Parental grief is a deeply personal experience. There is no set protocol or timetable to follow.
There are as many ways to grieve for a child as there are bereaved parents in the world. Everyone grieves differently. Though as a family you may have been united in fighting cancer, finding your way through this loss is a very different journey.
The time immediately after your child dies is not unlike the day of diagnosis. Many people must be told while you also deal with formalities and arrange the funeral. The emotions are different, but no less strong. Sleep may be impossible in the first few days.
Your world was structured around your child, but your daily routine and purpose have been altered by your loss, especially if you had only one child. You may feel part of you has been buried with your child, and rejoining the trivial everyday world can be very difficult.
Support from palliative care teams and friends may continue for several months. Eventually though, you must find a way forward without the physical presence of your precious child.
When your only child dies, you may feel you are no longer a parent. A huge part of your existence has been taken away. Single parents especially may feel a very deep despair and loss of identity.
You will always be your child’s parent. Even though no longer physically beside you, your child is forever part of your soul and will undoubtedly continue to shape your life.
Differences in how you express your grief may be very difficult to live with. You may feel you are on a constant see-saw of emotion, never up or down at the same time – never “together” in grief. Realizing this and respecting your differences can make them less damaging, but the pain will still be there.
Grief may deepen problems in a relationship already under stress. Anger can lead to destructive blame and recrimination, and the relationship may break down completely. Many couples however, find they become closer through the tragedy, communicating well and emerging stronger than before.
Single parents often feel they must bear grief alone, even when weighed down by other burdens. Your child’s illness and death may have caused painful difficulties with the other parent. Maybe you had gained strength from one another during treatment, but are now drifting apart again.
Planning the funeral and other practicalities may be very difficult. Asking a trusted relative or friend to help is important. You may feel compelled to return to work quickly, especially if money is tight. Recognize that you may not be ready, and seek the help you need to look after yourself.
Caring For You
Allow yourself time to mourn, to reflect and absorb this major experience into the fabric of your being. Launching into a frenzy of fund-raising or awareness-raising may seem helpful, but be careful these very valuable activities do not become a damaging substitute for your grief.
Take time to rest and heal with your partner and other children. Share a treat together as a family – a day trip, a movie, a meal out. Laugh about fond memories. Don’t feel guilty for smiling or feeling happy. Your child is with you in those moments of joy.
Many well-meaning friends will have advice or be quick to judge that you are not “over it” yet. Your life has been forever changed, and expecting you can rediscover your old self is unreasonable. Do not let friends hurry you or make you feel you are “doing it wrong”. Take your time. Do what feels right for you.