Grieving the loss of a child takes on many forms. For many, grieving is an actual physical, mental and emotional process that can take years to process. For others, grief is more of an internal struggle that is rarely ever seen. Losing a child is one of the worst experiences parents can ever face. So learning to understand their grief is just one step in helping them see brighter days.
How Women Grieve
When a woman loses her child -- whether it be a baby who died in the womb or one who was 40 years old -- a part of her dies as well.
Grieving the Loss of a Baby
From the moment she receives a positive pregnancy test, this woman starts bonding with her unborn baby. She is the one who senses the flutters, kicks and jabs, as she is also the one who feels the morning sickness, sciatic nerve discomfort and for some, labor pains. In all essence, the woman is the one who knows the baby best.
So when that baby dies during the pregnancy or soon thereafter, the mother will not only emotionally feel the loss, but physically as well. Women whose babies die before or shortly after birth will still have their breasts produce milk, they may have horrible stretch marks and the may actually even feel "phantom kicks" or hear "phantom cries." Women still have to physically deliver a baby even if they know that he or she has died or will so shortly. So, it's not uncommon for her to physically grieve for her child. In every possible way, her body is telling her she is mother, but in reality, there is no baby in her arms. Some ways women physically grieve their loss is by:
- Clutching their arms to their breasts as they feel their milk supply come in
- Subconsciously rubbing their bellies as if their babies are still growing and kicking inside
- Holding a stuffed animal, doll or even a baby blanket close to them, sometimes rocking back and forth
- Waking up several times at night hearing a baby's cry
- Being too tired to get out of bed in the morning or to keep up with any daily routines
- Losing or gaining large amounts of weight
- Uncontrollable crying at any given time
- Other physical changes to the body including hair loss, brittle nails and a change in complexion, vision, agility and appetite
Grieving the Loss of an Older Child
Having an older child pass away is not much different than losing a baby. However, instead of losing a future with the child, parents have also lost the past. Their house is full of many memories; their pictures adorn the walls. While physically, women who have lost older children will not feel many of the "new mom" symptoms as those who have lost a baby, they may start to feel the need to have another child -- not as a replacement, but to continue being a mother. Besides many of the way already mentioned, a mother grieves the loss of an older child by:
- If applicable, keeping current their MySpace page
- Keeping in contact with their child's friends and classmates
- Taking on more of a parental role with the grandchildren who lost a parent
- Establishing a scholarship in the child's name at the school he or she attended
- If the child still lived at home, not changing his or her bedroom
- Feeling lost or unloved
- Unable to continue working outside of the home (if applicable)
- Unable to complete simple tasks such as housecleaning
- Inability to remember things such as phone numbers and names
Why Men Grieve Differently
It is true, men do grieve differently than women. After all, most men are brought up to be stereotypical strong protectors who should not freely show their emotions. This is one of the reasons there seems to be a struggle between mothers and fathers after a child dies. Wives are looking to their husbands for support and understanding, but many times, their male counterparts can't -- or won't -- show the same sympathy. So, how do men deal with their grief after losing a child? In most instances, men act instead of dwell on the situation. They put their feelings into actions and experience grief physically, not emotionally. Instead of talking about their feelings, they focus more on completing specific tasks their wives or mothers of their children may not be able to do such as:
- Making funeral arrangements
- Planting a memorial garden
- Contacting friends, family members, schools, etc.
- Writing a eulogy
- Cleaning the house or cooking meals
- Grocery shopping
And don't think that men will hold all their grief inside. They may spend more of their time "bonding" with their male friends doing activities such as fishing, sporting events or playing cards. Men will also usually cry over the loss of their child -- but not in front of their wives or other family members or friends. Most guys, who feel the need to be strong, will shed their tears privately.
Grieving the Loss of a Child Resources
There are many Web sites available that will help parents grieve the loss of their children: