Parents with empty arms know a unique kind of grief. Whether their child was stillborn, lost to miscarriage, stolen by SIDS, or taken by another tragedy, these parents live with a grief that never quite goes away.
If you are one of those parents, there is hope that your life can go on. You can establish a “new normal” on this road you never wanted to walk. Someday, you will smile more and cry less.
Let us share with you some of what we’ve learned about grief, which might help you along the journey.
Grief is Real, and Real Hard
You have a right to feel terribly, painfully sad when your child dies. That sadness may drag up other feelings as well: anger, denial, even numbness. (Read more about those feelings.) You will mourn this loss in your own way, at your own pace. And that’s okay.
Carrying a child through pregnancy—even partway through—made you an “expectant” parent. You expected to have a child, you started imagining life with that child, and you began to love that child. Now that child is missing from your life, and those expectations are shattered. No wonder you feel the way you do.
“The best way to process grief is to ride the roller coaster,” says Cynthia Fritz, a perinatal bereavement counselor who is herself the mother of a stillborn child. “Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, be there. Feel that.” It is hard, it is painful, and it is necessary to your complete recovery.
Grief is an emotional workout. Expect it to tire you and cause you pain. So get plenty of rest. Just know that if you will endure, the emotional work you’re doing can eventually make you a stronger and more compassionate person.
Create a Memorial
If you have ever previously lost a loved one, think about what helped you honor the good memories you had of that special person. Did a funeral allow you and others to say good-bye? Did keeping a special scrapbook or a memory box help you collect treasures that you valued? Did you give a gift to charity, plant a tree, or create a work of art in their memory?
Can you do something similar to honor the memory of your child?
Right after your child’s death, it will be hard to make such decisions. But don’t hesitate to collect mementos that mean something to you at the time: Baby’s last photo, a hospital bracelet, Grandma’s gift of a knit stocking cap, a recording of a song you associate with your child… As time passes, you may be inspired to do something more public, like light a candle at church or put a plaque bearing your child’s name on a park bench.
Do what helps you honor the precious one you’ve lost.
Helpful People May Not Help
Well-meaning people may try to tell you how you ought to grieve, or when it’s time you got over it. The fact is, this is your journey, and you get to decide how to walk this road.
“If someone says or does something that is not helpful or perhaps is even hurtful, you may wish to explain your feelings and discuss what does help,” says Dr. Charles A. Corr, Ph.D, former Chairperson of the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement. “Do not suffer in silence. Look out for yourself.”
Even your partner may not know how to act around you. Should they let you see them cry? Or should they avoid bringing “it” up? Be patient with each other. Allow each other to navigate your own unique journeys.
If you’re a single parent, you may hear comments like, “You couldn’t really afford a child anyway. So come on, let’s go get pizza. Now things can go back to normal.” How can those people know how much pregnancy has already changed you, and how much you’ve lost? They don’t realize there is no going back.
But there is going forward.
Life Without Your Child
Prepare to talk to people who haven’t heard the news yet. Find a brief way to explain what has happened. Then give those people room to feel sad, embarrassed, or uncomfortable in that moment. Thanking them for their concern may help ease the awkwardness.
Be gracious to others who are grieving, too—your partner, your other children, the child’s grandparents, your friends. They will have their own journeys to make. Allow them their responses. But do not accept blame or guilt–from yourself or others.
Keep communication open with your spouse or partner. Don’t let grief wedge itself into cracks in your relationship. Seek a wise counselor or life coach to help each of you process your feelings. Turn this crisis into an opportunity to connect on a deeper level than you ever have before.
Expect sadness to surprise you. Your grief may surface at the craziest times, sometimes triggered by a memory, sometimes for no reason at all. If you have to hide it at the moment—for instance, while driving—do so. But once you’re in an appropriate place, let the tears come. That’s part of finishing the work of grieving.
Finding a support group of people who have also lost children can be very helpful. Consider the Redwood Falls chapter of Compassionate Friends, a group created for bereaved parents like you. (Locate other area chapters here.)
Avoid making major changes during the early stages of grief. It will be easier to make wise decisions when you have had time to figure out who you are now and how your new life is going to look.
It Does Get Better
Grief, like a storm, will subside. Tears may still surprise you now and then, but you will reach a point where you realize you are thinking more clearly, you are laughing and smiling more often, and you are at a deeper level of peace.
At Choices Pregnancy Center, we care about parents and their children
before, during, and after pregnancy.
Our compassionate staff is ready to listen to your story at any stage of your journey.
We can also connect you with other people in our community
who can help you move toward healing.
A complete look at grief over a child’s death: https://healgrief.org/grieving-the-death-of-a-child/
The feelings that go with grief: https://bereavedparentsusa.org/find-help/for-the-newly-bereaved/
One mother’s experience: https://abedformyheart.com/7-things-since-loss-of-child/
How to help a grieving parent: https://www.funeralwise.com/grief/child/
How to help yourself when your child has died: http://www.dignitymemorial.com/en-us/library/article/name/gml-when-your-child-has-died