There is no training or preparation for how to handle the many aspects of life when a child dies. The following offers a non-exhaustive list of common experiences that many parents often feel in this time of chaos. You may find it helpful to know you aren’t alone or the only one having such experiences. Also included is a list of suggestions and a poem to help others understand us and our needs better, too. After all, there isn’t any training or preparation for our family and friends at such times either.
Why Can’t I Sleep? Why Can’t I Concentrate? I Must Be Losing My Mind!
Most bereaved parents experience one or more of the following in the various stages of grieving especially in the early days:
- Feel physically exhausted, having difficulty sleeping, do not want to got o sleep or get up.
- Feel tightness in the throat, heaviness in the chest, or a lump in the stomach like a rock.
- Have an empty feeling that seems indefinable.
- Experience appetite loss.
- Wander aimlessly, forget a thought in the middle of a sentence, neglect to finish tasks, feel restless, look for activity but can’t concentrate.
- Have respiratory reactions – excessive yawning, gasping, hyperventilating.
- Experience feelings of anxiety – sometimes specific and other times without form or content.
- Think they are losing their minds.
- Say to themselves and others, “If only I had…”
- Keep asking “why?”
- Sense the loved one’s presence by expecting the child to walk in the door or phone at the usual time. Hear the voice or see the child’s face.
- Need to tell and retell and remember things about the child and the experience of death.
- Cry at unexpected times.
- Feel able to cope and then fall back again – three steps forward, two steps back.
- Feel depressed.
All these reactions and more are natural and normal. It is important not to deny one’s feelings but instead learn to express them. Realizing you are not alone in having these reactions is helpful. One’s balance is regained slowly through understanding and working through the grief process.
It is said that the bereaved underestimate their ability to survive. Many bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents are proof that the self-help process in support groups can make a huge difference in healing.
Often others don’t know what to say and from this say things that are unintentionally hurtful or say nothing at all. Here’s a list of suggestions to smooth the way for those who love and care in these times of grief. This was originally published in the National TCF publication.
What We Wish Others Understood About The Loss Of Our Child
1. I wish you would not be afraid to speak my child's name. My child lived and was important, and I need to hear his name.
2. If I cry or get emotional if we talk about my child, I wish you knew that it isn't because you have hurt me; the fact that my child died has caused my tears. You have allowed me to cry, and I thank you. Crying and emotional outbursts are healing.
3. I wish you wouldn't "kill" my child again by removing from your home his pictures, artwork, or other remembrances.
4. I will have emotional highs and lows, ups and downs. I wish you wouldn't think that if I have a good day my grief is all over, or that if I have a bad day I need psychiatric counseling.
5. I wish you knew that the death of a child is different from other losses and must be viewed separately. It is the ultimate tragedy, and I wish you wouldn't compare it to your loss of a parent, a spouse, or a pet.
6. Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn't shy away from me.
7. I wish you knew that all of the "crazy" grief reactions that I am having are in fact very normal. Depression, anger, frustration, hopelessness, and the questioning of values and beliefs are to be expected following the death of a child.
8. I wish you wouldn't expect my grief to be over in six months. The first few years are going to be exceedingly traumatic for us. As with alcoholics, I will never be "cured" or a "former bereaved parent," but will forevermore "be a recovering bereaved parent."
9. I wish you understood the physical reactions to grief. I may gain weight or lose weight, sleep all the time or not at all, develop a host of illnesses, and be accident prone-all of which may be related to my grief.
10. Our child's birthday, the anniversary of his death, and holidays are terrible times for us. I wish you could tell us that you are thinking about our child on these days, and if we get quiet and withdraw, just know that we are thinking about our child and don't try to coerce us into being cheerful.
11. It is normal and good that most of us re-examine our faith, values, and beliefs after losing a child. We will question things we have been taught all our lives and hopefully come to some new understanding with our God. I wish you would let me tangle with my religion without making me feel guilty.
12. I wish you wouldn't offer me drinks or drugs. These are just temporary crutches and the only way I can get through this grief is to experience it. I have to hurt before I can heal.
13. I wish you understood that grief changes people. I am not the same person I was before my child died, and I never will be that person again. If you keep waiting for me to "get back to my old self," you will stay frustrated. I am a new creature with new thoughts, dreams, aspirations, values, and beliefs. Please try to get to know the new me-maybe you’ll like me still.
I believe that instead of sitting around and waiting for our wishes to come true, we have an obligation to tell people some of the things we have learned about our grief. We can teach these lessons with great kindness, believing that people have good intentions and want to do what is right, but just don't know what to do with us.
Source: This is taken from an article by Betty Baggott. She is a freelance writer and a member of the board of directors of The Alabama Baptist. She is the wife of Bob Baggott, pastor of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL.
"Please don't ask me if I'm over it yet –
I'll never be over it.
Please don't tell me he's in a better place –
He isn't here with me.
Please don't say at least she isn't suffering –
I haven't come to terms with why she had to suffer in the first place.
Please don't tell me you know how I feel –
Unless you have lost a child, too.
Please don't ask me if I feel better –
Bereavement isn't a condition that clears up.
Please don't tell me at least you had him this long –
When would you choose for your child to die?
Please don't tell me that God never gives us more than we can bear.
Please just say you are sorry.
Please just say you remember my child...if you do.
Please just let me talk about my child.
Please mention my child's name.
Please just let me cry."
Source: Compassionate Friends Publication