Losing a child is not something parents know how to prepare themselves for because we think it's natural our children will outlive us.
Loss is an inevitable part of life but there are some tragedies we hope that we don't get to see in our lifetime, like the loss of a child. After all, most of us assume that our child will far outlive us but it's not always the case. It doesn't matter how old the child is, the pain of losing them hits hard nevertheless.
"One of the unique features about losing a child is that there is always a sense of guilt there," Cadmona A. Hall, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist was quoted by Vice as saying. "The role of being a parent is to keep your child present and on this earth and healthy and well, so regardless of the circumstances, mothers often feel like they failed. It's such a huge burden to carry. That's a myth that I think a lot of women hear: The fact that having children, and having healthy children, is just normal, natural. But people experience losses more often than we realize. They're just scared to talk about it, or feel a lot of shame around it."
Apart from this, there are some difficult things that those who have lost a child realise the hard way:
For as long as they are alive, they will miss their child and will wonder about the "what ifs". They will always mourn their child because there is no way to move on from a loss like this. It is very difficult to move away from the sharp pain that comes from remembering their child. The pain may dull but it's possible that it will always be a part of who they are. Losing a child is a life-altering incident and every missed birthday and other milestones, are only a sharp reminder. Even remaining or future kids can't bridge the gaping hole left by a lost child.
The shame and guilt of not being able to keep one's child safe might be a hard thing to overcome but there are things that are just out of people's control. There may be moments when people think that they are drowning in their grief. Thanks to technology, people have been able to connect with each other through forums, social media groups, and other ways. People are able to build community with those who have gone through something similar.
"The first year after losing a younger child, a parent is at an increased risk for suicide and everything from major depression to complicated grief," Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, told Fatherly. In such moments, it is important to ask for help and learn to lean on others, whether it's a spouse, a sibling, friend, or anyone else. Eventually, they realize that asking for help was the hardest and bravest thing they did.
There is no set formula for what grief should feel like. People have different coping mechanisms and all of them need to be normalized if they are not based on self-harm. "One of the biggest things that I do from the beginning is let people know that they are not going crazy and that their experiences are normal. That's huge. There's no right or wrong way to grieve," said Hall.
Those who go through complicated grief experience "more intense symptoms, alternating with seemingly no symptoms — a numbness — which potentially impairs their ability to function," as per Saltz. In such cases, it is important to not let the person feel that they are "different" but that pain is normal in a circumstance like this.
The empty seat at the table will always be a haunting reminder of the person who is no longer there. Their empty room and their place in the family photos can't be filled by anyone else. It always feels that there is an empty space in a parent's life no matter how they try to fill it. As a parent, people might remember their child's favorites and might dwell on how they can't give them those things anymore. Grief shows up in strange ways and people going through such a tough time shouldn't be told to "move on" or "buckle up" because it's not fair to them. Invalidating their pain just brings them more pain and eventually they might push away the person who is telling them such things. It can just make them feel lonelier instead let the one in grief lead the way.
Disclaimer: This article is based on insights from different sources. The views expressed here are those of the writer.