Living With The Unthinkable: Grieving The Loss Of A Child

Life usually unfolds in a natural order: birth, maturation, decline and death. We see this progression in plant and animal life and in the lives of humans … it’s what we expect. But life doesn’t always happen this way.  We plant a tree, and it may not reach maturity.  Accidents or illness take the lives of young family pets. And sometimes, parents outlive their children. When this happens, we believe that it isn’t right; it falls outside the natural order of things.

Losing a son or daughter of any age and through any cause is devastating. The course of life is changed and will never be the same. There is a loss of the current relationship and of the hopes and dreams parents had for their child. Following a child’s death, some parents report that it feels like their lives, too, are over and that there is no reason to go on. Yet they must go on, for themselves and for any other children in the family.

If you have lost a child, no one can say or do anything to take away your pain. A North State obstetrics and gynecology nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, shared that the most challenging aspect of her practice as a labor and delivery nurse has also been the most meaningful. “I do my best to be there for parents during this heartbreaking time, knowing that what I do might help them heal in the future,” she says.

Peggy McGuire, a chaplain at Mercy Medical Center Redding agrees. “The only thing one can do is be there with the parents and support their process. This may one day lead to healing.”

While it is absolutely true that nothing will relieve your immediate anguish over the loss of a child, there are steps which will help your transition back into daily life.

Grieve

Do not be afraid to grieve. While grieving is painful, it is only through this process that healing takes place. Christina Cicero, MLS, CT, a grief counselor in Redding, says, “There is no right way and no wrong way to grieve. The most important gift grieving parents can give each other is the freedom to grieve in his or her own way, to understand that what comforts oneself may be painful to one’s spouse.” As impossible as it seems, when compassionately accepting the grief process and courageously taking steps to return to life, joy can once again be felt.

Share

Some parents think they shouldn’t talk about their sadness and sense of helplessness.  Sharing your grief allows others to support you. Often people want to reach out but feel awkward doing so. They don’t know what to say or do. This may be especially true if a baby has died during the perinatal period. You have bonded with him while he was in utero. Others haven’t felt this bond, and may ignore the death or unthinkingly say something trite. Sharing your heartache opens the door for others to be compassionate.

As time moves on, family and friends become involved again in their own lives. Their initial sympathy and concern is not as evident. Let those who are in your inner circle know when you need to talk or receive nurturing.

Receive

Accepting physical and emotional support may be hard. In the best of times, many people find receiving difficult. In your loss, you may want to isolate yourself. Honor that part of your path and also find time to let others in. Only by accepting the gift of nurturance from family and friends can you begin to renew your own depleted self. In your willingness to receive, you are giving them a gift, too. Their giving leads to their healing.

Turn to a Higher Power

If you believe in God or another power greater than yourself, turn to it. Prayer, meditation, walking in nature, and immersing yourself in music or fine literature can help sustain you during this time of the unthinkable. Turning to a higher power with commitment can move you into compassion for yourself and for the pain others are experiencing. You are not alone.

Use resources

Emily Sawyer, MSW, supervisor of Volunteer and Bereavement Programs at Mercy Hospice Redding says that losing a child of any age is a unique loss. “It is difficult to move on. The parent’s task is to learn to live in the world again without their child. Some find it helps to connect with others. One way of making this connection is to join a support group with other parents who have had the experience of losing a child.”

Debbie Powers, volunteer coordinator at Enloe Hospice in Chico, echoes the theme. “Meeting with others who are grieving a loss can help one reestablish their identity and life path,” she says. She continues by stating that there are various resources for parents: individual counseling, faith-based guidance, closed grief groups, and recommended reading.

Care for Yourself

The last thing you may feel like doing is taking care of yourself. It requires energy you may not have. Yet caring for yourself in nurturing ways grounds you – it keeps you connected to this physical world you still live in. Find some time each day to do something you really enjoy. What it is doesn’t matter; what matters is doing it. Read a book, take a walk, lie in the sunshine, cook, or putter in your studio or shop. Let your body lead you where your mind may not be ready to go … back into life.

You will live again

Bereaved parents have their own timeline in the grief process. Regardless of how long it takes, one day you will wake up and recognize that the world looks brighter than it did the day before. You will discover that you are laughing with greater ease and enjoying life again. Rejoice and express gratitude; healing is taking place.

Sometimes when stepping back into life, parents feel like they are abandoning the memory of their deceased child. This is not so. You will always love and honor this being that blessed your family. By moving on, you are also loving and honoring yourself and those in your family and intimate circle.

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North State Grief Support Groups

ALL COUNTIES

Hospice Foundation of America. Hospice offers online information to help with understanding challenges that need to be faced when coping with grief, & local Hospice programs often offer grief support. http://www.hospicefoundation.org/grief

BUTTE COUNTY   

Forever Loved Perinatal Loss Support Group; Chico. Support for families who have lost a child during the perinatal period. Annual candlelight remembrance walk each October. (530) 332-7610.

Healing Through Writing: Telling Our Stories; Chico. Free monthly writing group for people who want to learn more about writing to heal. (530) 332-3855.

Paradise Hospice at Feather River Hospital. Offers grief support groups and one-on-one support. (530) 877-8755.

SHASTA COUNTY

Mercy Hospice; Redding. Offers bereaved parents support group for parents & grandparents who have lost a child of any age. Also offers bereavement support groups for children & teens. http://www.mercymedicalcenter.com; (530) 245-4070.

SISKIYOU COUNTY

Madrone Hospice; Yreka. Free grief support & counseling services for those who have lost a loved one. All ages. http://www.madronehospice.org; (530) 842-3160.

Mercy Hospice; Mount Shasta. Serving South Sikiyou County. Free grief support groups & one-on-one support for anyone who is grieving. http://www.mercymtshasta.org; (530)926-6111, ext. 455.

SUTTER COUNTY

The Compassionate Friends; Yuba City. Monthly support group that assists families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age. (530) 632-1406.

TEHAMA COUNTY

St. Elizabeth Hospital Hospice; Red Bluff. Offers weekly grief support group for loss of any loved one.  http://redbluff.mercy.org (530) 528-4207.

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Carolyn Warnemuende
About Carolyn Warnemuende

Author Carolyn Warnemuende has two daughters and five grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Redding. She writes parenting and educational articles, sponsors a school in Uganda, and visits Africa twice a year. She receives great joy in taking daily care of her four-year-old granddaughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

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