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Parents can adjust and discover life after the death of a child

How can parents discover joy and meaning again after our children die? How do we learn to manage the pain of unfathomable loss? It starts with simple intent and then availing yourself of the necessary support and resources. If parents can commit to this course of action, they will learn to adjust to life without the physical presence of their children.


Do

Do realize that grief journeys are marathons--and not sprints

Our grief following the death of our children does not progress in a linear fashion. There is no closure. No moving on. Our journeys are lifelong and the pain of grief can resurface at any time, without warning. With time, you will learn to manage and even honor your pain.

Do read all that you can tolerate about grief

In early grief, some parents find it very helpful to read memoirs of other parents who experienced the death of a child, and who are farther removed from their loss. These parents discovered tools that helped them adjust to their new realities and can teach you to do the same.

In the beginning, you may favor shorter memoirs because your concentration and energy levels are low. Read as little or as long as you would like, depending on how you are feeling .

Do understand that everyone grieves differently

Most men and women deal with death differently. For example, some women freely talk about their emotions and cry easily after a child’s death. While some men experience the emotions of a child’s death just as intensely, but deal with them through creative pursuits, such as keeping a written journal and constant activity.

Rather than attempt to change each other’s style of grieving, parents should simply witness it for each other. It is very important to understand each other and allow your partner to grieve in their own way. 

Do recognize that children communicate their presence

Typical signs of our loved ones’ presence include dream visits, finding objects, an odor or familiar smell, animals, music and butterflies. If we commit to walking in awareness of the signs that our children send to us, we will embrace an ongoing relationship with them and a continuing bond based on pure love and light. 

Do embrace the support of other parents whose children have died

Connecting with other parents in a support group setting who understood your pain can be comforting in so many ways. You are not alone with your pain. This support will help you discover many useful and practical suggestions for navigating the daily challenges due to your child’s death.

The Compassionate Friends (www.compassionatefriends.org) and The Bereaved Parents of the USA (www.bereavedparentsusa.org) offer support groups throughout the country for parents who have experienced the death of their children.  


Don't

Do not hesitate to acknowledge your limitations

In early grief following the death of a child, a parent may not have the physical energy and/or emotional fortitude to participate in certain events. Family gatherings around the holidays, weddings, baptisms or any event can trigger profound pain and the strong desire for avoidance. Allow yourself flexibility. Choose not to go at all or go for a short period of time.

Let family members and friends know how you are feeling. Tell them you may not be able to participate as you did before your child’s death. Empowering yourself to make these choices is also a great way to engage in self-care during your journey.  

Do not take other people’s comments personally

Individuals who have not experienced the death of a child will attempt to comfort parents who have. Statements such as, “At least you have other children” or “There is a reason for everything” have been commonly used as a means to offer support. Though well intentioned, they serve to make parents feel worse and in the process, undermine their grief.

Most people have good intentions when they attempt to provide comfort, but either don’t know what to say or try to offer solutions to the situation. For those who are attempting to provide comfort, it is okay not to know what to say and acknowledge that to a grieving parent. Also remember that your willingness to simply be present and listen may be all that is needed. 

Do not suppress your pain, honor it

Have you ever tried to take a beach ball and hold it down in a body of water? It works for a period of time, but after a while, your arms get tired and that ball bounces back to the surface. We then have a choice. We can try to hold it down again--or allow it to coexist with us. We also can try to suppress the pain, but it will always resurface.

Once you realize that your pain will not go anywhere, you can learn to honor it and eventually integrate it into daily life. We can’t manage what we are constantly trying to avoid. 

Do not be pressured to make important decisions right away

It is common for parents to wonder if there is an appropriate timeframe to pack up or give away their deceased child’s things -- or do something different with their room. Many families feel pressured to accomplish these tasks within a 6- to 12-month period, or most of society’s accepted time frame for resolving grief. In reality, it will take as long as it takes to make these decisions. Conventional thinking does not apply. 

Do not feel guilty about experiencing joy

Many parents express guilt over experiencing even small moments of joy in the immediate aftermath of the death of a child. In early grief, moments of joy can provide you with much needed relief from the raw emotional pain due to a child’s death. Joy can co-exist with the intermittent sadness you experience, particularly when you yearn for a child’s physical presence.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

The death of a child is the most life-altering loss that a parent will experience. It defies the natural laws of the universe and calls into question the beliefs and values upon which we built our worlds. Through intent, embracing support from others and continuing bonds, we learn to adjust to a world without the physical presence of our children. In the process, we have learned to discover life after the death of our children.


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Photo Credits: A beautifully decorated child's bedroom by woogies via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Dave RobertsLMSW,CASAC

I became a parent who experienced the death of a child, after my daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. I am a retired addiction professional and currently an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Utica College,...

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