Loss of a child -
how to cope with grief

Welcome to Grief and Sympathy – Loss of a child.

These pages are written to try and pass on some of the wisdom and experience I have picked up in my 45 years of nursing babies and children.

If you are reading this, you have probably lost someone dear to you, or know someone who has suffered the loss of a child and you have my deepest sympathy.

There are many pages in this site designed to give you comfort, but also down to earth practical advice on how to start living again after the death of a child or a loved one.

It helps to focus on the quality of life you had together with your child. Cherish the love you had, the times you spent together. Not everyone experiences the joy you have shared with your baby. It will be painful, but be thankful for that beautiful gift you have had. You can’t regret that you had those times with your child. You grieve because you loved, you will never forget, but you will learn to cope.

Read the general pages which you will find on the left hand side buttons, as well as the specific pages on child loss at different ages that you will find below. There is lots of advice applicable to you throughout the site.

sea and waves

Loss of a child after a long illness

Very ill children are amazing, often accepting that their lives are destined to be short. They talk about what they’ve enjoyed in their lives or what they’d like to do in what time remains for them.

Parents should take this gift with joy, as few people have chances like this to say how much you loved them and give them their last wishes.

Loss of a child – Anna’s story
(names have been changed)

During my early nursing days as a newly qualified staff nurse I worked on a children’s ward. Anna was admitted for exploration of a painful knee. After X-rays and biopsies she was diagnosed with a bone cancer and sadly had to have a leg amputated. She was 11 years old, an only child and a happy and courageous girl.

During her period in rehab she received the great news that she had passed her exams to go to grammar school in September that year. She became very adept at getting herself around in her wheelchair and was a well known figure around the hospital. There was excitement as she went off, wheelchair bound to discuss the possibilities of access and mobility with the head and education officers of the new school. The news and the fact that ramps and some widening of doors was going ahead to allow her access to the school was a huge boost for the family. It is a huge shock to be told that your 11 year old has cancer, but Anna was brave and the school and community supported them.

Following her discharge the family visited the ward not only when they were having check-ups with the consultant, but also to visit friends she had made on the ward.

The news that Anna loved her new school and that other students were so supportive was encouraging happy news. This sadly was followed by news that she had secondary widespread cancer and was only able to have one term at the school before she died.

Her funeral was packed with pupils from her old and new school, ward staff and old friends she’d made in the hospital. She was an inspiration to us all by her brave courageous attempts to support her parents during the last few weeks of her illness. She was giving them comfort by telling them how happy she’d been especially over the last few months.

Her parents were obviously devastated over the loss of their child, but took such comfort from the fact that their daughter had influenced so many people in her short life. They continued to visit the ward, and even did some voluntary work in the hospital to help them cope with their grief. They could be proud of their brave little girl. Her racing along the hospital corridor in her new wheelchair is a sight I shall never forget.

Yes, she had a short life, yes, it would have been wonderful if she’d been able to grow up and have a career and family. Was her life worthwhile? Most certainly. She brought twelve years of happiness to her parents and she was an inspiration to hundreds of students and friends who all saw her courageous personality. I can still remember her fifty years on. What a recommendation!

strong waves on the sea

Loss of a child – sudden death

Other children can die very suddenly as happened to the little boy of a friend of mine who worked with me 2 days a week in the nursing home I ran. One day she told me her son was off school with flu. He was eleven years old. A few days later I asked how he was, and she said he was better, getting up and about most of the day.

The next morning she took him a cup of tea only to find that he had died in his sleep during the night. The flu virus had affected his heart. The shock of a sudden death is enormous. It is even more so when it is the loss of a child.

My friend had two daughters and her work to help her cope. I tried to help her too with some of the sort of advice I give you below. They did move on and enjoy their other children and their lives. She and her husband have been out to see me in Australia and they are grandparents now, although sadly her husband died last year.

Comforting ways to get over the death of a child

No one expects to outlive their children, the pain and loss can be overwhelming, you will never replace that child, acceptance and coping each day is what we hope to achieve.

Yes, it’s so painful to lose a child, but the alternative would be to have never known this child at all. That would be more sad.

Remember the happy times. Don’t grieve over how young your loved one was. There are always many more who were younger. Life spans are so varied and irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.


Sibling Grief

Celebrate the child’s life, grieve, but don’t forget the siblings. Give the brothers and sisters more time. Enjoy their lives now. Remember they will be grieving too.


Many parents wallow in their loss, and the remaining brothers and sisters feel guilty that they are still alive. The one who died is put on a pedestal of being so wonderful. Brothers and sisters left behind can end up feeling inadequate or forgotten. Remember that it is their time now and their lives are equally precious and to be treasured. They have also lost a family member and need all the love you can give them. See Children and Grief for advice on how to help them.

Don’t be afraid to celebrate the life of the one who died. If it’s their special birthday have a family meal together. Talk about the good times you all had, but enjoy the present too.

Some people feel guilty if they seem to be enjoying life again. Nonsense, the loved one who died would love to see that smile.

There will be tears of grief, there will be times when you allow yourselves to grieve. However, you owe it to the child that died to continue to enjoy whatever time you have left with your family and friends. Would your child, who loved you, have wanted you to be miserable?

I read the other day that today is a gift. Each day of life we have is precious and we must make the most of it, it is all we can do.

For more help and ideas on celebrating your child's life see: "Grief and the Holidays"







Organ Donation

After the sudden loss of a child in a car accident, for example, lots of parents were comforted by the fact that their child helped many others through organ donation. With all the publicity about it today, their child’s opinions on this may be known.


Separation due to loss of a child

Many couples split after the loss of a child. Each person grieves in a different way, at a different pace. One may be in shock, numb, unable to cry, the other in despair. One imagines the other isn’t grieving enough. It makes helping each other difficult.

Once again, talking to each other, celebrating the years of life you had with the child makes life easier than finding fault and blame. There is always a lot of hurt and guilt around on both sides, even though it is usually unnecessary.  

After the loss of a child couples grieve in different ways and often cannot give each other the support they each need. The man may continue with his work and have the opportunity to put on a brave face. In addition, work takes his mind off this huge loss for a few hours. His partner will probably be home with other children or the kids will be at school and she will have more time to have overwhelming reminders of the loss.

One partner may think the other is not grieving enough. Do try to talk things over, support each other, accept the others' point of view and different way of coping. The husband may continue with his hobby of cricket or golf which may create feelings of isolation or abandonment in the wife, but it is the partner's way of trying to get on with life, to cope.

Sex can be an issue as men find comfort and relief of stress in a loving relationship whereas his partner may need to be relaxed and stress free in order to make love. These issues should be dealt with, not left to become a huge problem. Some counselling sessions can be very helpful. Please try to support each other, comfort each other, make home life with each other and the other children as pleasant as you can. Sadly many couples separate after a tragic loss like the death of a child. Separation is another huge loss to cope with for everyone involved.

The purpose of grief and mourning is eventually to accept the fact of the loss. You are never going to forget the loved child. It is a tough journey, you can do it but only you can do it for yourself , your partner, your other family and friends. It is easier to do with your loving partner by your side. Don't push each other away. At times like this you need all the help you can get.

See also:

Coping with Miscarriage 

Coping with a Stillbirth

Loss of a baby

Death of a baby

Loss of a child - teenagers

Effects of Adoption

Grief and Sympathy Home Page

Note that names have been changed in all the case histories on this site for the privacy of the families involved.


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