HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsWhen your child dies . . .

When your child dies . . .

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Your child has died. You are now faced with the difficult, but important, need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your child.

It is an essential part of healing.

With the death of your child, your hopes, dreams and plans for the future are turned upside down.

You re-beginning a journey that is often frightening, painful, and overwhelming.

The death of a child results in the most profound bereavement.

In fact, sometimes your feelings of grief may be so intense that you do not understand what is happening.

Your grief is unique.

The unique child you loved and cared for deeply has died.

No one, including your spouse, will grieve in exactly the same way you do.

Your grief journey will be influenced not only by the relationship you had with your child, but also circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background.

As a result, you will grieve in your own unique way.

Don’t try to compare your experience with that of others or adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last.

Feeling dazed or numb when your child dies may well be part of your early grief experience.

You may feel as if the world has suddenly come to a halt.

This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you.

You may feel you are in a dream-like state and that you will wake up and none of this will be true.

These feelings of numbness and disbelief help insulate you from the reality of the death until you are more able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.

Because the more natural order is for parents to precede their children in death, you must re-adapt to a new and seemingly illogical reality.

This shocking reality says that even though you are older and have been the protector and provider, you have survived while your child has not.

This can be so difficult to comprehend. You may feel impotent and wonder why you couldn’t have protected your child from death.

The death of your child can result in a variety of emotions.

Confusion, disorganisation, fear, guilt, anger and relief are just a few of the emotions you may feel.

Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.

As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings.

And don’t be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times.

These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued.

Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired.

And your low energy level may naturally slow you down.

Don’t expect yourself to be as available to your spouse, surviving children, and friends as you might otherwise be.

Respect what you body and mind is telling you. Nurture yourself. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean you are feeling sorry for yourself. It means you are using survival skills.

When you share your grief outside yourself, healing occurs.

Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better.

Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head.

Comments some people make in attempts to diminish your loss, can be extremely painful for you to hear.

Comments like, “you are holding up so well”; “time heals all wounds” ; “think of what you have to be thankful for” ; or “you have to be strong for others” are not constructive. While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to accept them.

Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much.

But the most compassionate self-action you can do at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of a child.

You will always remember.

Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends.

Keep in mind that memories can be tinged with both happiness and sadness.

If your memories bring laughter, smile.

If your memories bring sadness, then it’s alright to cry. Memories that were made in love, no one can take them away from you.

You may want to collect some important keepsakes that help you treasure your memories.

You may want to create a memory book, which is a collection of photos that represent your child’s life.

Some people create memory boxes to keep special keepsakes in.

Then, whenever you want, you can open your memory box and embrace those special memories.

The reality that your child has died does not diminish your need to have these objects.

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you.

Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs.

If you are angry at God because of the death of your child, realise this feeling as a normal part of your grief work.
Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feeling you need to explore.

Express your faith, but express your grief as well.

To restore your capacity to love you must grieve when your child dies.

Denying your grief will only make it become more confusing and overwhelming.

Embrace your grief and heal. Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly.

Remember, grief is a process, not an event.

Be patient and tolerant with yourself.

Never forget that the death of your child changes your life forever.

It’s not that you won’t be happy again; it’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the child died.

The experience of grief is powerful.

So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal.

In doing the work of grieving, you are moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

Chomi Makina is the president of the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers and Group Chief Executive Officer for Moonlight and Mashfords.

Contact: clmakina@yahoo.com, twitter.com/clmakina

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