The 5 stages of grief and loss are:
1. Denial and isolation;
People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human, or animal. There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.
The death of your loved one might inspire you to evaluate your own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.
Many people do not experience the stages of grief in the order listed below, which is perfectly okay and normal. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are.
Please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try not to judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.
1. Denial & Isolation
The first reaction to learning about the terminal illness, loss, or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions.
Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family.
Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.
The doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease might become a convenient target. Health professionals deal with death and dying every day. That does not make them immune to the suffering of their patients or to those who grieve for them.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to give you extra time or to explain just once more the details of your loved one’s illness. Arrange a special appointment or ask that he telephone you at the end of his day. Ask for clear answers to your questions regarding medical diagnosis and treatment. Understand the options available to you. Take your time.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as:
If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
This is an attempt to bargain. Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable, and the accompanying pain. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Guilt often accompanies bargaining. We start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped save our loved one.
There are two types of depression that are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
Reaching this stage of grieving is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
Hope to Cope with the Loss of a Parent
Although it will happen to us all, the loss of a parent is always a major shock in our lives and a time of grief and sadness. Everyone copes in their own way, but some will find it more difficult than others. Some of the ideas on these pages may help you to cope if you have lost your father or mother.
It can help enormously to get involved in the funeral arrangements and make sure that your feelings are expressed. Whether that means that you write some words, or choose some music for the ceremony, it is good to be part of it.
If one parent is left behind, they will need a lot of support and it will help you to focus on their needs. Your brothers and sisters may also need support at this time if they are having difficulties coming to terms with the loss of their parent. It will help you to cope too if you all help each other.
One sibling might go into deepest despair, crying constantly and unable to cope without help. Another may go into organisation mode. There are extremes of emotional moods and everyone grieves in their own way. It’s good to have family and friends around to help at the most difficult times.
It may be a comfort to know that suffering the loss of a parent is a huge crisis, but it will eventually make you a stronger person, more able to empathise with others, and to survive life’s challenges.
Shock and numbness are often the way nature controls the pain of loss in the early days. It differs widely in every individual. If someone is coping better, it doesn’t mean they are grieving less. Many people hide their emotions. Don’t imagine they need less support if they are coping like this.
The general chaos of the first few days helps to get through the initial shock. There is a lot to organise, relatives are arriving, there are flowers, cards and messages arriving. It can be quite overwhelming.
Following the funeral, everything gets back to some semblance of normality. But of course nothing is the same after the loss of a parent. Your role in the family has changed. You may need to take responsibility for the remaining parent. Your roles have reversed. You need to take care of them, make sure they keep busy, remember to eat, see friends. You might need to help them with finances and household maintenance, at least in the short-term until they find their feet.
What happens to the family home after the loss of a parent?
One of the saddest times when you have lost a parent can be visiting the family home again. The realisation hits that the parent is not about to appear from the other room. It can be very painful to watch the despair felt by the remaining parent, and the family home can seem empty.
There may be pressing needs regarding downsizing the remaining parent’s home due to financial or coping alone concerns. Sometimes the remaining parent can not face up to living alone. Read about the pros and cons of moving house after a bereavement.
Coping with the other parent’s grief is hard when you are grieving and trying to cope with your own grief too. There are major problems when the parent lives a distance away. Families are trying to cope with their work and family commitments as well as trying to support the other parent. This can cause sibling stress when one thinks they are doing more than other family members.
Remember that all the family are grieving. Try to talk to each other about what needs doing and ask for help, the child living nearest often feels pressured.
Sometimes one family member will have the remaining parent to live with them. Do let other brothers and sisters give the parent a holiday with them sometimes.
It can also hit hard when the remaining relative comes to visit you on their own for the first time.
The loss of the physical presence of a loved one is such a painful experience, but you need to be brave for the other parent, or your brothers and sisters, be strong and support them.
Allow yourself to grieve, but you can do it. Cope for the sake of your beloved parents. Remember they lost their parents too, and were able to move on. Caring for others helps you to bypass your own worries too.
Get support for yourself too. People don’t know how you feel unless you tell them. Many people might not even realise you’ve suffered the loss of a parent. Choose one or two close friends to confide in. You need a shoulder to cry on during the difficult times.
But try to be cheerful and positive as much as you can. This gives friends and family more reason to enjoy your company. If you can’t do this, then consider getting professional help from your doctor or counsellor of join a grief support group.
The long-term changes we experience when losing a parent
Even emotionally healthy people can experience a great deal of change after losing a parent. It is a period of re-assessment of who you are. The generations have moved on and you are no longer a child. Sons often feel they have to take on the father role for the rest of the family and their widowed mother. Daughters might feel they have to step into their mother’s role and take care of her father and the rest of the family. Read more about loss of self-identity following a bereavement.
It often gives people a sense of their own mortality and they realise that there is no time to waste. They develop a new sense of purpose in their lives.
It certainly makes people stronger and more resilient. Many people change their jobs, or get divorced after losing their parents. It encourages them to think about their lives and decide what is important.
Look after Your Relationships
People can change after they have lost a parent. They feel different, they may look at life differently and have new goals or aims. One partner may change while the other hasn’t. There can also be problems if the partner who is not suffering the bereavement is not felt to be supportive enough. It’s important to make an effort to communicate your feelings to your partner. Men often don’t show their feelings as much and grieve differently. Be aware of changes in the relationship and talk about it.
Grief and Sympathy
Facing the death of the one you love
The death of a spouse or significant other is an earth-shattering event that brings incomprehensible grief. Your partner was, after all, the person with whom you shared your dreams and built your life – the person you loved more than life itself.
Not only is the relationship between spouses or partners defined by the most intimate emotional and physical bonds of any human relationship, but your partner may have filled many other roles in your life as well, such as best friend, co-parent, confidant, traveling companion, or bridge partner. And if the roles within your relationship were clearly defined, your loved one may have been the only one who ever cooked, cleaned, brought home a paycheck, took out the garbage, did the laundry, or paid the bills.
The passing of someone so central to your life is certain to leave a tremendous emotional, physical, and practical void. Your grief may be so profound that you feel like your hope for the future died with your spouse. But although nothing and no one can make your pain go away, you can find in others the support you need as you work through the stages of grief and learn to live with the changes in many areas of your life, including those that follow.
Many widows and widowers say that the hardest part of grieving is loneliness. When your spouse dies, you miss all those qualities that drew you together in the first place and cemented your bond over the years – qualities like personality, intellect, humour, charm, loyalty, kindness, courage, and strength. And you miss your loved one’s physical presence, both as a sexual partner and in the many touches you were accustomed to each day – a quick hug before leaving the house in the morning, a reassuring pat on the arm, the straightening of a tie, or a goodnight kiss.
Certainly, no one will ever take the place of your loved one. But finding yourself alone now doesn’t mean you will be lonely forever. While your grief is new, lean on friends and family for as much support as you need. Over time, if the days seem too dark and the darkness lasts too long, consider seeing a counselor. Time does heal, and the day will come when you are ready to resume a social life.
What about finances?
The need to attend to financial matters soon after the death of your partner is a cold, harsh reality. In addition to regular bills, you may face large expenses for hospital care or funeral costs. If you are unable to pay the bills all at once, work with your creditors to establish payment arrangements and protect your good credit.
Almost universally, experts agree that one should avoid making any major decisions within the first year following the death of a spouse. However, if you find that your financial situation demands that you move or sell your house, a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor can help you to make sound decisions.
Seek help with financial matters if you need to
If your spouse managed the finances and you are unsure of where you stand, there’s no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. In a perfect world, partners would share financial information in life so that a surviving partner isn’t overburdened when the other one dies. But many times, death comes suddenly and finds us unprepared. The important thing is to deal with financial matters as soon as you are able, asking for help if you need it. Taking control of the situation will empower you and relieve some of your fears.
Time and energy
Perhaps you’re accustomed to devoting a great deal of time and energy to your partner who died. And if your loved one was in poor health prior to death, your whole world may have revolved around caring for your partner for some time. In the early stages of your grief, you probably won’t have a lot of energy for anything. But as time passes, finding ways to fill your time will help to combat loneliness. When you are ready, discover new outlets for your time and energy, such as volunteer work, hobbies, or travel.
When a life partner dies, a part of your identity also dies. Instead of being a wife, husband, or partner, you are now a widow or widower. These words are just labels that communicate a harsh reality, but they also represent a truth. Adjusting to your new identity will take time, and the journey may seem unbearably sad. In time, however, you will emerge from your mourning a changed person. As your grief subsides, although you will continue to cherish the memory of your loved one, you may begin to view your life after the death of your spouse as a time to explore new interests and relationships.
The Light Beyond
Helping Yourself Heal When an Adult Sibling Dies
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
“To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters.
We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts.
We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.
We live outside the touch of time.”
Whether your sibling was younger or older, whether the death was sudden or anticipated, whether you were very close to your sibling throughout your lives or experienced periods of separation, you are now grieving.
To grieve is to experience thoughts and feelings of loss inside you. If you loved your sibling, you will grieve. To mourn is to express your grief outside of yourself. Over time and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal.
Consider your unique relationship
Brothers and sisters often have strong and ambivalent feelings for one another. Sibling relationships tend to be complex, characterized by a mixture of anger, jealousy, and a fierce closeness and love. What was your relationship with the sibling who died? I’ll bet it wasn’t entirely simple.
Sibling relationships are so complex because while we are growing up, siblings are both friends and enemies, teammates and competitors. We play with our siblings, and we fight with them. We share our parents’ love, and we compete for our parents’ love. We enjoy being part of a family, and we struggle to become individuals.
Sometimes we carry our childhood rivalries and differences into adulthood, and our ambivalent feelings toward our brothers and sisters remain. Sometimes we separate from our siblings completely as adults. And sometimes we become very close friends with our grown-up brothers and sisters.
Yet no matter what your present-day relationship with your sibling was, his or her death is a blow. You shared a long history with your sibling. Your stories began together and were intimately intertwined for years.
Know that sibling grief is important
The loss of an adult sibling is often a significant one. I have had the privilege of being a companion to many sibling mourners, and they have taught me that they often feel deep pain and a profound sense of loss.
Yet our culture tends to under-appreciate sibling grief. When an adult dies, the myth goes, it is the parents, spouse, and children of the person who died who suffer the greatest loss. We seem to think that siblings are affected less.
Yet the truth is, the more deeply you feel connected to someone, the more difficult his or her death will be for you. And siblings—even when they have not spent much time together as adults—often have profoundly strong attachments to one another.
Yes, your grief for your sibling is very real. And it may be very difficult for you. Allow yourself the time and the support you need to mourn.
Accept different grief responses
There is no one right way for you to mourn. Neither is there one right way for other family members to mourn. Each of you will mourn differently.
If you have surviving siblings, you will find that each will mourn this death in his or her own way. While you might have anticipated some of your sibling’s responses (for example, your emotional sister has probably been emotional), other responses may have surprised you. Try not to let these differences alarm you or hurt your feelings.
If your parents are still alive, they, too, will have their own unique responses to the death. You can help by facilitating open and honest communication with them about their grief and yours.
Feelings will naturally run high in your family in the weeks and months after the death. The best approach is to be open with one another without blaming.
Embrace the healing power of linking objects
Linking objects are items that belonged to or remind you of the sibling who died. Photographs, videos, CDs, ticket stubs, clothing, gifts you received from him or her—all of these connect you to the sibling who died.
Some items may bring sadness, some happiness, some ‘sappiness’ (i.e., when you are happy and sad at the same time). While linking objects may evoke painful feelings, they are healing feelings. They help you embrace the pain of your loss and move toward reconciliation. They may also give you comfort in the weeks and months ahead.
Whatever you do, DO NOT get rid of linking objects that remind you of the sibling who died. If you need to box some of them up for a time, do so. Later, when you are ready, you will likely find that displaying linking objects in your home is a way to remember the sibling who died and honor your ongoing feelings of love and loss.
Honor the sibling who died
Sometimes grieving families ask that memorial contributions be made to specified charities in the name of the person who died. Consider your sibling’s loves and passions. If he were still here, what would make him proud to have his name associated with?
Some families have set up scholarship funds. Some have donated books to the library or schools. Some have donated park benches or picnic tables, inscribed with an appropriate plaque. Some have planted gardens. You might also choose to carry on with something your sibling loved to do or left unfinished.
You will find that honoring your sibling is both a way to express your grief and to remember what was special about him or her.
If you are a twin, seek extra support
If you are a twin whose twin brother or sister has died, you may be especially devastated by this death. Twins often report a sense of being halved after their twin has died. Without their twin, they simply do not feel whole.
Your grief work may be particularly arduous. I recommend that you seek the support of an experienced grief counselor if you are struggling. The wonderful website http://www.twinlesstwins.org and the resources this organization offers may also be of help.
Understand the concept of “reconciliation”
Know this: mourners don’t recover from grief. Instead, we become “reconciled” to it. In other words, we learn to live with it and are forever changed by it. This does not mean a life of misery, however. Mourners often not only heal but grow through grief. Our lives can potentially be deeper and more meaningful after the death of someone loved.
Yet we only achieve reconciliation if we actively express and receive support for our grief. Find someone who will listen without judging as you talk about your grief. Cry. Journal. Make art. Find things to do that help you express your grief, and keep doing them.
I believe every human being wants to “mourn well” the deaths of those they love. It is as essential as breathing. Yet because our culture misunderstands the importance of grief, some people deny or avoid their normal and necessary thoughts and feelings. Choose to mourn. Choose to heal. Choose to live and love fully again.
A final word
To be “bereaved” literally means “to be torn apart” and “to have special needs.” When a sibling dies, it is like a deep hole that implodes inside of you. It’s as if the hole penetrates you and leaves you gasping for air. I have always said that we mourn significant losses from the inside out. In my experience, it is only when we are nurtured (inside and outside) that we discover the courage to mourn openly and honestly.
Remember—you are not alone, and you are not forgotten. No, your love does not end with the death of your brother or sister. You can and will carry your sibling with you into the future, always remembering your past and what he or she brought to the dance of your life.
Dealing with the Death and Loss of a Child
The death and loss of a child is frequently called the ultimate tragedy. Nothing can be more devastating. Along with the usual symptoms and stages of grief, there are many issues that make parental bereavement particularly difficult to resolve. And this grief over the loss of a child can be exacerbated and complicated by feelings of injustice — the understandable feeling that this loss never should have happened. During the early days of grieving, most parents experience excruciating pain, alternating with numbness — a dichotomy that may persist for months or longer. Many parents who have lost their son or daughter report they feel that they can only “exist” and every motion or need beyond that seems nearly impossible. It has been said that coping with the death and loss of a child requires some of the hardest work one will ever have to do.
The relationship between parents and their children is among the most intense in life. Much of parenting centers on providing and doing for children, even after they have grown up and left home. A child’s death robs you of the ability to carry out your parenting role as you have imagined it, as it is “supposed” to be. You may feel an overwhelming sense of failure for no longer being able to care for and protect your child, duties that you expected to fulfill for many years.
It must be remembered that bereaved parents can mourn the death and loss of a child of any age, and that it feels unnatural to outlive a child. It does not make a difference whether your child is three or thirty-three when your son or daughter dies. The emotion is the same. All bereaved parents lose a part of themselves.
The search for meaning in a child’s death is especially important to parents. An understanding of how a death fits into the scheme of life is difficult and often unattainable. Faith is a source of comfort for some parents, but others with religious beliefs report feeling betrayed by God. Religious confusion is normal, as is questioning many things that you may have believed to be certain. One father dealing with the death of a child reported that his faith in life in general had been shattered. He had long believed that if you lived your life as a good person, striving to make a positive contribution to the world, life would turn out well. The death of his son robbed him of that belief. This reaction isn’t uncommon; losing a child feels like the ultimate violation of the rules of life.
Surviving the death and loss of a child takes a dedication to life. As a parent, you gave birth to life as a promise to the future. Now you must make a new commitment to living, as hard or impossible as it may seem right now. You will survive this; however, the experience may change you.
As mentioned in the main Understanding Grief section, your grief will be individual and unique. How you grieve over the death and loss of a child and for how long will be different from for anyone else — you need to allow yourself to grieve in your own way.
Common responses to a child’s death
Shock: After the death and loss of a child you may initially feel numb, which is your mind’s way of shielding you from the pain.
Denial: Your child can’t be dead. You expect to see your son or daughter walk through the door, or to hear a cry on the baby monitor.
Replay: After the death and loss of a child your mind may centre on the “what if’s” as you play out scenarios in which your child could have been saved.
Yearning: Many parents report praying obsessively to have even five more minutes with their child so they can tell them how much they love them.
Confusion: After the death and loss of a child your memory may become clouded. You may find yourself driving and not remembering where you’re going. Because your mind is trying to process such a huge shock, normal memory functions can be precluded, putting you in a “haze.” You may at times even question your sanity, though you are not crazy. Your pain is affecting your emotional and psychological systems at an extreme level — a sense of being on overload is common.
Guilt: Guilt appears to be one of the most common responses to dealing with the death of a child. Parents often mentally replay their actions prior to the death and wonder what they may have done differently.
Powerlessness: In addition to feelings of guilt, parents often have a sense of powerlessness that is attributed to feeling that they were not able to protect their child from harm.
Anger: Anger and frustration are also feelings reported by most parents and are common to grief in general. If your child’s death was accidental, these emotions may be intensified. You may also be angry that life seems to go on for others — as if nothing has happened.
Loss of hope: After the death and loss of a child you are grieving not only for your child, but also for the loss of your hopes, dreams and expectations for that child. Time will not necessarily provide relief from this aspect of grief. Parents often experience an upsurge of grief at the time they would have expected their child to start school, graduate, get married, etc. Parents are rarely prepared for these triggers and the wave of grief they bring. Be aware of these triggers, and allow yourself to grieve. This is a normal, appropriate and necessary part of the healing process.
How the death of a child affects a marriage
Studies have shown that the death and loss of a child will not necessarily strengthen a marriage, and in fact the grief can sometimes lead to its demise. Each partner becomes deeply involved in his or her own grief and is often dissatisfied with the quality or depth of their spouse’s grief. When coupled with the anger, frustration, guilt and blame that often surround a child’s death, parental bereavement can be a time of extreme volatility in a marriage. It’s extremely important that each spouse understands the importance of communication (sharing of feelings), and just as one should not judge themself for their reaction to the loss, they should not judge their spouse.
No two people grieve alike, so there is a wide range of differences in the expression of grief. Any of these differences may cause spouses or partners to erroneously conclude that their mate has rejected them or feels “less.” A bereaved couple may find it impossible to give comfort to each other when both are feeling an equal grief. Each partner may expect too much and receive too little. This unfortunate combination can create a chasm in a relationship, but it can be avoided if each accepts that you both are deeply hurt. Many of the reactions and stresses you are feeling result from your pain, not from something lacking in your relationship.
However, it is not true that most couples divorce after the loss of child. Recent studies offer some hope, showing that a much lower rate of divorces – only 12–16% — are related to the loss of a child. Perhaps with more of an understanding about grief, there will be even fewer.
How surviving children are affected
One of the most difficult roles for a mother or father after the death and loss of a child is to continue being a parent to the surviving children. Parents must continue to function in the very role they are grieving — an enormous challenge. But the surviving child or children shouldn’t feel that they are alone or have been set aside, as difficult as it may be to find the emotional reserves to support them. Parents have the difficult task of switching roles constantly, from being comforted to being the comforter, at a time when they have little ability to do so. Some parents swing to the other extreme and become extremely overprotective of their child, determined to keep them safe.
To learn more about how to support your surviving child/children during this challenging time, please visit the Children and Grief section. Children of all ages process grief differently. To ensure the healthy survival of your family, your children’s needs must be addressed not only by you but other family members who may have greater emotional reserves at this time. Others can help you help your child; you are critical to their healing process, but not the sole provider of comfort.
Pregnancy loss and infant death
When a baby dies before it is born or soon after birth, parents face a difficult emotional task: they must try to say goodbye to someone they had little chance to know. They must accept that a life has ended, even though it barely began. Just as with any death and loss of a child, you are likely to experience some of the more common symptoms of grief — you may go into shock or even deny that your baby has died. Depression, anger, frustration and other painful emotions are normal and to be expected. And even if you are normally a committed, caring person, you may find that you don’t care about anything or anyone right now. As noted earlier, for many parents this time is simply one of existence and survival and very little more.
There are two normal reactions to death that you will probably experience very acutely after losing a baby before or shortly after birth: anger and guilt. Because a baby’s death seems so unnatural, there is an especially strong urge to blame someone. You may be very angry with your doctor, hospital or — if you are a believer — God.
Guilt is a common reaction to the death and loss of a child, and can be particularly acute for parents who lose an infant or an unborn baby. Parents of unborn babies who die often mistakenly blame themselves for the death. The mother may believe she harmed her baby. Both parents may tell themselves they should have sensed something was wrong and alerted their doctor. While this is a normal reaction and must be processed, eventually you must find compassion for yourself and realize that this was not your fault. You were not responsible. Knowing that it was not in your control has both an upside and a downside: you cannot blame yourself, but you may also have an increased sense of powerlessness. Getting through this is part of the process.
Many parents feel overcome by a tremendous sense of emptiness. Pregnancy brings with it a number of expectations, dreams and fantasies – you spend months planning not just the birth of your child, but also his or her life in all the years to come. Now, just as both parents are emotionally preparing to welcome a child into the world, you must instead accept the loss of both the baby and all of your expectations for their future.
For parents of infants, you will have a different set of triggers and potentially painful situations in the months following your baby’s death. Your home may be filled with baby clothes, bottles and a crib. If you registered with any new mother websites or infant sites, subscribed to any magazines or registered for a shower, you are likely to receive coupons for baby food or formula and more in the mail. A baby magazine may show up as a trial subscription. Photographers may call and offer to take baby pictures. Just walking past the infant-wear department in a store may initiate tears of mourning.
After the death and loss of a child it may be difficult to resolve the grief you feel for the baby you lost. Even before you can accept your baby’s death, you must accept his or her life — their existence as a person. Remember, no matter how brief your baby’s life, you have just as much right to grieve as any other bereaved parent.
Published articles that may be useful include Suffering a Miscarriage or Losing a Child, Coping with Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death, In Honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
The resolution of parental grief may seem like an overwhelming task, but it is possible. It’s important to be both realistic and optimistic — you will never get over the death and loss of your child. But you will survive it, even as you are changed by it. You will never forget your child or his or her death. As you go through each holiday, each season, each happy and sad occasion that may trigger another wave of grief, you will gain greater strength and better tools for coping with the pain.
Don’t hide from your guilt
After the death and loss of a child you have feelings of guilt – which are common but not always present — confront and admit them. Examine the reality of how your child died and your actual intentions and actions at the time. You may see your actions or reactions in a more positive light. Forgive yourself for being imperfect — you did and continue to do the best that you can.
After the death and loss of a child one of the major hurdles parents experience in their return to the world of the living is their inability to accept pleasure — or acknowledging that it even exists. But happiness or enjoyment is one of the most important survival tools, even if for just a moment in your grief. It’s okay to laugh in the midst of tears, to smile at someone or something. You might feel that your laughter betrays your child’s memory, but you need to know you are not abandoning your grieving by enjoying yourself. The only way to survive bereavement is to step away from it occasionally.
Take small steps
After the death and loss of a child it is important to break down the future into small increments, an hour or a day, and deal only with one portion at a time. Focus on tasks — feed the cat, do the laundry. These little bits of normalcy and focusing on the moment at hand will make grief more bearable.
Remember the positive
Focus on the positive events and experiences in the relationship you had with your child. At some point, consider making a journal of all the details you want to remember about your child’s life. Review your family photographs and include some in your book. You may not feel ready to do this right away or you may take great comfort doing this in the early days — each person is individual in his or her needs.
Let others know your needs
After the death and loss of a child many people want to be supportive but are at a loss for what to do — they are unable to process this loss or know exactly what to say. Bereaved parents may have to be the ones to take the first step in reaching out to others. Let friends and family know your needs, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re afraid of running into someone who might say something about your child, ask a friend to do some shopping for you. Others could help you deal with daily tasks. Maybe you’d like someone to be available to listen to you or be around to ease your loneliness. Only you know what you need.
Surviving the death and loss of a child takes a dedication to life. As a parent, you gave birth to life as a promise to the future. Now you must make a new commitment to living, as hard or impossible as it may seem right now. You will survive this; however, the experience may change you.
I hope these articles have or will be helpful to you during difficult times.