Understanding your pain of losing a child
The death of a child can feel overwhelming, and you may feel a mixture of emotions. It is important to know, that there is no standard way of experiencing loss, and no right way to grieve. It is completely normal to feel shock, guilt, anger, relief, despair and many other different emotions. There are some things you can do, that may help you to cope and there are people who can support you, if you need it, so don’t feel awkward about reaching out for help.
When your child dies, your feelings will be influenced by many different things, including your relationships, what happened in the lead up to their death and the support around you. Your feelings are also likely to be influenced by your personality, level of resilience, your cultural background, and any religious beliefs you might have. It is important to know that what is normal is different for each person.
Having lost your child, you are no doubt facing a range of turbulent thoughts and feelings. You are perhaps wondering where you are up to in the stages of grief and what else may be in store for you as you travel through the grieving process.
How you are feeling, what you are thinking, and how you are reacting, can depend on:
- Your personal circumstances
- The circumstances surrounding the death of your child
- Your relationship with your child
- Your background, beliefs, life experiences etc.
- The help and support you receive from others
Some things you may be experiencing as part of your grieving process, could be...overwhelm, sadness, anger, guilt, feelings of isolation and denial etc.
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages of coping in the classic book On Death and Dying. This has since become the best-known model of grief. So let’s look at this in more detail.
The stages have been abbreviated as DABDA and stand for:
- D - Denial
- A - Anger
- B - Bargaining
- D - Depression
- A - Acceptance
The five stages of the Kübler-Ross model are the best-known description of the emotional and psychological responses that many people experience when faced with a life-threatening illness, life-changing situation or a death. Kübler-Ross later explained that the theory was never meant to be linear, nor can it be applied to all persons. Not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-changing event feels all five of the responses, nor will everyone who does experience them necessarily do so in the order given. Reactions to illness, death, and loss, are as unique as the person experiencing them.
The important thing to remember is that some people will experience all of the stages, some in order and some not, while other people may only experience a few of the stages or even get stuck in one, this is where they may need help to move forward with their life.
The Image below represents the 5 stages and shows how you can actually be in multiple stages at any one moment in time, or even all five.
It's also interesting to note that the way a person has handled adversity in the past will likely affect how a person deals with a loss. For example, a woman who always avoided adversity and used denial to cope with tragedy in the past may find herself stuck in the denial stage of coping for a long time. Similarly, a man who uses anger to deal with difficult situations may find himself unable to move out of the anger stage of coping.
Understanding these stages, can actually help you realise that they are perfectly normal and part of the grieving process, however, it is when you get stuck in any one stage for a prolonged period of time, this is a sign that you may need to seek help. Please do feel free to book a time to chat with me.
Denial is a psychological strategy of protection. Your mind refuses to accept what has happened in an attempt to reject the painful reality of your grief. Denial distorts reality to keep it from you and protect you from feeling the pain and truth about your child's death which you do not want to face.
As the reality of loss is hard to face, one of the first reactions to follow the loss is denial. You might try to shut out the reality or magnitude of the situation, and you may develop a false, preferable version of reality. Our minds can't catch up with the reality, so we go to a comfortable reality.
Disbelief is a part of the denial stage. It’s not that you don`t know your child is dead, it’s that you can’t believe it; probably because you don't want to – it is unimaginable to most people. Disbelief is part reflex and part coping mechanism. You might involuntarily go to do something and then get hit with a reality check. You might use disbelief as a survival skill. Rather than deal with a painful absence it can be easier to imagine your child is just at school. You might even wake up every morning hoping and even half believing that their death was a bad dream, even though you know deep down that’s not true.
No matter how your denial manifests, you will in time come to realise that your child has gone physically, but you can still be with them in spirit and embrace your new relationship for the amazing gift that it is. You can have a soul connection; your child is part of you and for that reason, I believe they are in your heart forever and you have an intuitive connection with them.
Anger may show that you are moving out of a black hole and are able to express your feelings again. There is no right or wrong with anger, nor does it need to be logical. It just is. The realization that your hopes, dreams, and well-laid plans aren't going to come about, can bring anger and frustration.
- Anger might be directed at the deceased for dying and leaving you. There may be things left unsaid or regrets of what has been said, that cannot be taken back
- Your anger might be directed at your God for being so cruel and taking your child
- Anger might be directed at others. This may be because they are alive and your child is not. Projecting anger onto others is also a form of denial. It is sometimes easier to blame others than it is to accept your own anger or be angry with the deceased person
- Anger and hostility might be directed at the family for not being able to provide emotional support
- Anger might be directed inwards for what we feel we may have done or did not do to change the situation. We then may establish self-punishing behaviours such as drug or alcohol abuse or even thoughts of self-harm. It is important to find appropriate ways to release anger because long-term anger can actually lead to dis-ease of a physical nature
Anger is expressed in different ways; people can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them and sometimes this anger is directed out at the world and at random. Thankfully, for most people, this stage of coping is short-lived, however, some people will continue in anger for years and this can lead to severe issues for them, both mentally and physically.
Anger does not serve you, and the techniques I work with can help you to release it. Sometimes it may feel that being angry provides a link to your child, as it is a really strong intense emotion; but would you not rather feel a strong positive connection with your child?
Through EAM I've learned this, worked with the techniques and released my own ‘heavy’ emotions - and I can show you how to do this too, so feel free to Book a call with me to see if this would help you.
When denial and anger don't have the intended outcome, many people will move on to bargaining. If you were (or are) in the situation I was in with a terminally ill child, you might have made bargains with your ‘God’ before they died. You can make all forms of promises to change, be good, help others if God/source will let them live. You might agree to live a good life, help the needy, never lie again, or any number of ‘good’ things if the ‘higher power’ will only cure them of their illness or bring them back.
If you think about death in general and how people question their own mortality you will see again, how bargaining can play a part. For example, some people might bargain with doctors, or with the illness itself. They may try to negotiate more time saying things like, “If I can just live long enough to see my daughter get married” or “If only I could ride my motorcycle one more time.” The implied return favour is that they would not ask for anything more if only the wish was granted. People who enter this stage quickly learn that bargaining doesn't work and inevitably move on, usually to the depression stage.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, who, if it were possible would have swapped places with their child. Even twenty-four years after his passing, I would swap places in an instant if it were possible so Adam could come back and be with his two brothers and I would take his place. However, this does not mean I do not wish to be here, I believe it’s just the deepness of a mother’s love; that you would do anything for your child.
“I’m so sad, why bother with anything?” and “I miss my child, why go on?” “What’s the point of me being here, I just want to be with my child!” are often things said, or at least thought and felt, by a grieving parent. This stage allows the grieving person to disconnect from feelings of love and affection, possibly in an attempt to avoid further trauma. Feeling these emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.
Depression is a normal part of grief and can come at any time. It will often come after the major trauma, and upheaval of the death has passed, into fatigue. You now realise that it really did happen and that your child has died. This is also a time where some of you might withdraw and get stuck in your isolation and this is the time to seek help from a professional, feel free to book a call with me.
While grief and depression share similar symptoms, they are not the same. You can grieve without being depressed and without your grief leading to depression. The symptoms of grief are a normal and healthy part of the healing process. It is also normal for us to have low moods and feel depressed from time to time. However, if that depressive low feeling lasts for a considerable length of time, and if you are struggling to maintain normal daily routines and functioning, you may be suffering from depression. We grieve for the loss of someone or something. Yet depression is how we feel about ourselves, a general sense of low personal value and unworthiness.
Depression and grief might be linked depending on personal circumstances and individual vulnerability to depression. You could be vulnerable in some way, if, for example, you have a previous history of depression, a genetic vulnerability to depression, unresolved pain and depression of previous generations, intense grief and depressive symptoms for a considerable time, limited support networks and/or minimal previous experience of death. All these vulnerabilities can contribute to depression.
What is Depression?
Depression is a serious mental illness which can persist and significantly interfere with your day to day ability to function. It has been suggested that depression is the result of believing that personal value and self-worth is attached to proving that we can beat life by achieving goals. Depression is a subconscious state of mind where a person reaches the point of believing that their major life-achieving goal is no longer possible and that the person believes their chance of ever proving their value is gone, along with any chance of ever receiving their requirements for development.
A society based on achievement, tells us that we can do anything and obtain anything we desire if we try hard enough. I believe if you get in flow you can control your life and your experiences in the world. The wisdom of grief and depression tells us that if you are flexible and change your desires and goals from time to time, you can fit in with, and accept the changes of life.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Clinical depression can be like a pervasive and persistent sadness. It might make it difficult to maintain responsibilities and even difficult to maintain employment.
Other symptoms of depression can include:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Sleeping patterns being disrupted
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Motor skills may be slower and limited energy
- Loss of motivation and difficulty concentrating
- Fluctuating appetite or weight
- Inability to enjoy things that once gave pleasure
- Persistent sad mood and frequent bouts of crying
- Small incidents might cause considerable upset
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering
- Difficulty expressing anger. Often turning emotions inward
If you feel that your grief has in fact turned into depression it is important to seek help and an assessment from a health professional.
Sadness and guilt stem from experiences of loss. It can help to realise that you are not responsible for all that happens in life. You did all that you could do. The techniques I work with can help you release guilt and anger which can energetically release you from your depression.
Accepting change, being open to learning and understanding new information, and by trusting that there is a purpose in everything, may also help you through times of depression.
Acceptance is reaching an understanding of the reality of the death. You are no longer resisting the facts, your current situation, thoughts, behaviours and emotions. You may continue to miss your child and be sad from time to time, however, you now realise that they have died, that death is part of life and you need to move forward with your life, without your child.
Kübler-Ross, E. On Death and Dying. 1969. New York, NY: Scribner Publishers.
DABDA. Urban Slang Dictionary. Available at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dabda
Others have identified additional Phases of Grief, these include:
Freud refers to three specific phases in the mourning process which have been identified as:
- The loss of the loved one (or object)
- Withdrawal of energy into the self
- Gradual reinvestment of the withdrawn energy into new people, objects or activities
Each individual is unique, as are your relationships, life experiences, personal circumstances, the circumstances surrounding the death and your established coping mechanisms for dealing with such a trauma. All these aspects influence the intensity and the stages of grief that you will experience through your grieving process.
When dealing with grief you can tend to withdraw from normal social activities and life in general. When grieving, you may just want to go away and ‘lick your wounds’, but be careful that this does not lead to long-term isolation.
Feelings of guilt in grief are normal. You might feel guilty for things you may have done or said, and later wished you had not. Also, you might feel guilt for things you feel you should have done or said and somehow didn’t. You might even feel guilty for continuing to live, when your child has died.
This makes no sense on one hand, but is completely understandable on the other. If it was physically possible I would have swapped places with Adam and let his Nan and Grandad look after him, but would the pain of losing his mother have been any more bearable? He could be more blessed in Heaven...
Like life itself, grief isn't something that unfolds neatly, starting on cue with denial and continuing until the mourner reaches the final stage, accepting that the person is gone. Rather than denial or anger, most mourners feel an acute sense of yearning and sadness that usually fades as time passes. The emotions associated with grief can exist simultaneously, then slowly decline as feelings of acceptance rise. Unlike the flu, grief isn't something people simply recover from. Experts now say, that even those who regain their footing relatively swiftly may be struck by pangs of loss and sadness for years.
While you may have accepted the reality of your child’s death, you might still be holding on to yesterday’s memorabilia, objects, activities and plans. Letting go will happen in its own time. You may find that you no longer need to visit the cemetery so regularly, or you no longer need to wear that particular article of clothing, light a room full of candles every evening, have photos and reminders of your child all through your home or arranged as a tribute. If you are already doing something as part of a grieving ritual, ask yourself from time to time if you really need to continue with it. You will know when you are ready to let go, this in no way lessens the feelings you have for your child and it is not dishonorable or disrespectful to move on with your life.
Your Journey through Grief
Instead of encouraging those mired in depression to ‘get over it’, experts now view such intense and prolonged yearning, as a sign of a condition known as Complicated Grief.
Losing a child makes your emotions run haywire, while you try to grasp what has happened, the loss you feel may seem endless. Try to understand your feelings and work with them. I acknowledge your pain and I am here with you, but I know it doesn’t have to stay like that. I dragged myself forward when I lost Adam but carried some of these heaviest feelings buried deep within me. However, EAM allowed me to release these deep painful feelings that had risen to the surface, even twenty-four years on. The emotional growth I have experienced since then, discovering how you can release any negative thoughts and feelings around any area of your life as and when they arise, has led me to my mission to share this technique with as many bereaved parents as possible, so you don’t have to stay stuck in your grief for that long.
How long will grieving last?
The grieving process takes time and should not be hurried. How long it will take depends on you and your situation. In general, it takes most people one to two years to fully recover from a major bereavement. It’s common to feel especially vulnerable at times such as their birthday, the anniversary of their death, and during the Christmas holidays and it is so much easier to deal with these days when you have a technique like the one I use to help you work through the emotions that come up for you.
However, with a traumatic loss, such as the loss of a child (which is unimaginable to most people), some parents feel they will never be able to get through the grief, but I will hold that vision for you and I know you can – and I am living proof of the fact!
To move forward, it's helpful not only to understand the different phases that you might go through on your journey, but also to have a tool or technique to work with, such as the one I share to help you negotiate your journey with as much ease as possible.
It’s so helpful to have a technique which enables you to process the mental, physical and emotional symptoms you might feel at any time, within any of the stages of your journey through grief.