The death of a child remains one of the most stressful life events imaginable. Mourning the loss of a child is a painful process that can affect a person’s emotional, spiritual, mental and physical well-being. However, the grieving process is an essential step to healing and recovery.

Common Feelings

Feelings associated with grief should not be ignored or suppressed because it may cause other problems to surface in the future. It is normal for a bereaved person to experience the below feelings and reactions.

  • Guilt
  • Fear or anxiety about the future
  • Physical changes in appetite, sleep, headaches and upset stomach
  • Reactions such as difficulties in making decisions, feeling irritable or hyperactive
  • Cognitive reactions such ad reduced ability to stay focused, forgetfulness or over focus on the past or future

If these changes become overwhelming at any point, there are people and support resources that can help you cope with your loss and encourage you to move forward.

The Grieving Process

Grieving involves moving through various stages of grief: numbness, searching and yearning, disorganization and despair, and reorganization and recovery. The grieving process is deeply personal, and each person will grieve in their own way at their own pace.

It is completely normal and expected to feel sad after your child dies, but over time the sadness tends to decrease in intensity as you move towards acceptance. Families who have been through the process have passed on these suggestions:

  • Don’t blame yourself.
  • Avoid making big decisions or life changes too quickly.
  • Use your support system of family and friends to help you with errands, housework, or providing a shoulder to cry on.
  • When you are ready, share your feelings, concerns, and stories with friends and family. Talk with them about your concerns and share stories.
  • Don’t let other’s well-intentioned but hurtful comments make you upset.
  • Consider creative activities such as writing, journaling, and art as a therapeutic outlet.
  • Join a bereavement support group to connect with other families and individuals who have experienced a loss.
  • Take care of yourself; self-care is important for healing. Take time for yourself to decompress and collect your thoughts. Go for walks, eat a balanced diet, and get enough rest.
  • Give yourself time to grieve and be patient with yourself. Take small steps towards enjoying life again and do not feel guilty about treating yourself every now and then.
  • Seek comfort from your faith, congregation, or spiritual advisors.
  • For couples, work together to provide support to one another and to keep the relationship strong.
  • For parents who have other children, make an effort to keep family interactions, activities, and relationships positive.
  • nclude your other children in the grieving process, and allow them to go through their own bereavement process.
  • Talk regularly as a family to find out how everyone is feeling and coping.
  • Find a way to memorialize your deceased child.

Clinical Depression

While there is no “right” way to grieve, there are positive and negative ways to cope. Negative coping behaviors include drug and alcohol abuse, addictive behaviors (gambling), sexual promiscuity, self-mutilation (cutting), or suicide ideation. It is critical to get professional help if you or any family members are engaged in negative behaviors or exhibit any of the below symptoms of clinical depression.

  • Feelings of intense guilt, bitterness or anger
  • Inability to function at home, work, and/or school
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless

When left untreated, clinical depression can progress to feelings of suicide. If safety is a concern, please contact a suicide hotline or call 911 for professional help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24 hours, 7 days a week and can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Impact on Family

The death of a child creates a crisis in a marriage, and most couples must make an effort to keep their marriage intact. Tensions can arise from different grieving styles and misaligned expectations among family members. Conflicts can be avoided if the lines of communication are kept open between partners and among their surviving children. For additional information on this topic, visit our page on Communicating with your Partner and Children and Grief.

Communicating with Your Partner

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