Surviving The Loss Of A Child

Posted: January 27, 2012

The loss of a child is an experience which no parent should ever have to face. A survivor shares her story.

By Rakhee Ghelani

Living through the loss of a child is considered to be one of the most devastating experiences a person can go through. I should know. I watched my son pass away in my arms only an hour after he was born. There was nothing that I or the medical profession could do to save him; all I could do was keep him warm, love him and make his short time on earth as comfortable as possible.

Whilst going through that surreal hour was incredibly challenging, I was in such a state of shock that I was actually quite calm and rational. It was certainly no indication of what the weeks, months and years that followed would be like for either me or my friends and family.

I remember my mother started searching for the appropriate pooja or ritual for my son, but none existed. Even her religion couldn’t find the words to make this situation better. While there is nothing that anyone can really say or do that will lessen the pain, there are plenty of things that can help make the experience slightly less traumatic and the period of adjustment a bit easier for the parents.

Respect their wishes but be practical

If they would like to be left alone or prefer to rant and rave then just let them. While it’s customary to visit someone following a death and pay your respects, if they do not wish to see anyone then respect their wishes and let them be. If the parents do not feel like going out then don’t force them either and if they do, then perhaps take them out for a walk. I remember feeling so disoriented in the weeks following, but going for a long walk everyday certainly helped me get some fresh air and be out in the community again.

Bringing over food and basic supplies is also very helpful. They may not eat much or even shower for a while; but at least they will have the option available to them without having to face the outside world.

Be prepared to listen but don’t seek to lay blame

Some parents will want to talk about their child and what happened, yet others will not want to talk about it at all. Either way, let them express what they wish to without judgement but don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to. You may find that the desire to talk isn’t immediate; it may come years after their child has passed, but this doesn’t make the need any less.

A parent will do anything to protect their child from harm. Keeping that in mind, it is best not to question what went wrong or suggest other things that could have been done to help save their child as this will only bring (more) guilt to the parents.

A parent will do anything to protect their child from harm. Keeping that in mind, it is best not to question what went wrong or suggest other things that could have been done…

Remember their child

If their child died very young like my son did, you may never have met them. This does not make them any less real a person so don’t be afraid to use their name when talking about them, or to look at photos of them and cherish them as you would any child. You may find doing this uncomfortable, but remember for the parents – this is their child and will always be one of the most significant people in their life, no matter how much time passes.

As the months and years pass the important dates in their child’s life will still be of importance to their parents, such as birthdays, the day they passed away and – for babies born prematurely and passed away – the date they were due to be born. Something simple, like sending them a text on the day to tell them you are thinking of them will mean so much to the parent. Similarly acknowledging Mother’s and Father’s Day is important particularly if they have no other children. Just because someone’s child has passed away, doesn’t mean they are no longer a parent.  

Don’t expect them to have another child or that it will make everything better

If the child died very young, many people expect that the parents will try to have another child. For many this is a real possibility and they do. For others they try and discover they can’t have more children, whilst others may choose not to and some others might opt to adopt. Whichever it is, it is their decision and their right to make it in private. I remember being greeted by many with a swift stare at my stomach as they searched for signs of impending pregnancy; it was incredibly distressing for me.

Even if the parents are so fortunate as to have another child and/or a surviving child, they will never replace the child that has passed away.

Don’t expect them to get over it

There is no timeframe for “getting over” the loss of a child. The truth is a parent never does – they just learn to live with the reality. Waiting for that magic day will only lead to disappointment for you.

Expect them to change

As with all key life events, no one ever goes through them and comes out the same on the other side. Losing a child takes away a piece of a person, and rarely is that piece found and repaired. I have watched my close family and friends wait in anticipation for when I will return. The truth is the person they knew no longer exists and she will never return. She has been replaced by someone else who has changed considerably and in ways that are not entirely predictable. I now cry in public without any shame. I am more private. I am now fearless. I just hope that those who love me will accept the new me.

Losing a child takes away a piece of a person, and rarely is that piece found and repaired.

There is no magic formula for helping someone survive the loss of their child, but being there and accepting what they are going through is a big help when they are learning to cope with the grief. Further assistance for both yourself and the parents can also be found through global support groups and blogs written by parents who have lost children:

Compassionate Friends: The Compassionate Friends 

National Share Office: For Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Blogger Indian Homemaker: Coping With Grief and Loss

Blogger Sangeeta: Home Alone

*Photo credit: Cristi Modoran

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  1. Your post reminded me of my sister who grieves for her 4 year old son who died 23 years ago. For her, he has remained the 4 yr. old who would have joined a regular school but never did. she talks of his excitement when they got his uniform stitched and how he was looking forward to going to school by the school bus along with his older sister. Life moves on but a part of it has not changed – at least not for her.

  2. It is a very moving read Rakhee. My Mother-in-law lost her daughter when she was just a few years old and one can still see the aftershocks. At times I used to wonder “But it happened so long ago…” Your words have helped me understand a little better.

  3. Jane Williamson -

    Very moving. I recall discovering a few years ago that my beloved boss and friend had actually had three children not two. As long as I’d known her, she would talk about her two grown up children back in the States. One day she told me that this was the birthday of her first baby boy who died three days after he was born. She said even now, forty five years later, her heart skips a beat if anyone asks her how many children she has.

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