Losing a child is one of life’s biggest tragedies. All that promise, all those hopes, all those possibilities for a bright and successful future disappear in an instant. Whether you’ve lost a young child or a young adult child, the feeling of loss cuts deep. We are simply not programmed to deal with the death of a child. We accept the loss of parents and grandparents as inevitable. But losing a child, that’s never something we expect to deal with.+
We bring children into the world with great hopes for their future. We imbue them with all kinds of possibilities, like education, marriage and career success. We look forward to these events as a series of experiences we will celebrate and enjoy. Never are we prepared to have our child taken away by some brutal accident, war, murder or suicide. None of these enter our mind until something tragic actually happens.
When confronted with this type of loss, we are shaken to our very core. The experience of losing a child unnerves us. All of a sudden the world we thought we knew is no longer safe. Our remaining children are not safe. We collapse into a puddle of nerves and tears.
What does it take to get over losing a child? A lot of investigation into our own nature and behavior seems to come up right away. Why did this happen? What could I have done differently? How did I fail? Should I have said No when asked for the car keys on that fateful night? The questions, guilt and remorse come at us fast and furious.
I am the father of two daughters. Thankfully, I’ve never lost a child in the manner described above. During my practice years I helped a lot of parents come to terms with such a loss. Oftentimes I cried with them. I could feel their despair and anguish. Car accidents, suicide, murder, disease and freak occurrences were all part of the mix. One boxing day, in the late 90s, my wife and I witnessed a 14 year old boy being run down by a car. He was killed instantly. We were shaken. We were scared. Our thoughts immediately ran to our own daughters. Where were they? Were they safe? And so on.
We stayed at the scene and provided statements to the investigating police. We remained badly shaken. We just couldn’t believe what our eyes had shown us. We actually saw a young life snuffed out in an instant. At one moment we saw this boy crossing the street, heading for a bus stop. Seconds later he was lying on the ground in a crumpled lifeless heap. His life had been taken away by a series of freakish circumstances.
One year later my wife and I were in court testifying as to what we had witnessed. We learned that the victim was an Iranian boy whose family had come to North America to escape the tyrannical rule of their home country. His parents and extended family exhibited all the signs of a recent trauma. They were still locked in their grief as if the incident had just happened. The woman driver, responsible for the accident, was being prosecuted for dangerous driving. She was a virtual mess and was heavily medicated. Every time someone testified as to her behavior and the boy’s death, she noticeably flinched. The boy’s family wanted answers, and perhaps some retribution. There were no winners here.
On another occasion I was asked to address a meeting of “Compassionate Friends”, a support group fro grieving parents. As each member of the group recounted their story I began to see the range of experiences which had brought them all together. Their children had died by the variety of circumstances listed above, including suicide, the most difficult of all. These parents were at different stages in their grieving process. Some were almost healed, while others were still stuck back in the moment they first heard the news. It was sad to watch because I knew that with some prodding, encouragement and support they all could be much further along.
I did what I could in addressing their loss. And I urged them to engage in a proper recovery program. Support groups are just that, they offer support but no direction. These parents were simply recycling their pain and not moving forward with their recovery. A few of them came to see me afterward and we put them through our recovery program. Everyone that took this path recovered.
In the end it doesn’t matter what took your child from you; the grieving and healing process you must undergo remains the same. Dealing with feelings through therapy, group work and guided journaling are the tools and practices necessary for recovery. I successfully used this approach for all my grieving clients. Everyone who pursued this program completed their recovery and got on with their lives.
Lately I’ve met people who are still stuck in their grieving experience. Their child may have died years ago but, for them, it may as well have been yesterday. They have not gained an inch. There is no substitute for working through your grief if you truly want to heal. Some people simply refuse to move forward, hanging on to their grief as if they were hanging on to their child. They don’t accept that they can actually heal and hold on to that precious child in a loving and expansive way rather than continue with their suffering.
You have to choose healing in order to recover from grieving a child You have to commit to your own recovery just like any other person who is stuck in some disabling condition. Imagine for a moment you are the deceased child looking down at your parents and siblings. What would you want for them? Healing or Suffering? And those wonderful memories you had of each other before the tragedy, where do they go if you choose suffering? When you die, do you want your loved ones to remain in a state of perpetual grief? Likely not! Good then, you know what you have to do.