As part of my work as a therapeutic counsellor I have spent much time with parents and other family members of children who have passed away, supporting them in their grief at a most difficult time. I have provided therapy to parents who may have lost their child some years earlier, and also to those whose child died only hours before.
When a child dies many people feel that it is somehow the ‘wrong way round’, in that a child is supposed to outlive their parents or carers by many years. This can be a puzzling and painful reality, and the question “why?” is often on the lips of those left behind. Then there are the secondary loses, which can be tough to deal with. A loss of identity and frequently of purpose can be very bewildering, and the change in daily routine – be that the school run, bath time or story time – can mean that not only is the bereaved parent’s world turned upside down, but that the things which kept them going throughout the day are no longer there to be done as they were before.
Lack of Understanding
I am always struck by how often a parent, grandparent or sibling of a child who has passed away has to be understanding of other people’s lack of understanding. Sometimes friends, wider family members or work colleagues can feel quite awkward approaching the subject of the recent loss, and can with the best of intentions say or do something which makes things harder, not easier. The bereaved person, on top of everything else, has to carefully manage situations and relationships with others who have little insight into the world in which they now find themselves.
It has become clear to me that each person’s reaction to the death of a loved one is unique and is tied to their situation and other factors. One common experience that I have observed however, is that over time things look different than before. That is not to say that time ‘heals’, but rather that time ‘changes’. It has been my experience that given time, many people bravely face up to their feelings of terrible loss and devastation, and come to some measure of acceptance of the different life that lies before them. That is not to say that grief and sorrow are not still part of their everyday existence, but that once they have given themselves space and compassion, moving into the future is possible, one small step at a time.
I have had the privilege of working with and supporting mums and dads, grandparents and brothers and sisters of children and young people who have left this world before they should have done. I am often inspired by the courage they show in choosing to honour their loved ones, by making the most of the time which remains for them personally, and at the resilience they show in the face of the most challenging of circumstances. Hope, while seemingly absent in the dark hours following the death of a child, is something which many stumble across as they learn how to walk forwards without their loved one physically by their side.
~ Rob Oglesby MBACP B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy
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