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If you are a parent who has experienced the death of your child, you will know that this loss is the most significant, intense and most long-lasting of all grief’s. It does not matter if your child is an infant, child, teenager, young adult, or mature adult with a family of their own; they are still your child, and an important part of you that has died. This death can bring feelings of shock, rage, devastation, and despair to the parents.
Sometimes parents feel that they are supposed to forget what has happened; however, that is hard to do. There is nothing wrong with holding on to the memory as well as the special relationship you had with your child. Remembering and desiring never to forget, can return a sense of meaning to a bereaved parents’ life. Parents want to remember; therefore, talk about their child with them. When family and friends avoid talking about the child that can be very hurtful to the parents, whereas remembering is very helpful. Parents may find it helpful to talk and remember their child through private counseling, support groups or with friends that have gone through the same experience. Writing a journal, making a scrapbook, compiling a videotape, donating money, or helping a charity to raise money, volunteering for an organization that will pay tribute to your child’s memory and, perhaps, help others, are all ways to help remember your child.
It is important for parents to understand that you cannot put a time limit on grief. Grief is not an event but rather a process that may take your whole life to work through. There is no right or wrong way to mourn. Mothers and fathers will mourn differently and at a different pace. Unless this is recognized, it can lead to more tension at an already painful time. Parents need to realize that they cannot be each other’s sole support. Often, women have several close friends that they can confide in, and feel comfortable talking about their feelings with. Men, on the other hand, do not tend to have a large support network of friends with who they would feel comfortable sharing their feeling with. They often feel they need to be strong for their wives and others; therefore, they will put on a good show that they are handling things well with out any help. Fathers have to recognize their need to mourn and do so without feeling ashamed, weak or foolish. Each bereaved parent will seek and find solace in his or her own way, but family and friends can provide important and timely help by remembering and by simply listening.
Siblings of a deceased child also need to know that it’s alright to talk about their brother or sister as well as their feelings. They need to be told specifically that the death was not their fault, because often children feel responsible for things that happen, even when everyone else knows that no one is to blame. By parents being open and honest about their own feelings, and encouraging their other children to express their feelings, the siblings will know that their parents are there to help them work things through. It is important to also remember that children grieve differently than adults; therefore, they need to be encouraged to mourn but also be respected for the ways that they do mourn.
Often, because people don’t know what to say to a bereaved family, they avoid the subject and say nothing at all. This may leave a family feeling isolated. However, phrases that minimize their pain can be very hurtful as well. If you do no know what to say, a simple “I’m sorry” and/or a hug or a handshake will be appreciated. By keeping in touch afterwards, you can let them know that you care. You can also do practical, helpful things for them such as preparing a meal, helping around the house, babysitting other children, coaxing your friend out for an afternoon or even just a few hours. Remember to offer support to both the mother and father. They both need it.
For parents, getting on with their life doesn’t mean forgetting – it means finding a way to incorporate the memory of their child into their life in a meaningful way. Remember that it takes time to find a way to feel joy in life again. The challenge will be to find ways to remember and to remain connected to a relationship that will never die. Regardless of the different ways that families cope, they need to find a way to go on with hope and support from family and friends. Even though it may not even seem possible at the time, life will go on, although differently.
Written by Connie Danyluik
Licensed Funeral Director/Embalmer