“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” Matthew 5:4,
The loss of a child is one of the most excruciating painful losses anyone can go through. And if you were a caregiver of a young child or adult or have suffered PTSD from the trauma of the event, it can seem impossible to get through it, you are never the same and wonder if life can ever be good again.
After the loss of my oldest daughter Joran, I knew I needed to be an example to my living Daughter and grieve in a healthy way and try to find joy in life again or she may not be able to find joy and happiness for herself. But how can we do that?
Because I was my daughter’s caregiver after her car accident and gave up my career to care for her when I lost her I also lost my job and purpose for living. I was with her every day for 24 hours a day 7 days a week so when I lost her I was suddenly alone and the house was empty. I lost my daughter, my best friend the one I looked forward to seeing every morning as she greeted me each day with a smile, she didn’t complain and she had a wonderful sense of humor. We had fun and laughter every day and made a game of her therapy in walking and pool therapy. Even on the hard day’s, she was amazing and I told her she was my hero because of her strength and refusal to give up. She also gave me lots of hugs and kisses which nothing can replace.
When she passed away and for months and months afterwards, I sat on the sofa not knowing what to do and not being able to leave the house with what I called “lead feet” not being able to move or go out in public to the store or to church afraid of seeing people and crying in front of them or of the things they might say or not say when trying to “help”. The first year was hard but in many ways, the second year was even harder. I isolated myself from the world. I didn’t have a business or job to go back to anymore and nothing appealed to me as rewarding and fulfilling as caring for my daughter. Plus how could I even keep a job as I had “grief brain” and had a hard time focusing and remembering things? Not knowing what to do I started writing and blogging. Putting my thoughts and words on paper has been healing for me.
So how does a parent grieve in a healthy way?
- Be gentle with yourself, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some parents have a memorial like I do at their child’s crash site, or will have balloon and butterfly releases. We also planted a magnolia tree at our church in her memory with a plaque that read; daughter, teacher, friend.
- Give yourself time, there is no time expiration on grief. Others around you will want you to be over it and back to the person you were before, but you are never the same person, you are forever changed, it does not mean that you have to stay stuck in your grief. Grief can give you the opportunity to be better than you were before because you appreciate what is most important in life, love for one another.
- Pray for strength to get through each day. After Joran’s accident, I prayed each day for God to give me the strength and the wisdom to handle whatever problems came up each day. After her death, I prayed the same prayer and for God to heal my broken heart.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me Strength”. Philippians 4:13
- I know this is hard to do… Forgive in time those who have hurt you or your child, not forgiving will not bring your child back and it will hurt you and your health. It does not mean you should trust them or have them in your life; it does not keep them from prosecution if they have done something unlawful or from the wrath of God.
- Forgive yourself. When the inner me or the enemy is attacking you, know that this is not from God. Every grieving parent I have spoken to goes through the “I wish I had”, “I should have”, and “why didn’t I”? I wish I had not let her/him take the car or I should have talked to her/him that day, I should have done this or I should have said that why didn’t I see this coming?….I know that “the would have”, ” should have” guilt and shame can kill you. I saw it with a friend who lost her only daughter and then died months later of a broken heart. Don’t let this happen to you. You are not God and could see the future, if you could you would not have let them get in that car that day or walked to the park or any other situation that resulted in their death.
- Try to get some exercise when you are ready. In the beginning, you may find as I did that it is a monumental task just to put one foot in front of the other and caring on for your other children. But if you can get out even if just to go out and go for walks with your dog, spouse, neighbor or friend. If you don’t feel like going out yet consider getting a rebounder to get yourself going (see the post on rebounding for more about it). I started walking my dogs late at night so that I could cry, grieve and no one would hear or see me.
7. Which brings me to this one, cry and do not hold it in. After Joran ’s accident, I tried to be strong for everyone especially Joran and I held my pain and grief inside. I had nodules and a goiter on my thyroid and could barely swallow. After Joran passed it was if the dam broke and the flood of tears would not stop. I don’t apologize for my tears since they are not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. They are God’s gift to us to express our loss; they are also a healthy way for us to recover. Tears are healing, as the nodules and goiter in my thyroid healed after I expressed my grief and released the bottled up tears inside.
8. Try to eat a healthy diet. You may not feel like eating in the beginning, so when you eat try to make it count like in having a piece of fruit or a healthy vegetable smoothie. I found that when I was too sick to eat if I kept berries and nuts handy to nibble on it helped and taking melatonin and or eating a banana at night helped me sleep.
9. Be careful not to indulge too much in alcohol to numb and stuff the pain. Also be careful and avoid drugs even prescription medication can be deadly if not taken properly. The doctor prescribed me Temazepam for sleep and Lorazepam for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. My depression and anxiety kept getting worse so I took more medicine until I couldn’t take feeling like that anymore; I thought of suicide if something didn’t change. Once I weaned myself slowly off the medication I felt much better, like a different person. I also drank red wine to help the pain in my heart; I thought I would die of a broken heart like my friend did. Alcohol can be a slippery slope and a depressant so be careful and not overindulge, instead talk to someone who understands and will help you so you don’t.
10. See your doctor in the first year after your loss and get a physical. You are much more likely to suffer from physical health issues after the major stress that comes with the of a loss of a child. See your doctor and tell him or her what is going on.
11. Find a cause that honors your child and give back when you are ready, even if it is just by listening to and hugging a newly grieving parent. I wrote a book Nutritional and Spiritual Healing for the Brain, a parent and caregivers guide to healing after a brain injury about my daughter’s brain injury and recovery to help parents who have children or a family member with a TBI. Justin Bartlett is an animal hospital and rescue for animals named after the son they lost who loved animals.
12. Losing a child you were a full-time caregiver of no matter what age, is one of the worst kinds of grief. The more the voids you have the deeper the loss. Find something healthy to fill that void. I adopted a small dog that that was abused and lost her babies. Aria was just what I needed to give me a new purpose and by helping her heal I was filling a void in having something to love and care for. I’m not sure who saved who. I found it difficult to find a Christian therapist that understood the Grief of child loss and the trauma of PTSD. Since it was most important to me to have a Christian therapist, I had to learn to find ways to deal with the PTSD triggers. Every time I hear a siren it is a trigger for PTSD and reminds me of the morning that I found my daughter. I learned to keep the radio on to Way FM or TV on to provide background noise so I can’t hear it, and this sweet smiling face helps to forget the trauma.
13. Find something that you enjoy doing and will give you joy and purpose. I enjoy writing, painting, and photography and took some digital photography classes at the local college. Writing is healing and gives me a purpose in helping others.
14. When you are ready to reach out to friends and family who were there for you in the past. Some will want you back in their life some won’t. Forgive those who don’t and embrace those who do. Understand that they will never know how you feel or what it is like unless they go through it as well. Show them mercy and grace.
15. Surround yourself with a healthy caring support system. I had two friends that stuck with me during the worst of my grief after my daughter passed and they became my rock and the Lord became my strength that was after I stopped blaming God and being angry at him. Also if you join and meet other parents who have lost a child in a support group they will become your new best friends and they will understand where others will not be able to.
16. Try not to make any major important moves or decisions for the first year or two such as a major move, divorce or giving away your child’s things too soon. You don’t need any more grief and loss at this time while you heal.
17. Find or join a church with a grief class like Grief Share, go to griefshare.com to find one in your area. I would recommend one that has a class just for grieving parents, you will not be able to relate to one that has people in it that are grieving parents, friends, siblings, and spouses all in the same class because they are very different from the loss of a child
18. Go to a local chapter of The Compassionate Friends support group for parents who have lost a child, to find one in your area go to compassionatefriends.com. There is also a support group for grieving parents on Facebook TCF-Loss of a Child.
19. Take an Inner Healing Class when you are ready, it has a section on grief. Available at .some churches. Google inner healing to find out more about it and find a church in your area offering classes.
20. Get grief counseling. If you have insurance most policies will give three sessions with no copay. If you don’t have insurance or mental health coverage call Hospice they offer three free sessions even if your loved one was not on Hospice at the time. They also have counseling for your other children as well either in their office or in a group setting at their school. They also have a Good Grief Camp for kids under 18.
21. Get marriage counseling if you are married if your spouse will go and If he won’t go with you consider going yourself. There is a high rate of divorce after the loss of a child. I have also talked to some parent’s that they have bonded closer to their spouse in their grief, so don’t give up too soon. You don’t want to suffer another loss on top of the one you have.
22. Above all reach out to someone during the times when you are in so much grief, heartache and pain that you think that you can’t take it anymore and are thinking of taking your life. That’s not always easy to do because most people just stop coming around and calling you or will drift out of your life after a trauma and loss of a child. If you don’t have at least one trusted friend to turn to please call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK.
I have done this hard grief work to get stronger for my daughter Lindsay. The trauma of losing her sister has been hard enough for her to deal with; I don’t want Lindsay to go through losing me now. I am trying to stay strong for her and my Faith in Jesus Christ is the reason I am still here, I know he’s not finished with me yet. If you want the pain and darkness to go away then we need Jesus Christ more then ever.
If you found this page because you have lost your child, know that I am so sorry for your loss but I am glad you are seeking out healthy ways in which to deal with this devastating loss. And I pray for peace, comfort for you and for you to be surrounded by the love of God at this time.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18
I would love to hear your comments on what you did that helped you through the process of grieving your child.
Katheryn De Wolfe-Walker took care of her daughter Joran after a traumatic brain injury for almost six years before her death in 2015. Katheryn is a blogger, designer, photographer and artist, living in Lake Worth Florida and practices healthy green design and barrier-free handicapped design. Call 561-364-0074 for more information.