by Nat Juchems
Loss of a child is something that most of us will experience in our lives, but many will never feel the pain and trauma of losing a child.
It’s often referred to as the ultimate tragedy; the passing of a child is something that no parent ever expects to have to go through. It’s a harrowing experience which leaves bereaved parents with an inexplicable level of grief that cannot be understood by those how have never been through it.
Aside from the intense sorrow and pain, grieving the untimely loss of their child is not the only obstacle they will face. Usually, parents have to rediscover themselves as bereaved and adjust to their new lives without one of their children.
Although it’s a myth that the death of a child often leads to divorce (in fact, only 16% of such marriages do, and the strength of the relationship prior to their child’s passing is usually a culprit too) dealing with a loss of such magnitude can put immense pressure on couples.
One major reason for this is the level of support you receive from one another after tragedy hits. Ordinarily, when a loved one dies, it usually affects one member of the couple more than the other; if a wife’s mother dies, the husband is likely to be less affected thus will act as the support system, and vice versa. But when a child dies, both parties are equally affected and hence the support system falls down. Both partners need support from the other but are unable to effectively give it.
Sometimes, one partner does take on the role of supporter though but it’s usually to their own detriment in the long run as they don’t properly deal with their feelings.
While there are no clear-cut ways to deal with the loss of a child, one thing that remains true is that you are in this together, and as such, there are a few things you can do to help one another through.
Loss of a Child: Don’t Play The Blame Game
When a child dies under the watch of one of the parents, it’s easy for the other to feel a sense of resentment. This not only multiplies the pain and anguish felt by the ‘on-duty’ parent, it also ensures that the ‘blaming’ parent is not properly dealing with their emotions surrounding their loss. It’s also important to realize that you don’t have to openly blame someone for them to feel your resentment towards them!
What’s more, the parent who was on watch when your child passed is probably harboring intense feelings of guilt regardless. So, as part of helping them through their grieving process,
not only must you refrain from directing any blame towards them, you must also ease their feelings of guilt by reassuring them that they had no part to play.
Meet Other Bereaved Parents
Losing a child brings about a level of pain that is unique from any other form of grief, and it’s not understood to its full degree by anyone other than those who have experienced it.
For that reason, seeking out the support or advice from other bereaved parents is a great step you can take for coping with your grief. Whether it’s at a local support group or through mutual friends, this kind of activity not only helps you during your time of need but it keeps you bonded as a couple too; it almost becomes a form of couple’s therapy.
Make A Practical Effort To Remember Your Child
After the death of a child, many parents choose to keep everything as it was when their child was alive. From bedrooms to clothing and everything in between, it’s common for couples to keep their child immortalized in time by keeping their favorite things under lock and key.
While that is great for a time, many parents become extremely protective over these items and it causes great upset to them if anything is moved, touched or changed. To combat these feelings of anxiety towards hanging on to the things that remind you of your child, bringing a dedicated memorial piece into the mix can be extremely soothing.
Some parents choose to start a new tradition. Some plant a tree. Some prominently display a keepsake urn. There are so many things that you can do, but the key is to implement something new. You’ll be actively taking steps to cope with your grief as the old items belonging to your child won’t hold such a strong power over you.
Unite Don’t Fight
It’s important to remember that your grief is your partner’s grief. Whatever you’re feeling, they’re feeling too. That said, people show grief in different ways and it’s easy for one partner to feel like they’re in it alone if the other is not being perceived to be displaying grief in an acceptable way. If one partner spends all their time crying while the other tends to spend moments in quiet reflection, this is not an indicator of indifference, it’s one of coping method difference.
Furthermore, it’s very common to displace anger after the loss of a child and direct it to your partner. Arguments can ensue where they wouldn’t normally and it’s vital you catch yourself when you do this, pull yourself back and talk to your partner about your feelings. That said, it’s often very difficult for the person displacing the anger to recognize this so if the other partner can identify it and realize what’s happening, a situation can be diffused and a conversation about real feelings can occur.
Understand That Grief Doesn’t Have An End Date
Although coping with the loss of a child does become more manageable, the grief you’ll feel will be a lifelong emotion. It’s important for couples who have experienced this loss to acknowledge it.
Generally, a tragedy of this magnitude can create an incredible bond of mutual understanding between couples and talking about your loss in the years to come will do a lot to strengthen it.
You may find that one partner simply does not want to talk about it though, while the other feels that they must. In these situations, both partners need to be sensitive to one another’s needs. Couple’s bereavement counseling or one-on-one counseling for the partner who wants to talk about it is a great option.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have lost a child and for that, I offer my deepest condolences. Dealing with your loss will be one of the most difficult things that most couples will ever go through, but just know that divorce is absolutely not inevitable (quite the opposite) and many couples emerge stronger after such a difficult experience.
Every Thursday we publish “AfterTalk Inspirational.” We invite readers to submit their own poem, essay, or suggestions for inspirational quotes for publication. If you are a therapist you are welcome to extend this invitation to your clients as well. Please send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org