Common Responses to a Child’s Death
- Shock: You may initially feel numb, which is your mind’s way of shielding you from the pain.
- Denial: Your child can’t be dead. You expect to see him or her walk through the door, or to hear a cry on the baby monitor.
- Replay: Your mind may center on the “what if’s” as you play out scenarios in which your child could have been saved.
- Yearning: Many parents report praying obsessively to have even five more minutes with their child so they can tell them how much they love them.
- Confusion: Your memory may become clouded. You may find yourself driving and not remembering where you’re going. Because your mind is trying to process such a huge shock, normal memory functions can be precluded, putting you in a “haze.” You may at times even question your sanity, though you are not crazy. Your pain is affecting your emotional and psychological systems at an extreme level — a sense of being on overload is common.
- Guilt: Guilt appears to be one of the most common responses to the death of a child. Parents often mentally replay their actions prior to the death and wonder what they may have done differently.
- Powerlessness: In addition to feelings of guilt, parents often have a sense of powerlessness that is attributed to feeling that they were not able to protect their child from harm.
- Anger: Anger and frustration are also feelings reported by most parents and they are common to grief in general. If your child’s death was accidental, these emotions may be intensified. You may also be angry that life seems to go on for others — as if nothing has happened.
- Loss of hope: You are grieving not only for your child, but also for the loss of your hopes, dreams and expectations for that child. Time will not necessarily provide relief from this aspect of grief. Parents often experience an upsurge of grief at the time they would have expected their child to start school, graduate, get married, etc. Parents are rarely prepared for these triggers and the wave of grief they bring. Be aware of these triggers, and allow yourself to grieve. This is a normal, appropriate and necessary part of the healing process.