How to deal with the grief of losing a child

The grief felt by mātua / parents and caregivers who outlive their tamariki / children has been likened to a hole in the heart that never heals. It’s a deep heartache that lasts a lifetime. Read on for some tips to help you deal with the grief of losing a child.

We often hear that time is a great healer and indeed, over time, mātua / parents and caregivers and siblings will learn to live with the loss.

We adapt, find ways to eat, drink, breathe, sleep, and work again. But we don’t heal.

Learning to live again

Finding your way into a new life without your loved one and learning how to ‘be’ can take a long time. You have lost a future that hadalways included your taitamaiti / child and it takes time to figure out how to cope, adapt, and learn to go on without them. It won't be easy. If you need some help getting there, working with a grief therapist might be useful.

Start slowly

Take things day by day - or hour by hour - with realistic expectations. You may find yourself just going through the motions of daily life and that's OK. Even if you think, 'Today I will put out the washing and go to the dairy for milk and bread', that’s enough. Small steps are good steps.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel

You can feel whatever you want, whenever you want. Cry, sob, howl when you need to, don't hold it in. Feeling low, as if life has lost a purpose or point, is normal too, as is feeling totally exhausted and unable to concentrate.

Denying the reality, feeling guilty and responsible for your child's death, or wanting to blame the doctors, God or someone else, is normal too. Grief can catch you unawares. Something you do, see, taste, touch,hear, or smell can trigger a memory or feeling so intense that you break down.

Hearing a piece of music, touching some clothing, even a trip to the supermarket can all be emotional triggers. If you know what the triggers are, take some steps to protect yourself. Visit another shopping area until you're feeling stronger.

Relationships within the whānau

Before the death of your taitamaiti / child, your whānau may have been on a difficult journey for some time. Carrying the burden of emotion is a heavy one and all relationships within your whānau will have been under considerable strain. Remember that people process loss in different ways. Try to be patient and tolerant.

Be with others who 'know how it is'

Friends and whānau will do their best to comfort you but sometimes the only person who really understands how you feel is one who has been through the same experience. Attending a support group (facilitated by a grief therapist) for bereaved mātua / parents and caregivers may help or sitting down with a trusted friend can be really helpful too.

People may also tell you about their own losses and times of grief and tell you how you should be feeling. Always remember that this is your grief, not theirs, and we all cope differently.

Remember your taitamaiti / child in your own way

Planning regular remembrances, celebrations or rituals for your deceased taitamaiti / child can help you and your whānau. Daily, weekly,monthly or annually is up to you but making a plan will give the whānau an opportunity to be together, remember, share memories and to tell stories.

Returning to work

Most employers will offer bereavement leave but this is only a short time compared to how long it will take you (and your partner if you have one) to grieve your loss. Going back to work is challenging because it can represent a part of life 'as it was before' and life has changed so much. It can also come at a time when you’re emotionally vulnerable, exhausted, and on edge. But returning to work can be positive, placing some structure into a life that has been turned upside down.

Discuss your return to work with your employer, giving as much information as you’re comfortable with. Let your colleagues know so that if you become emotional at work, they’ll understand why and be more willing to help. Take time out at work when you need to - a quiet moment to cry or meditate.