The death of a child, at any age or for any reason, is probably the most traumatic event that parents must endure. In this current society, with its medical advances, people expect to die in a predictable sequence. Simply put, parents should die before their children. When some tragic circumstance changes this order, parents are bewildered, not only by the overwhelming grief for the loss of the child, but also by the seeming unfairness of the death.
The cause of the child’s death does not seem to affect the amount of grief that parents experience over time. A child’s death following a long illness appears to be just as difficult for parents as a death due to a sudden accident. Also, most parents grieve as intensely for a very young child as they grieve for an older child.
For bereaved parents, there is no “standard” grief period. Compared to all other crises, the recovery period following a child’s death appears to take the longest amount of time. It is important for parents to understand that they are not abnormal if they experience periods of sadness and grief for many years afterward. And two of the most common and often lingering emotions may be anger & guilt.
Anger - Initially, many parents feel very angry. This anger may occur because the child’s death seems so unfair and parents feel so helpless. The anger may be directed towards oneself, one’s spouse, the medical profession, an outsider, or even God. Parents often look for someone to blame, even each other, so they can “make sense” out of a needless loss. When anger and blame can be openly expressed, they usually give way to the more rational feelings of loss and grief. It is best to acknowledge the anger one feels and try to determine the source of the anger rather than deny the feelings. Repressed anger may resurface later as depression. If talking about angry feelings with one’s spouse is difficult, perhaps a third person, such as a counselor, minister or support group, might help minimize the stress of such an encounter and hopefully direct the negative feelings to their appropriate source.
Guilt - Guilt is another emotion that parents often feel. Society expects parents to be able to protect their children, and a child’s death may make the parents feel they have failed in this responsibility. Fathers may wish they had spent more time with the child, or mothers may feel guilty if they were employed outside the home. The child’s every unfulfilled wish may be remembered with guilt. This type of guilt is usually irrational. It is important that parents be able to discuss these guilty feelings as they occur and to understand that the child’s death was unrelated to the events that have caused their guilty feelings.
There is no question - the death of a child is the most overwhelming grief possible - the loss of a child is unlike any other loss. Be patient with yourself - adjusting to life without your child is an ongoing process. There will be time when your grief journey seems slower than it should be and that's OK. There will be times in the months and years ahead when WHAM!! out of the blue you are overwhelmed again with grief and that's OK. All of this is normal - the journey of grief is different for each of us..