The death of an only child or all children compounds bereavement. You experience similar problems and pain as bereaved parents with surviving children. However, being childless deepens the heartache as you confront the future.
Death has stilled the music of your child's laughter. Your world is standing still. You feel empty and alone. You hurt deeply. You do not know how to pick up the pieces of your shattered life. You may think there is no reason to exist. These thoughts and feelings are a normal part of the grief process.
Give yourself adequate time to grieve, for you have suffered the greatest injury you will ever experience. You will heal so slowly that you may not realize you are healing.
Try to get some rest. It is very difficult to sleep at first; therefore, take a few minutes during the day to lie down, even if you only close your eyes and relax. Do not get into the habit of taking alcohol or medication to help you sleep. If you become dependent upon them, you will postpone your grief. You must walk slowly, step by step, through your grief process.
It is normal to cry at any time or place for a long time. Crying releases emotions and may prevent physical ailments. Fathers, as well as mothers, need to cry.
Further, you do not need to feel guilty the first time you smile or laugh; you need to balance your tears with laughter. It will take awhile to begin enjoying yourself again. Watch a comedy, read a humorous book, or surround yourself with people who will help you to laugh again.
Find others who will listen. You need to talk about your child and don't hesitate to tell your story over and over again. It may be necessary for you to find several good listeners, as many "friends" soon tire of your talking about your deceased child.
Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings, and eventually when you reread your journal, you will see your progress. Since writing helps to release emotions, you may want to write a letter to your child. You might write a poem or short article about your child. Initially, you might keep your expressions private, but someday, you may want to share them with others.
Begin setting a few goals for yourself and work to accomplish one at a time. Beware of setting too many, because if YOU try to do too much, you may overwhelm yourself. Take one day at a time, and in those first difficult months, live one hour or minute at a time.
You may have too much time now, time previously spent parenting your child, so keep yourself busy if possible. Initially, we lack energy. Although you will always be thinking of your child, you will find that time passes more quickly if you keep busy. Try to use time to your advantage by learning about the grief process. Read small portions of books about grief or listen to tapes that will help you to heal.
Special books, tapes, and newsletters have been prepared by Alive Alone, Inc. for parents whose only child or all children are deceased. A composite of these material is available upon request to the address on the on the front page. There are also many other materials available through support groups, churches, libraries, and bookstores.
Because of the lack of concentration that comes with grief, we often forget the advice of books and articles we read. If you have a favorite, keep it close and reread it often.
Soon you may face the dilemma of answering the question, "How many children do you have?" How you answer that question depends on your situation at the time. You may say, "My son or daughter died." You may say, "None". However, many parents feel guilty when they deny their child's existence. Another possible answer is, "I had one daughter or son." If the questioner is comfortable, he or she may ask you to tell your story. When you are having a bad day and do not want to answer further questions, you might reply, "Thank you for caring enough to ask, but this has not been a good day for me. I really cannot talk about it."
Relatives and friends can be very uncomfortable with your grief and therefore, they may try to persuade you to do things for which you aren't ready. They may tell you that you "should" feel better or that you "shouldn't" talk about it. Only you know what is good for you; consequently, you should do only what you find comfortable, even if it means not seeing some people for awhile.
Other people may have set a time table on how long your grief should last. Coping with the death of a child takes years, not weeks or months, and unless you have had a child die, it's impossible to understand. Stick up for yourself; it is difficult when you are not sure of anything. You know how you feel, so don't let anyone tell you how to act, think, or feel.
Tell you relatives and friends what you want them to do. If you want to be remembered at anniversaries and holidays and they are remiss, let them know how it makes you feel. Also, share with them that you want your child to mentioned in conversation. You may cry, but let them know it is normal and they are not the cause of your crying. Let them know it is better for you to cry than for them not to mention your child, which may cause you to grieve silently.
It is helpful and healing to surround yourself with other bereaved parents. Find a support group that you can attend regularly, as you need to see that survival is possible. Ask for books, tapes, and newsletters on grief, because reading and hearing how others are coping and progressing will help you. You may develop a close relationship with someone who has faced a similar loss. You can share you children's lives and ways of coping. Remember, when you attend those first support meetings, you may be the only parent(s) who has/have endured the death of an only child or all children. In most cases we are a minority in the bereavement community. Many other bereaved parents are very kind, but most do not understand our grief, just as those who are not bereaved do not understand bereaved parents. You may encounter animosity from some bereaved parents as some feel that your loss is no different than theirs. Remember it depends on where a bereaved parent is in his/her grief as to how he/she may relate to you.
You may want to seek professional counseling, and for this, you do not need to feel ashamed. Who would say that your wound is less damaging than any physical injury that requires medical attention? Consult with other bereaved parents as to the competence of the professionals in your area. Feel comfortable in asking the professionals what qualifications they have, their fee, what experience they have had with bereaved parents, and if they have experience the death of a child.
You are suddenly childless. You are still a parent, but simply no longer a practicing parent. You will always have the memories and love of your child and nothing can take those memories from you. You need to channel the love and time that you shared with your child in directions that will bring you peace, comfort, and healing.
The focus of your life has changed, and finding a new focus is a difficult challenge. You may feel that you face a lonely, frightening, gloomy life without children, in-laws, or grandchildren. Gradually, you will make new friends with other bereaved parents. These friends can form a support network for your future. You may reinvest in life in many ways; become a foster parent, adopt other children, or develop close relationships with nieces, nephews, your child's friends, or your friends' children. However, you may decide to give up the parent role and in doing so, you could reinvest in life by helping others or supporting a cause in memory of your child.
You may keep your child's memories alive by taking vestiges of the past and making them a part of your present and future. Do not rearrange you child's room or dispose of his or her possessions too soon. It is normal to want to spend time in your child's room and surround yourself with his or her clothing, toys, and favorite belongings.
Yet some parents cannot enter their child's room, and for some, there is no room. You may eventually want to take some of your child's clothing and have a quilt or picture made or you may feel comfortable wearing some of your child's clothing or jewelry. You may also wish to incorporate some of your child's toys or collectibles into your home decor so your child will always be a part of your daily life.
You may choose to live in a way that will commemorate your child's life. You could try to accomplish what your child might have done if he or she had lived. Do something constructive in memory of your child. You can set up a memorial fund, donate books to institutions, plant trees, or help others. Whatever you choose to do, you will keep your child's memory alive and in your heart.
Please know that someday you will not feel as badly as you do today. Your hard grief work, which uses time to advantage, will help you heal.
Also, you are not alone in your grief. There are many bereaved parents who have traveled or are traveling a similar road to reinvestment.
One day you will awaken and your child will not be your first thought. You will go to sleep one night and your child will not be your last waking thought; then you will know that you are healing. You will always remember your child and the love that you shared and realizing that, you can reinvest in a new life in which your child will always play a part.
If you have comments, questions or problems please write to us at Kay Bevington