Self-help

Dealing with the Loss of a Child: Tips from a Professional Therapist

Losing a child is an unbearable sorrow, leaving us shattered. Yet, grief is a journey of acceptance and resilience. There’s no roadmap for this pain, but by understanding its stages and embracing coping strategies, we can navigate through the darkness towards healing.

jocelyn moyet grow therapy By Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Updated on May 01, 2024

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Losing a child can be a time of unspeakable grief. You may feel heartbroken and like the tomorrows don’t matter. How can they after your child dies? And while it’s easy to become enveloped in such thoughts, remember that grief is a process that allows you to feel those feelings, sit with them, accept them, and in time, learn to live with them. 

There’s no set period of time for this sort of thing. There isn’t a rule book that states how long grief will or should last. But it’s important to know that it’s a process that changes and shifts — eventually allowing you to continue with your life while holding onto memories of the loved one who’s passed.

Here, we’re going to break down the stages of grief to help you better understand what you might be going through, and what you can expect as time goes on. We’ll also go over some coping strategies and tips from Jacquelyn Jamason, a licensed professional counselor with Grow Therapy, to help you navigate your grief. 

Stages of Grief

Grief is a very personal human response and is nothing to be trivialized. How everyone grieves may look different, and may depend on the type of loss experienced. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer of studies on dying people, created a model for grief with five stages to help people identify what they were going through after the death of a loved one. 

Denial

Denial is a common defense mechanism that protects us from accepting a harsh reality. Bereaved parents may find it hard to believe that their child isn’t coming back, and therefore not accept this truth. 

Along with denial, it’s also typical to feel numb in the early days after a bereavement, and to feel like you sometimes see or hear the person who’s died. 

Anger

You may feel anger at the cruelty and unfairness of losing a loved one. It’s possible to feel angry at yourself for things you did or didn’t do before your child’s death, or angry that they’ve died well before their time and before you had a chance to live out your future plans together. 

Bargaining

Because it’s so hard to accept the death of a child, a person might start to make deals with themselves — or with God, if they’re religious — to bring themselves some relief.

In this stage, there may also be a lot of “what if…” questions in the hope that if something had been done differently in the past, things could have turned out differently. 

Depression

The stage of depression encompasses intense feelings of sadness and longing for the person who’s died. The pain you experience over losing your child will be very intense and may occur in waves over many years. 

You may feel like life has lost all meaning and that the things that once interested you or made you happy, no longer do. 

Acceptance

Gradually, bereaved parents discover that the pain of grief eases; and eventually, it’s possible to come to terms with what’s happened. While they may never get over the death of their child, they can learn to continue with life again and keep hold of precious memories.

Coping Strategies 

Everyone has different ways of coping. What works for some won’t work for others. Try out some different coping strategies until you find what feels right for you. 

Talk About the Person You Lost

Don’t avoid talking about the death of your child. 

Jamason advises, “Surround yourself with people that love you and where you can talk about memories, loss, and your grief journey. Join a support group online or in person with other parents who have lost children. Talk to a therapist or pastor on a regular basis.”

Take Care of Yourself

Grief can take a toll on your body. While it may feel difficult, keeping on top of your physical and mental health is important. 

Try to eat healthily, sleep well, and stay active so that your body is better-equipped to help you grieve. “Exercise, yoga, and meditation all increase dopamine, which reduces cortisol and stress in the body and helps you sleep,” adds Jamason.   

Try to Accept Your Feelings

All of the feelings you experience during grief are normal — whether it’s feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness — and it’s important to recognize and accept them and not make yourself feel worse. 

“In my opinion, accepting how you feel is much easier than accepting the loss. As human beings, we’re able to ‘get used to’ certain feelings, responses, and thoughts over time. So, the feelings of loss become part of the norm, hence the term, ,new normal, — it’s survival mode for the most part,” says Jamason. 

Connect With Others Also Dealing With the Loss

When dealing with the loss of a child, the thought of supporting other people while grieving — such as your partner or surviving children — may seem overwhelming, but it can actually help. 

“Personally, this has to be, by far, the most difficult part of the grief process. Being emotionally available for anyone else besides yourself after losing a child is near impossible. However, that being said, it also gives a sense of purpose and distraction; giving to someone else in the same pain as ourselves can actually bring us intermittent relief,” explains Jamason. 

Celebrate and Honor the Person You’ve Lost

The anniversary of losing a child is certainly tough, and many grieving parents may want to celebrate and honor their loved one. 

Jamason emphasizes, “Pay attention to what helps you feel good when it comes to remembering your loved one. Some people find it helpful to have pictures, a shrine of sorts, or even to leave a room set up as if the loved one is still there. Others find it helpful to not see pictures, rooms, belongings, or anything that reminds them of their loss. Each individual experience should be valued and honored for however long it feels right for them, as long as it isn’t keeping them from moving forward in life again and finding peace and happiness.”

“It’s also important to note that while the feelings of grief may continue to come in waves during anniversaries, birthdays, milestones and holidays etc. the overwhelming, raw, physical pain of loss does ease up over the years.”

Speak to a Mental Health Professional

If you find that your grief is becoming hard to manage, it might be time to consider grief counseling. A counselor may be able to help you deal with your grief and manage the loss of your child — whether you lost a baby, a young child, or an adult child — by developing strategies to get you to navigate through your sadness.  

Jamason says, “I believe anyone and everyone who experiences the loss of a child should seek professional support, in addition to anyone who’s experienced a traumatic or sudden death of any loved one, for that matter.”

Here’s a guide on how to choose the right therapist for you

Find a grief counselor

Get help

Tips to Better Handle Your Grief 

Your grief is your journey, so it’s important to move through this journey at your own pace while doing the things you feel are best for you in ways that feel manageable. 

Here are some self-help tips to guide you along the way: 

Be Gentle With Yourself

“What is ‘normal’ may look very different for every family, such as less structure and decreased physical or emotional bandwidth to perform in the same way as before the loss. There may be an emotional inability to socialize outside of what is absolutely required,” advises Jamason.

“The other big thing to consider are triggers that may influence what ‘normal’ looks like. Babies or young children crying at the store, certain smells, music, etc. might trigger a trauma response that may affect a person’s ability to continue as ‘normal’ for quite some time. That’s another reason it’s beneficial to work with a therapist who specializes in grief to help walk you through the journey of surviving the loss of a child,” she adds.      

Move Your Body

Research suggests that physical activity may help alleviate the feelings of depression and anxiety that come with grief. Moving your body for just a short time might make you feel better, even if it’s going out for a short walk or getting into nature. 

Jamason says, “A visit to the ocean, mountains, or any favorite outdoor place that brings peace is one of the best ways to ground you and feel connected to your loved one. Take your shoes off and feel your feet on the earth, practice recognizing the five senses, close your eyes, listen, smell, hear, touch, and taste — name them all!”

Get More Rest

Due to the complicated nature of grief, you may be physically and mentally exhausted at times, and need more rest. This is why it’s important to relax when you can and to try sticking to a healthy sleep routine

There are a few different things you can do to get more restful sleep, such as:

Create Lists

From cooking a meal and working out to washing the dishes, make daily chores and errands feel more manageable by writing them down on a list

As you move through the list and tick these points off, it might feel like you’re slowly accomplishing goals throughout your day. You might think they’re small, insignificant tasks, but when dealing with grief, they can seem a lot bigger and so you should celebrate accomplishing these goals. 

Get Writing

Writing down your painful feelings is said to boost immune function, mood, and well-being, according to Harvard Medical School

Try writing in a journal for just 15 minutes a day for a few days, and if you find it’s helping, make it a part of your daily routine. While this might trigger some strong emotions and grief reactions, many people report feeling better afterwards. 

In addition to writing down how you feel and why you might feel that way, why not also try writing down things that you’re grateful for? Though it may seem trivial, practicing gratitude is known to significantly improve stress and depression

Ask For Help

Connecting with family members, compassionate friends and community members for support is important for bringing a sense of consistency to your life. Asking them for help and delegating tasks instead of doing everything yourself will prevent certain things from getting dropped and the negative emotions that might follow. 

Key Takeaways

Everyone’s grief unfolds in different ways.

It’s important to remember that as you deal with your loss, your feelings of grief may ebb and flow. You might have some days that are worse than others, while others may feel more bearable. 

Jamason adds as a final note, “Make sure to ask for help if you need it, eat, hydrate, and get some sunshine at all costs! This will all help keep you healthy as you work towards your journey of healing.”

While we hope these coping strategies and tips will help, sometimes a professional is needed. 

If you think you or a loved one would benefit from grief support and guidance, it’s only a few clicks away. The Grow Therapy marketplace makes it easy to find a therapist that’s right for you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
jocelyn moyet grow therapy Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Jocelyn Moyet is a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida and a licensed psychologist in Puerto Rico with 11 years of clinical experience. Jocelyn helps people from the Hispanic / Latinx community find balance and work through processing life experiences in a sensitive manner incorporating cultural factors into therapy services.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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