Death of a Child

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Parental grief reaction is based on:

1. Differences between mothers and fathers relationship and expectations with the child.

2. Conditioning by society into expected roles.

3. Mothers generally have more contact with a child than fathers, this is most obvious when a stillbirth or neo-natal death occurs.

THE MOST COMMON DIFFICULTY WITH PARENTS IS lack of communication and understanding of each others grief reactions and needs.


1. THE LEADER ROLE: It may bring feelings of ‘failure’ that a child has died, as

expectations may be that “I can look after my family.” He may defer his own grief needs in an effort to “Lead the family through this.”

2. LOVING PROTECTOR: The family ‘needs to be shielded from all hurt and

harm’ therefore by adopting a loving protector role he may try to stop his wife and other children from grieving to protect them.

a) PROVIDER: May return to work soon after a child’s death in an effort to

resume ‘normal life’ this can result in; automatic pilot due to endorphins giving an impression ‘I’m OK’. Really feels very isolated unable to communicate with friends as an impression of coping has been established.

b) PROBLEM SOLVER: Man is expected to ‘fix things’ but is unable to deal with

his own needs let alone the family ….. inadequate.

c) TOWER OF STRENGTH: Most men will suppress their own feelings ‘Big

boys don’t cry’ This can lead to hostility and ill health.

N.B. Wife may feel ‘he doesn’t care’ as he does not share grief..

3. LOSS OF DIRECTION: The expectations of that child and family plans need

to be reassessed. A new life direction may be needed. The loss of a family name.

4. ESCAPING: When the pain of grief is overwhelming, the familiar things; wife,

children … bring pain, so he seeks substitutes; work, service clubs, selling the house

etc. due to feelings of helplessness and loneliness.


1. EMOTIONAL CONFUSION: Feelings of denial and basic ‘Survival reactions’

continue for some time: denial, anger, guilt, emptiness and depression.

2. NEED TO TALK: Is overwhelming to deal with the feelings above. Conflict

arises when people don’t listen or husband discourages .. .’it will only upset


3. ROUTINE & MEMORIES, THE NURSE ROLE: The emptiness when she

returns home can be devastating: no purpose in life any more. ‘The guilt

‘What did I do wrong.’

4. ‘UNUSUAL EXPERIENCES’ These are common. seeing the child. hearing

them play, is ‘scary’ … Am I going crazy?

5. LOSS AND LONELINESS: ‘Part of me is missing’, no one left to care for. It

can be difficult to console other children and not exclude them from her


6. DIFFICULTY SEEING OTHER CHILDREN: Especially those around the

age of the dead child. Feelings of resentment towards other

mothers … NORMAL


N.B. GIVE the family permission to grieve i.e. to talk about the child that has died, as much as possible to each other and to family and friends. Be there to LISTEN.

Encourage the reduction of social involvement.

Allow time for THINKING to sort out all those feelings.

A personal journal of feelings and/or talking to the dead child is allowing grief to be recognised.

Release of emotions, crying, anger etc., together or alone. Don’t hide feelings from other members of the family. Constructive expression of anger: talk it out or write.

INVOLVEMENT with a support group, sharing listening with others who have had a similar experience can bring relief.

Further Information:

* Death of an older Child

The Compassionate Friends (SA) Inc

PO Box 26

Kent Town SA 5071

Tel: 8351 0344

© Gizelle Forgie 2014