Experiencing grief after your child has died

Experiencing grief after your child has died

Finding your way through the sadness and pain of the loss of a precious child is the toughest of tasks.

Key points to remember

  • the death of a child is a deep grief experience that goes beyond words
  • the loss affects bereaved parents emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and socially
  • there are different community groups and professionals able to provide support for you and your family, now and in the future. Consider using them

About grief

"It's overwhelming…I cry all the time".

You are probably reading this because a precious child that you love has died. Finding your way through the sadness and pain of loss is the toughest of tasks.

Some parents describe searching for their child who has died and question themselves for doing so. But such reactions are normal reactions to an awful and terrible event.

"I can't concentrate anymore - I think I am losing my mind".

Grief is the normal human response to loss. It helps us gradually work through and adjust to what's happened. At first the feelings can be very intense and overwhelming. You might even wonder if you are able to survive your grief. As a unique individual, with your own personality, you will need to grieve in a way that is comfortable for you. It's good to remember:

  • there are no 'right' or 'wrong' ways to experience grief
  • there's no secret method that will take your grief instantly away
  • there are no rules
  • there is no set timetable
  • grief isn't a test, a race or a competition
  • it might be hard to believe, but it does slowly get easier to handle

"My heart is broken and it actually feels like that….the pain is unbearable".
"It's like a constant whirlpool in my stomach".

Some common reactions newly bereaved parents and carers experience include:

  • shock, numbness, paralysis
  • disbelief
  • confusion
  • anger
  • blaming
  • guilt
  • sadness, distress
  • relief – for example, after a difficult illness or great pain
  • fear, panic
  • helplessness
  • searching and looking for the child
  • feeling faint or sick
  • not wanting to talk – wanting to talk
  • wanting to be with others – wanting to be alone
  • crying – unable to cry
  • sensing the child's presence or hearing their voice

We grieve because we love. Part of grieving is to find a way to keep loving, despite the sadness.

Continuing your bond with your child

"I carry his photograph in my wallet. Whenever I need strength I look at him. I remember his strength and determination and he inspires me".

For many bereaved parents the relationship with their child goes on. Many bereaved parents continue to talk to their child, or continue to celebrate special days, like their child's birthday. Bereaved parents may find that remembering their child brings them both comfort and pain. A single day can be filled with a thousand memories and each one can bring joy and sadness. Here are some bereaved parents' comments:

I carry his photograph in my wallet. Whenever I need strength I look at him. I remember his strength and determination and he inspires me.

I have given away a lot of her toys, but I still keep her special toys in the cupboard. I take them down and I remember her playing.

I had to go back to the hospital. I went up to the Ward. I had to see it again. I thought he might be there, of course I knew he wouldn't be.

On his anniversary we went down to the paddock and stood together. He loved to play down there. We didn't say much. Then we walked back up to the house.

Where to go for ongoing support for you and your family

There are different community groups and professionals able to provide support for you and your family, now and in the future. Consider using them – they are there to help people in tough times. Their support may make a big difference.

Bereavement counsellor

You or your family might consider visiting a trained grief counsellor or children’s therapist in your local area to work through the issues around your loss. For suggestions about who to contact ask your doctor, check your community phone directory, ask others you know or contact Skylight on 0800 299 100. You may also consider contacting your hospital or hospice counsellor.

Other support in your local community

This could be:

  • family support agencies
  • your doctor and primary health organisation
  • counsellor / community counselling agencies
  • Work and Income – for possible financial support
  • ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) – for financial support after accidental death
  • your school principal, class teacher, or special support staff
  • social worker, community worker, youth worker
  • marae based services
  • Pacific peoples or other cultural group support services
  • churches or faith groups
  • community mental health team

For details of these groups, ask your local Citizen's Advice Bureau – they know your community well and can suggest different groups that could assist you. 

Skylight

Provides a national support service for New Zealand children and young people who are experiencing change, loss and grief. There's a link to their website at the bottom of this page.

Support groups

Some communities have helpful support groups for people facing grief and loss, such as a bereaved parents support group. See if there is one in you region. Ask at your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau, your funeral director or see your local community directory. You can also see the support group listing on this website.

Telephone counselling lines

Telephone counselling lines such as the following, can be helpful when you may be feeling especially distressed – for example, at night. They can listen and be supportive.

  • Samaritans (only available in some areas; phone numbers in front few pages of your white pages phone book)
  • Lifeline (phone 24 hours; 0800 543 354 or for callers in the Auckland area 64 9 522 2999)
  • Youthline for young parents (phone 0800 376 633)

The content on this page has been developed by the Paediatric Society New Zealand in collaboration with Skylight. It is used here with the permission of Skylight. The content has been approved by the Paediatric Palliative Care Clinical Network. 
© Skylight 2017

This page last reviewed 13 April 2017.
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