Allow Yourself to Mourn
Your child has passed away. In order to begin the healing process, you must allow yourself to properly mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your child. With the loss of your child, your hopes, dreams and plans for the future are turned upside down. You begin a journey that is frightening, painful, and overwhelming. The passing of a child is the most profound bereavement. In fact, sometimes your feelings of grief may be so intense that you do not understand what is happening. This article provides practical suggestions to help you experience grief. It will also assist you in moving towards personal healing.
Your grief is unique. No parent will grieve in exactly the same way. Your experience will be influenced by various factors: the relationship you had with your child; the circumstances surrounding the demise; your emotional support system; and your cultural and religious background. Don’t compare your experience with that of others and don’t adopt assumptions about the length of time your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-step-at-a-time” approach, this will allow you to grieve at your own pace.
Allow Yourself to Feel Numb
Feeling dazed or numb when your child passes is a part of early grieving. You may feel as if your world has suddenly come to a halt. This numbness serves an important purpose: it gives your emotions the time they need to catch up with what your mind has told you. Many people feel they are in a dream-like state and that they will wake up and none of this will be true. These feelings of disbelief and numbness help insulate you from the reality that faces you until you are more able to tolerate what is unbelievable.
This Death is “Out of Order”
Because the more natural order of death is for parents to precede their children, you have to readapt to a new and seemingly illogical reality. This shocking reality says that even though you are older and have been the protector and provider, you have survived and your child has not. This is so difficult to comprehend. Not only has the demise of your child violated nature’s way, where the young grow up and replace the old, but your personal identity was tied to your child. Often times the parent feels impotent and wonders why they couldn’t protect their child from death.
Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions
The death of your child can result in many emotions. Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, anger and relief are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes the emotions follow each other within a short period of time. They may also occur simultaneously. These emotions are normal and healthy. Learn from these feelings. Don’t be surprised if you experience sudden surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening. These attacks are a natural response to the death of your child. Talk to an understanding family member or friend about these feelings.
Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits
All of the emotions you feel will probably leave you fatigued. The ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. Expect a low-energy level which will naturally slow you down. Respect your body and mind. Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible. By listening to your body, you are using your natural survival skills.
Talk About Your Grief
Express your grief openly. When you share your grief with others, healing occurs. Ignoring the grief you feel won’t make it go away; talking about it usually will make you feel better. Speak from your heart, not just your head. This is a normal part of your grieving process.
Watch Out for Cliches
Cliches–trite comments some people make attempting to diminish your loss–can be extremely painful to hear. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time heals all wounds,” “Think of what you have to be thankful for” or “You have to be strong for others” are not constructive. You have every right to express your grief. No one has the right to take it away.
Develop a Support System
Finding a support system at a time like this can be very difficult but this is the most compassionate self-action you can take. Seek out those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings — both happy and sad.
A support group may be one of the best ways for you to receive help. In a group, you can connect with other parents who have experienced the same type of loss. You will be encouraged to talk about your child as much, and as often, as you like. Sharing the pain will not make it disappear, but it can ease any thoughts that what you are experiencing is crazy, or somehow inappropriate. Support comes in different forms for different people — support groups, counseling, friends, faith etc. Find out what combination works best for you and try to make use of them.
Embrace Your Treasure of Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after losing a child. You will always cherish memories. Share the memories with family and friends, don’t ignore them. Keep in mind that memories can be both happy and sad. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, cry. Memories are made with love — no one can take them away from you.
Gather Important Keepsakes
Collect some important keepsakes that will help you treasure the memories. You can create a memory book, which is a collection of photos that represent your child’s life. Some people create memory boxes that they can keep special keepsakes in. This way, at any time, you can open your memory box and embrace those special memories. The reality that your child has passed away does not diminish your need to have these objects. They are a tangible, lasting part of the special relationship you had with your child.
Embrace Your Spirituality
If faith is part of your life, allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you are angry at God because of the death of your child, realize this feeling is a normal part of grieving. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your thoughts and feelings.
You may hear someone say, “With faith, you don’t need to grieve.” Don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not insulate you from needing to talk out and explore your thoughts and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems to build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.
Move toward Your Grief and Heal
To restore your capacity to love you must grieve when your child passes away. You can’t heal unless you openly express grief. Denying your grief will only make it become more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and begin to heal. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant. Never forget that the death of your child changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again, it’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the child passed away. The experience of grief is powerful. So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal. In allowing yourself to heal, you will be moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.