Understanding Grief after the loss of your child – by Gerald Boh

The loss of a child is never easy, simply, parents are commonly accepted not to outlive their children and no parent is prepared for the death of their child.

We need to remember that the lifespan of your child does not and should not determine the intensity of your loss. The death of a child, young or older, changes every aspect of family life. Parents often have to face an enormous sense of emptiness like a missing ‘limb’ in their lives when it happened. When the deceased child is an adolescent or adult, parents may perceive that they lose a close friend and an irreplaceable source of practical and emotional support. If it is their only child, their identity as parents or potentially as grandparents would be severely affected. In addition to grieving the child’s death, parents may also need to cope with the pain and loss of the hopes and aspirations they had for their child.

Signs and symptoms of common grief reactions

The signs and symptoms of grief following the child’s death, though similar to those after other losses, are often more intense and of longer duration. These are the likely grief reactions:

  • Overwhelming despair and sadness, such that facing daily tasks can seem difficult
  • Intense shock, disbelief, confusion, and even denial
  • Intense anger and feelings of bitterness and unfairness at a life left unfulfilled
  • Extreme guilt – you may think that you are a failure because you could not save your child and dwell on what you could have done differently
  • Feeling that life is meaningless and wishing to be to join your child to be released from the pain or guilt
  • Fear or dread of being alone and overprotecting your other children
  • Feelings of resentment toward parents with children who are still around
  • Doubting or loss of spiritual or religious faith/beliefs
  • Dreaming or having nightmares about your child, or feeling your child’s presence nearby
  • Feeling intense isolation, emptiness and loneliness, even when with other people. You may feel that the intensity of your grief separates you from others and that no one will understand how you feel

Therefore when a child dies, some parents will have an especially difficult time. For this group of parents, even over a period of time, dealing with the intense grief and loss appropriately is challenging. And they feel it is almost impossible to return to their normal life. Some parents may even think about harming themselves as a way to relieve or escape from the pain. Even for parents with this complex form of grief, however, there can be a way forward. If you believe you may be one of these parents, talk with a professional who can help you, such as a doctor, psychologist or a counsellor.