Getting over the loss of a child

Should the worst-case scenario happen to you, how would you react? And what can you do?

          Everyone reacted with shock and horror on reading reports of 4-year-old “Little Light Bulb” Liu’s death in Taiwan, and felt saddened by the death of “Courageous Caitie” of a rare cancer at the National University Hospital. But do you know how to cope should the worst happen — to you?

            Psychologist Daniel Koh, from Insights Mind Centre, says that as such a traumatic time, “Acknowledge your emotions and feelings because they are natural and normal responses. Give yourself permission to let go and feel. This helps you take the first step forward.

            “Grieve your own way and at your own pace. It is for yourself and NOT how others want it or for others’ sake.”

The grieving process

            Mourning the loss of a child very often feels much more intense than of an adult relative. However, the basic reactions are similar. These include:

  • Intense shock, confusion, disbelief, and denial Even if your child's death was at the end of a terminal illness and long anticipated. It is very rare that we don’t hold the faint hope that “maybe something would save my child”.
  • Overwhelming sadness and depression You may find that daily tasks or even getting out of bed can seem impossible, that you can “never” laugh or smile again. It is normal to feel this way. Koh says that it is important to focus on grieving at this time, so you may let the “normal” things go. “Decrease other stressors and take time off to have some personal time to grieve, revisit emotions and resolve your pain — this makes you stronger.”
  • Feelings of extreme guilt or failure for not “protecting” your child You may question yourself, your spouse/family and your doctors/nurses for not having done something, anything that could have kept your child alive.
  • Feelings of intense anger and bitterness Are often tied to the feelings of guilt and failure. You may also feel bitter at the unfairness that your child’s life is unfulfilled or you may rage that life dares to go on without your child. Again, this is normal, but if you have other children, do not let your anger/bitterness fall on them. Ditto your spouse.
  • Fear of being alone You will need your family and friends around you, but after a few months, start practising being alone, even if it’s just to see a movie or go out to shop. When you’ve been so badly hurt, it’s normal to cling for support, but other people do lead their own lives.
  • Dreaming about your child Or feeling your child's presence nearby is normal.
  • Overprotecting any surviving children Everyone feels that way.


Photo: iStock


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Click next to see our suggestions for coping with your grief — and for helping friends who are bereaved.