What Is Child Loss?
The loss of a child is unbearable. That's about the only word one can come up with to put it nicely in a one-word-package. But the pain one experiences when their child - their living, breathing baby or toddler or older child - leaves this Earth is just that. It's the most unnatural, unfair, painful experience one can endure.
Whether your child dies from an infection, SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child), pediatric cancer or an accident, the end result is the same. Grief, questions, pain, emptiness and often guilt - and the feeling of a limb being missing, because, well, it is missing.
- Neonatal Death is defined as when a baby dies within the first 28 days of life. In the United States in 2006, about 19,000 babies died in their first month.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome- (SIDS) is the unexpected, sudden death of a child under age 1 in which an autopsy does not show an explainable cause of death.
- Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood (SUDC) is the sudden and unexpected death of a child over the age of 12 months, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation is conducted.
- Childhood Cancer affects over 12,000 children each year in the United States. An average of 46 children are diagnosed with cancer a day and 7 children will die each day. One in 300 children will develop some form of cancer before their 20th birthday.
Loss is the involuntary separation from something we have possessed and perhaps even treasured, or someone we love and care about.
Everyone experiences a loss at some point in their lives - whether or not it is major or minor. Loss is universal.
Loss involves emotional pain. Significant losses produce emotional upheaval. Loss requires change and uncertainty and adjustments to situations that are new, unchosen and uncertain.
There is no right or wrong way to feel after you experience a loss. Minor losses such as the loss of an opportunity, may bring feelings of frustration, disappointment, or anger. Major losses can lead to similar feelings, overwhelming feelings, sadness, pain, or numbness.
You do not have to be "strong" after a loss to protect others around you. Expressing emotion is how the body and mind process and relieve the pressure of intense or overwhelming emotions. Crying or expressing other emotions does not make you less of a person. It is also not uncommon for people to feel numb. People who don't cry may still be feeling the effects of a loss. Everyone expresses their pain differently.
No one can tell you how you should feel about something. Anyone who tries to tell you that how you are feeling is wrong is wrong.
Sudden Losses are losses that happen due to accidents, crimes or suicides, that do not give us any time to prepare. These type of losses often shake us to the core, making us question the stability of life. The loss can feel immediate, severe, and agonizing. It can be difficult to sort through many emotions and feelings at the same time, and it may take time and space to adjust to the loss.
Predictable Losses, like those due to terminal illness, allow for us to prepare for the loss. This type of loss also creates two layers of grief: anticipatory grief (the grief related to the anticipation of the loss) and the grief related to the loss itself.
One reason loss is so difficult is that it can be permanent. As humans, our lives are so fluid that the idea of permanence can be difficult to grasp. Further, if your life is structured around the person, object, or concept lost, it can be difficult to adjust to new patterns and routines.
How to Cope With Loss:
Grief is one of the most common reactions to a loss. There are typically five stages of grief:
These stages may happen in any order, at any time, or not at all. Some people feel some but not all of the stages of grief. Because there is not a typical loss and each situation is different, it is hard to figure out what a "typical reaction" is. Some people feel:
- Shock and disbelief - difficulty accepting what happened, numbness
- Sadness - one of the more common feelings experienced. This may also be emptiness, despair, loneliness, and crying
- Guilt - Things you said, shouldn't have said, or wanted to say, not preventing the death
- Anger - feelings of anger and resentment
- Physical symptoms - aches, pains, headaches, nausea, changes in sleep or weight
However you are feeling, it can be overwhelming and out of control. One way to manage intense emotions is to observe them, describe them, and label your emotions. Sometimes putting a name to your emotion can help you express it. Also remember that we experience emotions like a wave- the emotion will build, crest and recede.
Talk to friends and family who love you and make you feel good about yourself. Lean on people who love you and care about you.
Don't expect that you're going to "get over it." The only way to "get over" a loss is to go through the stages of grieving. There's no reason to try to be the strong one - just let yourself feel however you feel.
Write about it. Sometimes the act of writing down how you're feeling can help solidify those feelings and help you to grieve your loss. Let yourself feel the loss. The only way to get through a loss is to go through the stages of grief. You can't bypass it, no matter how much you'd like to. Sit with your feelings and acknowledge them.
Talk to a therapist or grief counselor - someone who is trained to help you get through your grief.
Exercise - exercise releases endorphins, which are the "feel-good" hormones.
Don't minimize your own loss. If it was a loss, it was a loss. Losses are meant to be grieved.
Don't compare your loss to others' loss. It's apples and oranges. You feel a loss how you feel it, not how someone else feels it.
Be sure to take care of yourself. Go through your daily hygiene routines, get up and do something.
IT'S OKAY TO BE SAD!
What to Say or Not to Say to Someone Who Has Lost a Child:
If you found this page because you have a friend or family member who has lost a child, thank you for caring. The fact that you want to know what to say to him or her shows how much you care. Below is a post that will give you some insight into what you should and shouldn't say.
But You Can Have Another Baby: What to say and what NOT to say to grieving parents by Jana Anthoine on Band Back Together
The Band Back Together resource page, How to Help Someone Who Has Lost a Child, provides additional insights and ways to help a loved one cope with the loss.
Neonatal Loss Reference Facts Sheet- (from March of Dimes)
Glow in the Woods- Community of Baby Loss Bloggers
How to Plan a Baby's Funeral- From the Glow in the Woods Bloggers
Still Standing Magazine - an online magazine focusing on encouraging women, men and even children to embrace life, connecting hearts around the world who have similar life experiences and becoming a resource for friends, family and even medical professionals, to know how to support someone enduring child loss and/or infertility.
The Compassionate Friends- The Compassionate Friends organization provides online and in person support for families who have lost a child, regardless of their age. They provide local chapter meetings, candlelight memorials and grief support for siblings and grandparents.
First Candle- First Candle has resources for parents, grandparents and friends to help deal with the the grief of the loss of a child. They offer grief counselors 24/7.
Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Program- The SUDC Program was created to be a centralized resource for those affected by a sudden unexpected death in childhood, whose cause is left undetermined, unclear or unexplained. The site offers counselors for all family members, a huge database of resources and many articles.
The National Sudden and Unexpected Infant/Child Death Resource Center- A long name of a wonderful group that provides a lot of information about a wide array of child loss topics.
Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child Fact Sheet - Full of fabulous information and statistics on SUDC.
CJ Foundation for SIDS - The CJ Foundation for SIDS is a central resource for those who have suffered a loss from SIDS.
CURE Childhood Cancer - A wonderful organization dedicated to help families who are going through cancer treatments and diagnoses with their child. It's a wonderful resource for family members and other caregivers as well.
Grieving Dads - A wonderful site with a blog, designed specifically for grieving fathers.
Grieving the Loss of a Child - ways to grieve and remember children of different ages
Living, Loving and Losing a Son - Help for grieving parents after the unexpected death of their child.
Grieving Siblings - Thoughts on siblings grieving the loss of their brother or sister.