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Nothing is more devastating than the death of a child. Families wonder how they will ever survive the loss. While parents never stop thinking about or missing their child, grief changes over time. Parents describe that the intense, raw grief of the early days becomes softer and more manageable. However, each person's experience of grief is different. Grief does not follow a predictable course or pattern. One day may feel like progress. The next day the simplest tasks might be overwhelming. Other times family members are surprised and may even feel a bit guilty when they are able to laugh again. These feelings and responses are normal.
Grief is a normal response to losing a loved one, and it is a very individual process. Everyone grieves differently, for different lengths of time, and with different intensity. There is no standard set of emotions after the loss of a child. Some common feelings and responses include:
While everyone grieves, people experience grief differently. Within a family, spouses may have very different reactions. Children and adolescents follow their own grief paths as well, experiencing loss in ways that range from crying and sadness to misbehavior and even guilt. These are all normal feelings.
Mental health professionals, including psychologists, counselors, and social workers, can be an important source of help during grief. Seeking help does not mean there is anything wrong with how a person is grieving. For some families, a mental health professional can simply provide extra support. Grieving parents and siblings often worry that friends and family members will get tired of hearing about their grief. With a counselor, they can be free to share without that worry. A mental health professional can offer a safe place to talk about feelings and provide resources to help parents and siblings cope more effectively.
Sometimes family members may have symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Specific thoughts and feelings that should be discussed with a mental health professional include:
Get help right away if there are thoughts of harming self or others:
Connecting Through Grief When a Child Dies is a podcast created at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital by parents who have experienced the death of a child. Each episode in this first series focuses on a different aspect of early grief.
Reviewed: April 2022