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Surviving the Unthinkable–Death of a Child

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Written by Fi Dann

Nine years ago we lost our baby daughter. At the time many people suggested writing a book would help not only myself but others going through the same thing. I remember thinking that reading a totally miserable book about personal anguish was the last thing I wanted to do and would make me even more unhappy. What I now realize would be useful is a simple guide as to what to expect and what was normal when you lose a child.   

So this is what I have attempted to compile. It is from personal experience and talking to six others, who lost children to still birth up to the age of three. These are the things we wish we’d have known at the start. It is short, deliberately so, as concentration can be totally shot in the newly bereaved. I do not assume it is complete, but I hope it is of use.

Profound appreciation of life and the ability not to take anything for granted can be the ‘gifts’ from your loss.

Anyone that tells you to take life one day at a time has to be kidding. Try one breath, one minute, maybe even an hour at a time.

It’s called heartbreak/ heartache for a reason. Bereavement at this scale really really physically can hurt. For a long time. It can feel like the ribcage is torn open. Make sure it’s not because of a chest infection though.

Survival pack for leaving the house: Tissues, sunglasses and throat sweets. First one is obvious; sunglasses hide traces of tears/ red raw eyeballs etc, throat sweets for the sore throat after honking, wailing crying. Glycerin, honey and lemon drinks help there too.

Many people find it very hard to know how to interact with you, some you will lose as friends (their loss) as they won’t be able to cope with your situation or how it plays on their fears. This is about them, not you.

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On the subject of friends, tell people how you need to be treated. You may need sympathy and sympathetic hugs, or this may be the worst thing for you and staying matter of fact is what you need. It is helpful to be ruthless on this one–you need the support of friends in the way that works for you. Some people may be less than helpful or make you feel worse. Tell them what you need and if they can’t or won’t do it, avoid them for a bit. 

So much of the experience of grief can end up being a management issue. Sounds odd to others who have not experienced this level of grief, but it is the case. 

If you cry a lot of the day your contact lenses get blurry. It’s not that your eyesight is going. Just wash the lenses. Same applies for glasses.

Sleep.

Insomniac or sleeping fourteen hours a day, any variation is normal. Relax about it; it’ll sort itself out over time in most cases.

Fatigue.

Can be huge due to the amount of emotional energy used up, and the effort it takes to get through a day.

Food.

Comfort eating or zero appetite and huge knot in the stomach making it hard to eat. All normal. Be conscious about it, see a therapist/ doctor if its getting to extreme. It can take a while (few years) to get back to normal in some cases.

Brain.

Usually absent a lot of the time, along with any ability to cope with stress, concentrate or focus. This can go on for a while (year or two) to some degree. Things like crying because the icing ran off the cake/ exploding at a cold caller from a utility company and losing it when viewing a house with an unexpected presence of a baby playing on the rug are the sort of things that have happened to a few of us.

The stress level is considerable. B vitamins, C and zinc are really useful nutrients and help make life easier. Best to see a practitioner if possible to see what is right for you. Rescue remedy is really useful. For meltdowns, tough occasions and for sneaking into the drinks of distressed friends and family. 

Funerals.

Do it how you want not how you or others think you should do it. It will be hard whatever you do, but if it feels right to you it will help. It is possible to get cardboard coffins that you can paint, decorate and personalize if you feel a normal coffin isn’t right. Also–when planning a funeral, make sure the coffins you are choosing from are the right size. Baby ones only fit up to six month olds or so. 

Try to make something constructive out of tragedy, for instance raise money for a charity that has relevance to you or your child. We chose the smile train and know that because of our donation 22 kids got their cleft lip and palate repaired in various developing countries. Even years on, that still helps.

The first Christmas (the first year of big occasions)

Again what is right for you. It will be tough, upsetting at times but there will be good bits. Doing something different can really help, the lack of association with prior, or even future Christmases can make this time of year easier for years to come.

Relationships.

We all grieve very differently. Talking about it can be tough. Text and email actually can be easier. Respect the right of the other person to do what they need to in order to get through. Keep lines of communication open on this one. Be kind to each other. Get a dog/cat if you need to–something to look after that can be cried over and on, and won’t mind, and will love you no matter how irrational/ stressed/ upset/ wired/ depressed you are. Many relationships fall apart under the stress of bereavement. Knowing this from the start and actively working together to keep the relationship working helps. 

Sex.

The expectation is that it is something that you won’t want to do, but it is quite normal, and actually more common to end up going at it like rabbits. The mood lift, escape, relaxation and life affirming nature of sex are so useful.

Distraction really helps. Taking up a new challenge that occupies your head is useful. 

Whatever you do some days will just be bad. Tomorrow will be different. Relax about it, get as much grief up and out if you can, let yourself be miserable. Trying not to just puts way too much stress on you and stores up problems.

Some people cope by totally burying their emotions and thoughts. It seems to be a denial of the experience of depth of grief, or the time it goes on for. This has a tendency to bite you years later, and just delays the experience. It may be what was needed to survive at the time and whilst not the healthiest response, may have been the only one possible. Once the emotion does start to release though, it can feel like the event has only just happened.

Faith.

Some people lose it, others find it strengthened and strengthening. It’s personal. 

The bad days become bad hours, then bad minutes over time. Grief ‘matures’.  It will always be there, it will still hurt, but the level of pain changes from unbearable agony to dull ache with occasional sharp bursts. It will always be upsetting. It is normal to still cry about it twenty plus years on. 

Talking about it.

You won’t always want to. If you’ve finally got yourself together enough to get out of the house, the last thing you need is someone ‘wanting you to talk about it as that’ll help you’. When you do want to talk, have tissues, chose the right time and right people for you. It has to be what works for you, not what others feel is right for you. 

Reassessing life and following the direction that is right for you can make life richer.

 

 

Also talking about it. Telling people is easier by text/email than in person or by talking–the emotional hit is far less and you don’t get hit by their shock either–that can be really hard to deal with when you are fragile and even years down the line.

Figure out in advance answers to the difficult questions. The ones like ‘do you have any kids/ how many kids do you have. An answer that is truthful but doesn’t obviously reveal your loss is a method preferred by some, others are fine to say what has happened. It doesn’t matter what you say, but thinking about it in advance and having a strategy can prevent unexpected pain.

Be kind to yourself.

Guilt is normal, relax about it. If you could have changed anything/done anything differently you would have. Hindsight is 20/20, real Life as it happens is not. 

Online support groups can be really helpful. Chose carefully to find one that suits you. I found some to be too angry for my needs at the time. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can really help. In the early stages it may be easier doing it by message/ email/post. Later on many of us found it better to have real life friends who had also lost. It has never been a subject that was discussed that much between any of us, just the occasional time. The knowing that they know what it is like is a massive support, and very freeing. 

The next child.

Having another child after such a loss is a different experience than before. There is a loss of trust. For most people, though they know things can go wrong with pregnancy, birth and the early years, don’t really think it can happen to them. For those of us who have lost, we know it can. Needing more scans for reassurance, sleep apnea monitors, checking your child is breathing, having your heart in your mouth when going upstairs to check on them at night to see if they are still alive–it is stressful. On the other hand, the appreciation you have for this new little miracle is huge. 

 

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Getting the next child past the stage at which you lost the previous one can bring up a lot of (buried) emotion. Give your self the room, time and support to get through. Celebrate if this feels right. 

Do not go down the route of torturing yourself by running different scenarios in your head, of what could have happened, how you child would be at some future age/ event etc had they lived. It is not helpful and can make you more distressed. Remember you did the best you could. If there is anything you need to learn, learn it to prevent a future tragedy, and move on.     

Find joy and happiness when you can. It is not all doom and gloom. Profound appreciation of life and the ability not to take anything for granted can be the ‘gifts’ from your loss. Reassessing life and following the direction that is right for you can make life richer. Being happy takes work in this situation. 

Good luck.

 

 

About the Author
Kathryn Los
Author: Kathryn LosWebsite: https://holisticparentingmagazine.com
Kathryn Los is Owner, Editor, and Publisher of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Kathryn is married to her soulmate and together they parent six delightfully vibrant children in the Colorado Rockies. She has a background in sociology and philosophy, and has enjoyed working as a birth doula and breastfeeding counselor for over a decade. She has founded and led several women's groups, on a spectrum of communities and interests. Kathryn is an advocate for authentic, intuitive parenting. She considers herself a cheerleader of her six life learners. She is passionate about holistic parenting, and loves sharing inspiration with like minded people across the globe.

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