Coping With the Sudden Death of a Child

Keep the Family Bonded and Seek Help for Your Grief

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When someone close dies at an older age, people often take comfort celebrating their life and in knowing that death is part of the natural process of living. This is not so when dealing with the sudden death of your own child.

For parents who have lost a child, it makes no sense for life to end at such a young age - so quickly and without warning. If you are dealing with this type of loss in your family, here are some tips to help you and your family cope:

Stick Together

Stick together as a family and lean on each other for help. While everyone in the family will need to have their private time, you can find comfort in each other.

Family members can help you remember that you are not alone in your grief. Use the strength of your family's sense of belonging to help you manage your sorrow.

Accept Help

Be open to accepting help from extended family members or neighbors. Allow them to help you with meals, watching your other children when needed and being there to listen when you need to talk.

  • Day to day tasks still need to be done so, allow others to do them when they offer.
  • Seek help when you need it. Others may not know what you need but would be willing to help if you asked.

Seek Professional Help

It is important for many grieving parents to seek professional help to deal with your loss. Don't try and get through this on your own. Give your family their best chance to get through what most consider to be the hardest loss one can face.

Dr. Therese Rando, a psychologist and the Clinical Director of The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss in Warwick, Rhode Island, wrote in her article Coping with Sudden Death,

"In both sudden death and anticipated death, there is pain. However, while the grief is not greater in sudden death, the capacity to cope is diminished... The loss is so disruptive that recovery almost always is complicated."

A professional can help you find workable coping skills that will aid you in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Tips for "After the Casseroles Are Done"

I took a Death and Dying class my junior year in college and my professor defined two distinct time periods after a loss to explain different aspects of the grieving process. They were:

  • "Immediately Following the Death" to describe the time when extended family, friends, and community gather. When you have to deal with funerals and memorial services and there is lots of activity.
  • "After the Casseroles Are Done" describes the time when all of the food that was given to the family by neighbors and friends is gone. Everyone else gets back to life as they know it and the grieving family begins to face life without the one they lost.

He would say most people think that dealing with a loss of a child immediately following the death is the most heart-rending nightmare for anyone to ever have to face. They fail to realize that the family has to continue to cope with their nightmare after the casseroles are done.

A family who is facing the rest of their lives without the child they lost is dealing with one of the most trying times they could possibly face. Here are some tips that I hope will help if this is your situation:

Keep the lines of communication open. Talking to each other about your loss, the loved one who has died and what you are feeling will help the individuals of your family with their grief. It will also help your family's bonds remain strong or grow stronger.

Knowing that their family is still strong and solid will help your other children successfully go through their grieving process, as well.

Continue Seeing a Professional 

While getting help to see you through the initial shock of your loss is very important, it is also imperative to continue. You will need help with any unforeseen issues that the loss may cause.

Issues do crop up like a sibling's grades dropping, teen depression or a family member no longer wanting to live without the loved one who died. It is much easier to get help in these situations when you are already seeing a professional who knows what your family is going through.

Get Everyone Back Into Routines

This includes the daily routines of getting ready for school and work, having dinner together and family nights.It also includes re-entering hobbies and interests. For instance, if your teen is on the basketball team, they should go back to practice.

If the routine needs to be changed because your loved one is no longer there, acknowledge to the rest of the family that the change is needed and change it.

Provide Creative Outlets

Get everyone a journal or sketch pad and suggest that they use it when you see them feeling down. It often helps to express one's grief through the written word or by drawing.

When a grieving person has an outlet like this, it can help them understand what they are feeling and thereby help them to feel better in time.

Stay a Family

Be a family and remember your lost child is still a part of it. Everyone in your family will carry them in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Create a family tradition that will help you remember the good memories you had together.

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