructive ways to channel the anger.
What family can expect and do to help:
The individual may be combative. Avoid engaging them when it is directed at you and work to show them more love during this time.
This stage manifests in many different forms. People might become convinced that they can actually bargain to have their child returned, or they might simply get lost in the land of “what ifs” where they will continuously entertain an imaginary world where the child did not pass away.
Survivors should remember that what has happened is over, but they can work to influence their future.
What family can expect and do to help:
The individual may be focused on solutions that could have saved their child. Keep them close and remind them that they cannot change the past by helping them to move forward.
Survivors might find themselves withdrawn, lethargic, and unable to cope with reality. It is common to feel like you might never be happy again or that the color has been sucked out of your life. Survivors should be patient with themselves during this time and work to simply do the best that they can.
What family can expect and do to help:
The individual might be withdrawn or seem empty. Show them love and support and do what you can to get them out of the house for activities.
Though many mistake this as being completely over the loss, the reality is that it is simply accepting it for what it is, a horrible thing that happened and cannot be changed. However, this is generally what allows people to step back into their lives and move forward with some closure.
Survivors should use this acceptance and try to build stronger connections, pursue new hobbies, and honor their lost child.
What family can expect and do to help:
The individual will seem ready to move on. Support them and remind them that moving on does not mean forgetting their child.
How Do I Get Through This?
When you experience this kind of grief, the reality is that there is simply nothing that compares to the pain. Inevitably, every person in this situation ends up wondering how they can possibly get through something this horrible happening, and the truth is that getting through it isn’t easy. There is no easy solution to overcoming this kind of trauma. It is simply something that must be contended with over time, and everyone requires different amounts of time to heal from it.
Losing a child is an experience that few can relate to. We aren’t going to tell you that there is a guaranteed fix that will lighten the unbearable weight on your heart, but we can tell you that people do find their way through it and you can learn to smile again, even if it feels impossible right now. While there is no easy way to work through it, there are some things that can help.
For this reason, we have pulled together some techniques that you can use to overcome your grief, and also some tips for relatives who might be supporting someone who is going through this impossibly hard time.
Talk It Out With Someone You Trust
Though this might seem overly simplified, the fact of the matter is that talking things out really does work wonders for lightening a heavy heart. Simply talking about what you are going through will not be enough to heal you completely, but it helps to let the emotions flow rather than bottling them up.
When we bottle our emotions, it is all too easy to become suffocated by them. What you have experienced is an unimaginably difficult and horrible occurrence that very few people have to deal with. Your grief will be a heavy burden to carry, and chances are that you will experience many different confusing emotions in response to it.
Tragedy changes who we are and impacts our brains, which is why it is so important not to let the negative emotions fester. Instead, take the time to share them with someone that you trust. It might be a spouse, relative, loved one, or even a therapist. The important thing is that you will take the time to vent your emotions rather than letting them build and build and build.
Your emotions are valid and completely justified, so find a confident that will just let you pour out what you are thinking and feeling completely free of judgement. Nothing has to make sense, so don’t worry about what someone will think. You simply need someone who will help you to let it all out.
If you are grieving, find this person. If you are supporting someone, be this person for them.
Join A Grief Group
Losing a child is something that only the people who experience it will ever truly understand, which can make them feel incredibly isolated. It is difficult to explain to other people what you are going through, and it can feel upsetting when they can’t seem to relate or truly comprehend what you are experiencing. This is what makes grief groups such a helpful support system when you are in need.
Grief groups are composed of people who have experienced similar events and are also struggling to work through it. These groups can give you an open platform to speak where you truly feel understood, and it can often just help to be around other people who get it.
Losing a child in any way is so difficult, but being around other people who can truly connect and empathize with your sorrow makes it much easier to cope with. There is strength in numbers, and many people find that it helps to connect with other people who have lost their children because those people never expect you to truly be okay.
The real benefit to grief groups is that they come in all shapes and sizes, which means that you can always find a group filled with people who will understand you. These groups can include certain kinds of people or certain people who have been touched by the same tragedy.
Every type of child loss comes with its own collection of battles, so it can be helpful to find a group that really matches your needs. There are groups for those who have struggled with miscarriages, stillborn children, loss of young children, and loss of older children. Losing a child is not simply losing a child.
Depending on how you lost your child, you might want to have a group of people who are closer to the situation. The versatility of these groups makes it possible for you to really connect to the people around you as you all go through the same struggles and phases.
Remember Your Child For Whom They Were
When a parent loses their child, they suddenly find themselves contending with a thousand different unanswered questions and concerns. For most of people, it is common to simply cling to the best traits that the child had, but that can actually be more damaging for you.
More often than not, when you lose a child, you will find yourself thinking about every disagreement that you ever had, or questioning the way you treated them before you lost them. While your child was no doubt special and perfect in their own way, it is important to remember that you are a human being and so were they.
It is okay if you were cross with them before the tragedy occurred. It is okay if you felt overwhelmed or sometimes scolded them for not making their bed. These are completely normal behaviors, so make sure that you don’t paint your child in such a positive light that you make yourself the villain in the story. At the end of the day, you loved your child very much, and what is beautiful about that is the fact that you loved them as well as all of their imperfection.
It is all too easy to romanticize who our loved one was, but that doesn’t do them any justice. Remember the way that your child always left their sports equipment on the floor, or how they sometimes had a bad attitude. Of course they did. They were young, and sometimes they were a total pain. Over time, you might just find that you have a good laugh about some of the stories where they were total nightmares. Every kid has one, and your child is no different.
You praised them when they were good, you scolded them when they were bad, and you loved them through it all. You did the best that you could, and that is exactly what they needed.
Something that is often unique to grieving a lost child is the feeling like you couldn’t protect them. Many parents operate with the protector mindset. We know that our role is to take care of our child at all costs, and we all take it seriously. However, there are some things in life that you simply can’t control.
At the end of the day, you have to take the time to let yourself off the hook. The fact is that you could not have changed the outcome. Life happens, and while that can feel impossible to accept, blaming yourself is never going to do you or your child any favors.
Instead of using their passing as an excuse to bully yourself, choose the be kind to yourself instead. The outcome was beyond your control. You did everything that you could, just like any parent would.
Remember To Live For You
People who experience grief often fail to find the right words to describe it, but many people often refer to it as a hole. It is as if you are walking through life and a giant hole opens up in the ground and just swallows you right up, dropping you into the darkness.
While this description might not be true for everyone because we all feel differently, it does an effective job of demonstrating how wholly grief can pull a person from their life. One minute, you are living your life. The next minute, living a normal life feels impossible. You might find yourself wondering how you can possibly go on, and the reality is that you simply must. It isn’t nice or pretty, but somehow, you must find a way to keep on moving forward.
When you lose a child, it is normal to feel lost or confused, as if your life doesn’t make sense. Losing someone so instrumental to your life is a jarring feeling, and you might find yourself wondering what to do now that everything feels so entirely wrong and disrupted. To overcome this, you must remember to live for yourself. When we have kids, they become our lives.
Your child is a huge part of your life, but you have to reallocate all of that love, time, and patience. Give it to yourself, other family members, and anyone else that you can. Just remember that the people around you love you and want to see you live a happy life, even if you are struggling with it right now.
Find Constructive Ways To Channel Your Emotions
Grief is a heavy emotion and it seldom travels alone. You might be finding yourself completely overwhelmed by what you are feeling and entirely unable to process it. Some of your feelings, like sorrow, might make sense. Others, like blips of happiness when you remember something great about them, might seem even more difficult to process. You might feel angry, sad, worried, or even physical pain. Everyone experiences these things differently and only you will ever truly know what collection of feelings you are going through.
Since these feelings can come in waves and might feel entirely overwhelming at times, it can be good to channel your emotions somewhere else so that you aren’t just stuck with them. We have already discussed talking with people, but there are some other effective coping mechanisms that you can use to help your mind and body as you process your emotions.
For years, people have used arts, crafts, and exercise to help them work through emotions. Creating art is a great way to process your emotions, and it gives you the opportunity to use your hands and mind rather than just sitting still. Many people try painting, writing, and even more crafty things like woodworking. You might find your comfort in a completely random art form like pottery making, or you might start making wooden coasters out in the shed.
Find something that allows you to focus, create, and open your mind. If creating isn’t really something that you enjoy, activities like running, yoga, and cycling are also great for getting active and working through emotions. Many people find that these activities give them more control over their mind and bodies with really helpful results.
Understand That There Is No Wrong Way To Cope
Every single one of us is different. We all think differently, feel differently, and process events differently. No one can tell you how to truly heal yourself because the reality is that only you can find the correct path to do so. Some people find their path through support and growth from family and friends. Other people find their path after spending a long time in the dark before stepping out into the light again.
People try photography, painting, running, dancing, and so many other things. What is important is to remember that no one can ever truly tell you what is right or wrong. If you need to cry for four months straight, then cry. If you find that painting flowers gets you through the day, do that. Listen to your body, your mind, and your heart and let them guide you through.
The media that we consume paints a pretty clear image of grief. We have all seen movie characters cry, be sullen, then move past it in a magical moment. Reality isn’t nearly as straightforward. Some people cry and others don’t shed a single tear. People go into shock. People become enraged. People don’t get out of bed, or they work too much, or they find themselves unable to sleep.
No one can tell you what you are going through because only you are going to experience it, but it is important to remember that you must keep moving forward one day at a time. Do what feels right, do what needs doing, and let everything else become background noise while you find your way through this impossibly difficult time. You deserve your patience, love, and understanding.
Commemorate Your Child
Many people find it easier to cope with their loss when they do something to memorialize their child, particularly something that they can carry around with them. One of the more common ways that this is being done is through tattoos, but some people want something they can keep without involving needles.
Cremation jewelry and fingerprint jewelry are common memorial products that are used to serve as a reminder for a lost loved one. Photo engraved jewelry is another option and gives members of the family and friends a visual way to remember a moment that was caught on camera.
A pendant necklace for ashes is another alternative for families looking to commemorate their child. Ash jewelry can be shared with members of the family as a way to help keep the memory alive.
By physically commemorating your child, you have something that you can always hold close to remind you of them. While it will never truly fix the pain of what you have lost, sometimes it is nice to be able to hold something close on some of the more difficult days.
Advice For Those Showing Support
When a child is lost, the entire family comes together to bear the weight of that grief. Every single family member will be impacted in their own way, and everyone will find their own way to cope. Those supporting the family should remember that in addition to parents there are siblings, grandparents and other family and friends that are also grieving the loss. And they too are in need of care and support.
Here are some tips for those supporting family and friends after the loss of a child.
Do Not Pretend To Know It All
A very easy mistake for a support member to make is to tell the affected individual that they know what they are going through. Unless you have truly experienced that exact circumstance, you will never truly know what they are going through. Even if you have, no two experiences are alike. Instead of telling the person that you know that they are struggling and why, simply let them do the talking.
Let it be entirely about them. Don’t work to solve their problems or tell them you understand. Be whatever they need you to be whether it is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or someone to laugh with when laughing feels impossible.
Be There For Them
This is one tip that is easier said than done. Grief comes in mysterious patterns and it influences each person differently in different ways. The person might be fine one second and hysterical the next. They might be talking happily about one thing and in a pit of utter despair the next minute. Their emotions, their experience, and their minds will not be following regular patterns, so be prepared for this shift and be there for them when you can.
The loss of a child is an unbearable and difficult trauma, so if you can, be the person who talks to them in the middle of the night, takes them to dinner after a long day, and remember that some days might be harder than others. Keep an eye out for the lost child’s birthday, relevant dates, and holidays. On these days, check in a little extra if you can.
Coax Them Out
When a person loses a child, it is common for them to shut down. It might feel impossible to leave the house. Events might not seem as fun. They might not want to experience the livelier parts of life because it is an aching reminder of what has been lost.
However, it is your job as a support member to keep inviting them anyway. Ask them if they want to go get groceries together. Send them lunch invites. Offer to take them to a movie. They might not always be up to it, and that’s fine. You can start smaller. Ask them to come over to watch a new show, or go to their place for an easy night in.
No matter what, show them that every step of the way you are there for them, thinking about them, embracing them, and remembering who they were before this awful thing happened. If you can, try new hobbies with them. Talk about books with them.
Remind them what it is like out in the world and listen to their wants and desires to help guide them back into it. You would be amazed by just how beneficial this normalcy can be.
Moving Forward After The Loss Of A Child
Grieving the loss of a child can feel like an unbearable journey. It will not be easy, and you will without question feel the loss of your child for the rest of your life. While this might seem impossible to overcome, it is important to remember that with enough time, love, and support, you will be able to focus more on caring for yourself and remembering your child with a smile instead of just tears.
Before your loss, you had a beautiful, caring, loving, and wonderful child. After your loss, the same remains true. Though your time might have been cut short, you can always celebrate how wonderful they were and how great they might have been. It feels impossible, but it is not. You will get through this, and with the love and support of those around you, you will live a life that would make your child proud.
Updated April 8, 2020 by Jeri K. Augustus