Taking care of yourself

The information on this page has been written by parents who have been bereaved and reproduced by kind permission of The Child Death Helpline.

How you might feel

Most people experience a whole range of different emotions; initial feelings may include disbelief, numbness, anger, sadness, guilt, emptiness, maybe even, in some instances, a sense of relief. These feelings may be mixed up together.

It is very likely that if you have other children they will also have equally strong feelings, and may need a trusted person or friend in whom to confide. If your only child has died you may feel a desperate and bitter sadness, that your parenthood is no longer visible to others. Whether you have other children or not, if you long for another baby, but pregnancy is not possible, or does not occur, this can be an added grief.

Some parents will need to talk about the child's death over again for many months. Some parents will not want to talk about it at all and will wish to try and 'divert' their feelings, some of the time, into work and hobbies, sometimes to an obsessive extent.

It is very common for partners only to have energy for their own grief and be temporarily unable to help each other. This can cause great difficulty, and you may have to acknowledge together that you are expressing your grief in different ways, and respect each other's need to find support in your individual ways.

Having someone listen to the way you feel is almost always helpful. Try not to be afraid to ask for help, outside the family if necessary, especially if you feel that your need to talk is a further 'burden' on relatives and friends. Talking to someone you met perhaps at the hospital may be helpful, or you may find support through the hospital social work department, your GP or health visitor, or child's teacher.

You can talk to a local hospice even if your child didn't die at the hospice. There are also specialist voluntary groups and organisations for families whose child has died in particular circumstances. There may also be groups of parents, perhaps in your area, who meet through such organisations to share experience and mutual support.

As months and years go on

The numbness you felt initially will pass in time, but feelings of occasional disbelief, terrible sadness, anger, guilt and emptiness may remain very powerful. Many bereaved parents mention similar experiences:

  • The feeling of being on an emotional roller-coaster.
  • The need to talk about the child constantly.
  • Trying to put on a brave face for others.
  • The question "Will I ever feel better?"
  • The feeling that there is no point in getting up to start the day.
  • The feeling that no future can be envisaged - to the extent of thoughts of suicide.
  • The feeling of constant struggle to live hour by hour and day by day.

Don't be afraid to ask for help; talk to someone you trust about the way you feel.

Anniversaries

First anniversaries and anticipating anniversaries will be very hard, and unexpected and poignant feelings and reactions may take you by surprise. Think about how you want to approach these dates. It can be helpful to make a plan and agree how you will remember your son or daughter.

Other people's reaction

Some people, while meaning well, may say very clumsy things. They do not mean to hurt you further, but they can have no idea of the depth of your grief. They may, very tactlessly, try to find something 'positive' to advise, such as focusing attention on other children you may have, or by using unhelpful clich├ęs.

Tell them how you want them to react. If you want them to talk about your child, and to use his or her name, tell them.

Other children

Siblings' needs over months and years to talk about their brother or sister, and what happened, will change as they mature. You may find that much basic information is required, perhaps over and over again. Any child born into your family in the future should know about his or her brother or sister and be given the opportunity to ask and talk about him or her.

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