To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself.
~ Dr. Burton Grebin
Do you wonder when this pain will ever go away? Do you question if you will ever feel “normal” again? Do you ask yourself when will you wake up from this nightmare? You may find that friends and family members offering advice on what, when and how you should feel can be overwhelming and paralyzing. That is completely expected, and it’s okay to take your own path to get to your “new normal.”
The loss of a child is a devastating experience and an unimaginable loss. It is a tragedy that will always be a part of you, but one day, you will be able to smile again. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but as you begin your grief journey, you will learn ways to help you cope with your pain, deal with your emptiness, and face your fears.
You may experience all, some, or none of the symptoms described below. You may experience them at the same time or a different time than a spouse or other family member, and that is normal. Everyone travels on their grief journey at their own, unique pace. The emotions and feelings you experience may affect you in a variety of ways: physically, emotionally, socially, behaviorally and even spiritually.
Remember that your grief is unique, and your feelings are valid. There is no specific timeline, quick fix, or advice that will take away the pain, but having a strong support structure will help. Resilience is built on allowing someone give you a shoulder to lean on, arms to hold you, and ears to listen.
Physically, you may feel extreme fatigue, indigestion, loss of appetite, or increased appetite, sleeping disturbances, and outbursts of crying. You may also experience distress or discomfort in your body, such as headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath or chest pains. Hypersensitivity to light or sound is often a reaction to grief. These are normal reactions, and it is okay to talk about them, share with others, and reach out.
Emotionally, your reactions to grief may include numbness, sadness, fear, anger, irritability, agitation and anxiety. Mood swings are common as well as feelings of despair, numbness or even calm. You may feel guilt or an overwhelming yearning for your child. You may withdraw from others and have a lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy. At times, you may feel overly sensitive and cry for no reason or need to tell your story over and over to friends and family members. Share if you need to share. Cry if you need to cry. These are all normal reactions and it is better to express them than keeping them pent up inside.
Cognitively, you may be more forgetful, feel foggy, or have slowed thinking. You might have difficulty making decisions. Try to avoid making any major decisions when in early grief. Time may seem to pass slowly or feel surreal.
Your grief may also affect you spiritually. It may cause you to question your faith and question the purpose of life. You may find a loss, mistrust or even a strengthening in your faith, or an interest in another belief system. There are no right or wrong spiritual reactions, choices or feelings.
It is very important that you know all these reactions are normal and acceptable, HOWEVER, if you experience them to extremes it could be unhealthy. If you find you are sleeping all the time or not sleeping at all, if you withdraw from your family or friends for days on end or fear ever being alone, you may need professional support. If you begin or increase the use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate your pain away, start to neglect your hygiene, or put yourself in risky or dangerous situations, you should seek help. Contacting your medical doctor is a good first step, he or she may be able to rule out any medical causes for your symptoms, refer you to a psychiatrist, or prescribe medications to help with your symptoms. The stress of grief is very hard on your body. Please consider participating in grief counseling as well. Our program can help guide you to resources.
It is common to question your existence on earth without your child or feel that your purpose as a parent is gone.
If you are having reoccurring feelings of harming yourself, or have thoughts of harming someone else, please call 911, go to your nearest emergency room, call your physician or psychiatrist, and let a friend, family member, or someone you trust, know that you are having these thoughts.
Families in our program have taught us that there are healthy ways to cope with the death of a child. First of all, be patient and gentle with yourself. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. No map is available to give you an exact target of how you will feel on a certain day. Grief is individualized and there will be good days and bad.
A bad day does not mean that you are back at the beginning. Know that others have gone before you and are available to give you hope. Hope that one day, you will not be consumed with thoughts of your child’s death. One day, the unbearable pain will subside, and you will be able to hope for the future.
Remember to take care of yourself and allow others to care for you. This is their way of showing you love at a time when they feel helpless to make a difference. Try to drink plenty of water, eat regularly, exercise, and keep a routine. Try to avoid excess alcohol or other substances to numb the pain. Know we are here to help.