Losing a child is probably a parent’s biggest nightmare. No one should ever suffer that fate, yet the reality is that many parents do — their children leave this world too soon, and they are left grappling with the fact that they will no longer be able to hold their precious ones in their arms.
If you are one such parent, know that you are not alone in your grief. Know, too, that you can move on from this difficult time, with the help of those around you.
What is grief? Ichel Santos-Alignay, registered psychologist (RP), registered guidance counselor (RGC), and co-author of Growing Up Wired: Raising Kids in the Digital Age, cites Dr. Sidney Zisook, a highly influential researcher on grief and bereavement, in describing the components of grief:
- Separation distress like feelings of sadness, anxiety, pain, helplessness, anger, shame, yearning, loneliness, etc.
- Traumatic distress that includes states of disbelief and shock, intrusions, and efforts to avoid intrusions and the spike of emotions they produce
- Guilt, remorse, and regrets; possible ‘why's’ and ‘should haves’
- Social withdrawal or withdrawal from regular routines and interactions.”
If you have lost a loved one, especially a child, you most probably have exhibited one or more of the abovementioned symptoms.
Specific ways to deal with grief If you’re a parent who has lost a child, Santos-Alignay shares the following action steps to help you deal with your grief, based on her background as a counselor and a mom who has lost a child herself:
1. Express your emotions. “Pray, cry, talk. Cry if you need to. Try to remember that your crying has a purpose — make your tears as your ‘stepping stones’ in looking for hope and healing,” she says.
Of course, it also goes without saying that grieving parents should talk to helpful friends, or even seek counseling if needed.
2. Decide to move on. This is easier said than done, but the first step to really overcoming grief is by making a definite decision to move out of it and get back into living your life despite your loss.
3. Do something new. Busy yourself and find something that will be helpful or productive for you — learn something, work in a new environment, find a hobby, look for a support group (emotional and spiritual).
4. Count your blessings. Try to focus not on your loss but on what you have right now, e.g. the love and presence of your spouse and other living children and loved ones.
5. Don’t ask, “Why?” Instead ask, “How can this help?” Santos-Alignay recalls how she recovered from her own child’s passing: “It helped that I did not question God’s reason and ask why He took away my child. Instead, I searched for how my pain could possibly help me and others.”
6. Ask for help. “Never be afraid to ask help from others,” Santos-Alignay says. The people around you can give you the support you need to get through this trying time.
Helping others deal with grief If you know someone who is dealing with grief, here is how you can offer them support:
1. Be present. “Do not give solutions, comments and judgments when it may be too hard for her to move on,” Santos-Alignay advises. “No one can understand the depth of her loss but her.”
2. Just let her / him be. “Give the person a shoulder to cry on,” she shares. Her own husband did the same for her after her miscarriage, and was a willing listener whenever she needed to talk.
3. Be sensitive. Santos-Alignay emphasizes the importance of this, especially for other family members. “Do not be quick to judge, give unsolicited comments or solutions, or give callous comments,” she expounds.
4. Don’t “over-spiritualize” things. “People should also refrain from ‘over-spiritualizing’ the situation,” Santos-Alignay says. “The grief and pain is real. Any spiritual realizations should come from the grieving person, and should not be forced on her when she is still in the crying phase.”
Moving on from the loss of a child certainly is no easy feat, but it can be done with the right support and in due time. Take note of the aforementioned tips, too, and be encouraged by the fact that you are not alone in this journey. And on days when your grief seems too much to bear, say these words to yourself:
"I give myself and others permission to grieve at their own pace, recognizing that all people are different in their journey of healing. I give myself and others grace, acceptance, compassion and kindness on their grieving journey." — Lee Horbachewski