What to expect
Following the death of a loved one, 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 and you wonder if you are going mad. It is very likely that, despite the nature of the emotions you are experiencing, which may be strong and frightening, you are reacting normally to the bereavement you have suffered.
It is also likely that other people around you may be feeling similar emotions. For example, if you have other children they will also have equally strong feelings and may need a trusted person or friend in whom to confide.
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 such as:
- 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.
Ways of coping
Some parents will need to talk about the child’s death over and 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.
The greatest difficulty may be experienced where one parent needs to talk, and the other cannot listen or express their own feelings.
It is very common for partners only to have energy for their own grief and be temporarily unable to help each other. 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 at the hospital may be helpful, or you may find support through the hospital Social Work department, your GP, Health Visitor, or child’s teacher.
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 at the time of your child’s death, do not be afraid to ask for help; talk to someone you trust about the way you feel. You may also have difficult times as the days and weeks and months go one and the anticipation of anniversaries may be especially difficult. Unexpected and poignant feelings and reactions may take you by surprise and again, don’t be afraid to get help.