Common Myths about the Loss of a Child
Posted on 13th May 2021 at 12:16
The pain of losing a child cannot be described in words. It doesn’t matter if the child is still young, an adult, or still in the womb – a child is a part of us and the pain of losing that extraordinary person is incomprehensibly heartbreaking. The loss of a child creates a ripple effect that can touch the lives of relatives, friends, and the larger community.
There are plenty of heartfelt stories, blogs, books and groups dedicated to people who have been bereaved by the loss of a child. In this article we are turning our focus to common misconceptions around child loss so that we can bring comfort and hope to those who are grieving.
Myth #1: Be thankful you have other children.
Unfortunately, many who have lost a child are told that they should be thankful they have other children, or thankful they had the time with their child that they were given. These may be well-intentioned comments, but they are of no help. We have a unique and special relationship with each one of our children, and they cannot be replaced. When we have a child, we make ourselves vulnerable. If that child dies, or is lost to us through estrangement, running away, or any other number of ways, it causes us pain. The other relationships in our lives, whether they are with our other children or not, may still enrich our lives but they cannot take away the pain of loss.
As for being thankful for the time you had, this may be possible after you’ve dealt with the pain – for example by using the Grief Recovery Method. When you have given the pain a voice, and use techniques that directly address the emotional heartache, you are then free to enjoy and cherish special memories. However this is not possible when the loss is still unresolved. Without taking action to address the loss, even wonderful times will feel painful to you. In fact, those memories may be causing pain rather than easing it. When you’ve endured the loss of a relationship, even the positive aspects (happy memories) of that relationship create grief.
Myth #2: You need to be strong.
Many of the bereaved parents who participate in our Grief Recovery programmes have been told that they need to stay strong for their other children or relatives, or they receive compliments for appearing strong following the loss. Again – the intention behind these comments is of course sympathy, encouragement, support and admiration. However they make many parents feel worse – possibly even angry – when they are told to be strong or receive praise for keeping a stiff upper lip. No matter how it may look on the outside, they are usually falling apart on the inside. They are doing whatever they can to make it through the day. Often they must continue taking care of their other children, go back to work, keep up with housework or pretend for others that everything is okay. They didn’t choose to be in this situation, and if they could have a break from it, they would take it.
Being strong is a myth. It adds unnecessary pressure to people who are already at their breaking point. Often they don’t feel like they’re being strong, they’re just getting through the day the best that they can – underneath that “strong” façade, they’re actually feeling desperate, miserable, distraught, scared and devastated. Feelings like these are totally reasonable considering the magnitude of their personal loss.
Myth #3: Pain is the price of love.
Many popular memes on social media remind people that grief is a sign that great love was present. If you find this sentiment comforting, we would not want to tell you not to use it. However, we would re-phrase these memes to say “Love lasts forever. Pain doesn’t have to.” That’s because relationships without love can be painful (for example in cases of abandonment, abuse or violence), but loving relationships don’t require you to “pay a price” by grieving for the rest of your life. It is certainly true that the relationship between a parent and a child is unique, deep, complex and significant. Feeling pain at the end of this relationship is inevitable. But to say one is paying the price of love implies that there’s some kind of punishment for allowing oneself to love their child as much as they did.
How long will we be expected to “pay the price”? When we think of having children, do we tell ourselves it will be wonderful, but if something ever happens, we’ll need to sacrifice the rest of our lives? Pain is certainly to be expected, but it does not have to dominate your experience for the rest of your days. You can relieve the pain and still keep all of the love you had for your child. In fact, participants find that their memories are more vivid and wonderful than they were when they were suffering.
Myth #4: You need to let grief run its course.
We receive conflicting messages about loss. On the one hand, we’re told that life will never be the same, and that we’ll have a hole in our hearts for the rest of our lives. On the other hand, we’re told that everything will get better in time. Perhaps neither of these is true, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Let’s begin telling a different story about life after loss.
Time allows us to create new routines, go back to work, and create some kind of a “new life” after loss. It does not, however, have any healing effect on grief. Nearly everyone has experienced losses, some of them early in life or from decades ago, that still trigger feelings of sadness, anger or regret. Over time, we get used to the absence of a loved one and adapt our lives. But we do not “get over” the loss.
Letting grief “run its course” implies that emotions need to be felt in order to pass, and that we will feel better in doing so. This is partially true. Grief is indeed an emotional experience, not an intellectual one. We do need to accept our feelings and realise that they are normal and natural. By feeling our feelings, we usually feel some relief. Unfortunately we can feel our feelings for years and years, and still the same things will continue to affect us. There is a better way to fully acknowledge and experience our emotions within a safe, supportive environment that actually leads to long-term improvement of the symptoms of grief, not just temporary relief. If you’re waiting until you’re “all cried out”, you may wait for the rest of your life. Action, specifically the actions covered in the Grief Recovery Method, is much more effective and long lasting than allowing your life to be overtaken by grief indefinitely.
Myth #5: You will never be happy again after the loss of a child.
Losing a child does indeed change your life forever. We would never tell you to “move on” or act like nothing has happened, nor would you want to. Your child will always have a place in your heart and will always be a part of you. Life after bereavement will never be the same, either. You will need to create new routines, perhaps new aspects of your identity, new connections, and a new story about your life. It is much easier to do these things when you have faced your grief and actively taken steps to move through it.
Happiness, just like sadness, is a natural and normal emotion. Everyone is deserving and worthy of happiness, including those who have suffered bereavement. When you take action by participating in a Grief Recovery programme, you actually create more space in your heart for your child, because the pain is no longer taking up that room. Imagine being able to think of your child again without feeling overcome with sadness. You are able to speak of your child’s life without focussing on their death. You are better able to create new ways of including them in your life because the pain is no longer overwhelming. Participating in a Grief Recovery programme not only helps you feel better, it helps you honour your child in new and more loving ways. The rest of your family also benefits because when you’re no longer consumed by the pain, you have more love to give others.
Hope for those bereaved by child loss
The loss of a child is truly devastating. But it does not have to mean that your life is over. To provide some inspiration and hope, we would like to share stories of three of our Grief Recovery Specialists below who decided to help others after suffering the loss of a child. We hope their stories will help you take action in dealing with the pain of bereavement and give you some hope going forward. To find out more about our training programmes, please click here. To find a Grief Recovery Specialist near you, visit our map or our directory of specialists working online.
"As a result of that workshop my relationship with Flynn has been completely transformed. I’ve got all my memories back of him whereas before I was stuck on the painful ones of the end of his life. Now that the pain has gone, I can remember everything about him. Of course, I miss him every day and sometimes I’m sad when I think about him – which is all normal and natural. But often I remember him with happiness and I also feel closer to him than ever which is wonderful.”
- Nicky Clifford, Grief Recovery Specialist, on the Grief Recovery programme after the death of her son
Grief UK's MD Carole Henderson speaks with Lucy Herd, Grief Recovery Specialist and Founder of Jack's Law
‘When Life Stops’ podcast presenter and Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist, Detola Amuré answers "If you could write a book about your experience, what would you call it and why?"
Bereaved mum Nicky Clifford talks about some of the benefits of the Grief Recovery Method and becoming a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist
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