Nature of grief
No one knows how they will feel or react after the death of a child. It can feel as though your whole world has come crashing down, and everything that was previously known and familiar has collapsed. People describe a ‘rollercoaster’ of emotions, ranging from numbness to turbulent anger, feelings of guilt and profound sadness to perhaps a certain relief.
Some parents may wonder if they will ever feel positive or happy again. It is important for families to trust their own instincts about what is right for them as individuals. Other family members and friends may experience or express grief differently, which can be difficult. Children grieve in different ways to adults and the bereavement needs of brothers and sisters and other children need to be recognised and supported.
Finding a way through grief
Child Bereavement UK has the following guidance for parents and carers
- Go gently with yourself. Grieving is exhausting, but it is survivable. As human beings, we have deep resources inside ourselves to heal and move forward, if we only allow ourselves the time to express the pain first. It can be especially difficult for parents, grandparents and carers to look after themselves at this time.
- Taking some exercise, such as going for a walk, may help you feel less tired and tense. Parents need to be encouraged to make a little time to do something that they enjoy.
- Many people find they are helped when they give themselves time to express their feelings. Talking or writing are just two ways to do this. Talking could be with friends and family or with doctors, nurses and professionals who knew and cared for your child. It could be with a helpline, or befriender from a local support group; or with a local religious leader or chaplain or counsellor. More details are given at the end of this section.
- Grief is not about forgetting the person who has died, but about finding ways to remember them and take their memory forward with you in life. Finding ways to remember your child can take time, as many familiar objects will be poignant and painful, but over time you may find that, for example, you can revisit and add to the memory box which you perhaps began shortly after the time of death.
- There are no rules in grief; these guidelines may or may not help. You are your best guide. Listen to yourself; learn what works for you and what drives you crazy. Accept that what helps initially may not do so as time goes by.
- Whatever happens, try and be kind to yourself, give yourself time to heal, and trust that, although it may initially feel impossible, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Supporting bereaved children
Winston's Wish has the following reminders for parents and carers in supporting bereaved children:
- Remember that ‘super parents’ don’t exist. Just do what you can, when you can. Be gentle on yourself.
- There is more than one way to support your children. Choose the things that you feel most comfortable with.
- Accept that some things just can’t be ‘made better’ in a short space of time.
- Talk to children using words they understand and ask questions to check they have understood you.
- Give information a bit at a time if your children are younger. Pieces of the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ can be put together over time to make the complete picture.
- Show children how you are feeling: it helps them to know that it’s OK to show their feelings too.
- Encourage children to ask questions and keep answering them – even if it’s for the 100th time.
- Answer questions honestly and simply; and be willing to say ‘I don’t know’.
- Try to find ways in which children can be involved.
- Keep talking about the person who has died.
- Trust yourself and your instincts – you haven’t forgotten how to parent your child.
- Look after yourself too.
Where you can get help and support in bereavement
National organisations such as Child Bereavement UK and Winston’s Wish have a great more information on their websites, and both have helplines which you can ring. Child Bereavement UK has an app for teenagers as well.
They also have more detailed information on specific aspects of bereavement, such as the different ways in which men and women grieve; going back to school and work; ways of handling birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions.
There are other national organisations, such as Together for Short Lives and Compassionate Friends, whose websites have useful information. You can also call the Child Death Helpline.