Losing a child is one of the worst things that a parent can experience. We offer advice on how you can support someone who has lost a child, at whatever age.
A parent’s grief
Parents expect to die before their children. The grief that comes from the death of a child is like no other. In a child there are parts of the parents’ life, their emotions, joys, fears and hopes for the future.
When a child dies, whether they are 14 or 40, part of the parent will die with them. When a child dies, parents have overwhelming feelings of fear and disbelief. It may take some time for parents to accept the loss of their child. You need to have a great deal of patience.
We all grieve differently. Some people find it helps to talk about their child all the time. Others may only be able to cope by pushing their feelings to the back of their mind.
The loss of an only child
For parents whose only child dies, their grief may seem even more unbearable. They cannot console themselves with the thought that their other children need them, however small that comfort may be.
Other children in the family
For some parents the loss of one child can bring them closer to their other children. It may also make them overprotective and anxious. It is not unusual for other children in the family to go through a period of ill health after the death of a brother or sister (for example, coughs, colds or rashes). They may each claim to have been closer to the child who died, in an effort to come to terms with the situation.
The loss of an adult child
The grief is felt just as deeply whatever the child’s age. Parents naturally expect to die before their children. Also, other more practical problems may arise. For example, the parents of the child who has died may have to take on the role of the parents of their grandchildren. The parents may inherit from the child and this could increase their feelings of guilt if they feel they have profited from their child’s death.
Birthdays and special days
These will be a painful reminder of a lost life. A new wave of grief may be experienced each year, although as time passes it may become easier to deal with.
How can I help?
Helping parents share precious moments and memories of their child’s life may give them some strength and comfort. It is also important to be specific with offers of help, for example, “Can I do the shopping tomorrow?” or “Can I do the ironing for you?”
Other practical ways you can help include telling the school or employer of the death of their pupil or employee. You could also help by sending a copy of the death certificate to the relevant official departments, for example, the Child Benefit Office or Inland Revenue. It is important not to intrude, as parents may want to do this themselves.
Visit our Helpful organisations page if you would like further advice on how to help someone who has suffered a loss.