Robert Stevenson once said, “Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in times of sorrow.” The death of a child is devastating and contradicts the natural law and order of life; children are not supposed to die as parents also expect to watch their children grow, pursue passions, and reach personalized dreams. The death of a child is often intensified and lengthened in comparison to other forms of grief, partly because this death symbolizes the loss of the future, a gift taken too early, the shattering of dreams, and a painful journey that is extremely lonely and frightening.
It is important to remember that grief is a process that should and cannot be bypassed or hurried. Grief does and will change people. Four common tasks associated with grief include the following: accepting the reality of the loss and accepting that their child will not return; acknowledging the pain of grief; adjusting to an environment and creating meaningful rituals; and moving on with a “new norm” rather than emotionally withdrawing from the world around them. As these stages are experienced, individuals are able to talk about the death of his/her child, allowing the self to feel pain rather than avoid the pain, reframing schedules and responsibilities, and maintaining healthy relationships with other family members and friends.
Strategies for Comforting Grieving Parents
- Acknowledge the child’s death by telling parents of your sadness for them and by expressing love. Ask if you can share memories and/or pictures.
- Allow the parents the opportunity to express feelings without imposing views and avoid telling parents that you know “how they feel.”
- Allow parents to cry because it is extremely appropriate.
- Use thoughtful gestures to express concern, such as writing a note, bringing flowers, or making food.
- Attend the funeral service and offer to visit the cemetery in the weeks and months following the funeral.
- Donate to a specific memorial in honor of the child, and remember anniversaries.
- Offer to take other children out or to treat the parents to something special.
- Remember, parents may not be able to ask for help or tell you what they need. Offer anyway!
Strategies for Helping Parents Cope and Heal from Loss
- Recognize that mothers and fathers will grieve differently; fathers are often “expected” to be “strong” for their partners and be the “rock.” Remind each partner to express emotional feelings and that each partner has feelings surrounding the loss.
- Verbalize both the mothers’ and fathers’ grief.
- Acknowledge that grief is overwhelming, unpredictable, painful, and exhausting, and that the grief should not be ignored or minimized.
- Allow the feelings of anger to come, and acknowledge how helpfulness and vulnerable they must feel.
- Acknowledge the need to talk about the child and let them express the moments that they will miss or never be able to experience with the child.
- Use poetry, journaling, drawing, singing, painting, and praying in order to express feelings.
- Maintain physical activity and eat a balanced meal plan.
- Remind how wonderful, loving, and caring the parent was and still is.
- Help them express fear of letting go, as well as guilt of letting go and moving forward.
- Accept that it is OK to feel happiness and pleasure again, knowing that their love will transcend death.
The loss of a child is life changing, and parents will never be the same again; as parents move forward and understand that they are survivors of tragedy, a new sense of courage and resilience will be experienced. Grief will become part of their own personal history. While triggers will happen throughout life, and regrets for future experiences will be revealed, parents will accept that good moments and happy times can still exist. Nature will take care of all of us…