When a Child Dies

A Child’s Death

When a child dies, your family is dealt a significant blow. The family may seem to break down as roles start to shift. Parents may be at a loss as to what their roles are now that they have lost a child. How do you see your identity in the family? How do you fit in to this family? The martial relationship can also be dealt a potentially lethal role. Couples overwhelmed by their own grief, may not be able to support and care for each other. Each may retreat into his or her own grief and pain and isolate themselves form each other and the family. Overwhelmed by the pain of loosing a child, you may be unable to cope with your feelings, unable to empathize or comfort your partner, and support the other through this terrible period. While both parents lost a child, each parent had a unique relationship with his or her child and may respond differently. There is no right way to grieve. Each person is unique and so will be his or her expression and journey through grief.


Parents may experience guilt and a sense of failure that they were not able to protect their child from harm. As outsiders to the family, we may not be prepared to understand how a parent can feel such a sense of failure and guilt. The agony is too much to bear for some parents – how could they have failed their child, how could they not have anticipated this danger, how could they not have protected their child from all the dangers and harm out there in the world? It is normal for some grieving parents to experience such consuming guilt and overwhelming sense of failure.  Parents may feel the guilt from society’s unrealistic expectations that a parent should and can protect their child from all forms of harm. But as we know this is not true. We can’t bubble wrap our children, we can not lock them up inside and protect them from the world, we don’t have superpowers to prevent them from getting ill or being involved in a car accident.

Support for Both Parents

It’s important that family, friends, coworkers, and mental health workers support both parents in this time of tragedy.  Both parents have lost a child, both are grieving a life lost too young, both parents require support and understanding. Unfortunately too often, men are left to grieve silently on their own. Too often we assume men have it all together and we fail to ask them how they are doing, what do they need, how can we support them, do they need a shoulder to lean on an ear to talk to or just someone sitting with them silently in grief. The tragedy is, we ask men “How is your wife coping?” but few ask how are you, the father is coping with your own grief.

Each person, in their grief, for their lost child will experience the coming days, weeks, months, and years differently. It is important to realize we all grieve differently and there is no one way to grieve, there is no right or wrong way. As parents, you may need time for yourself to grieve your loss, but at the same time you need to be present to support your other children and your spouse in their grieving process too. Don’t go through this process alone. Ask for help or support for family, friends, and a therapist.

You don’t need to put on a brave face and pretend everything is OK. Because it’s not, everything right now is not OK. It’s OK to cry, be sad, not cook dinner or want to be happy. You need to acknowledge your emotions and feelings. But don’t be surprised and upset if you find yourself laughing some days. Finding joy and happiness doesn’t mean you didn’t love your child.

Helping your Child Grieve

Allow your children to grieve in their own ways. Remind your children you love them. Offer them a supporting shoulder to cry on and a place for them to talk about their sorrow and fears. Give them space to grieve in their own way. Let them know it’s OK to joke, have fun, watch a funny movie, go out with friends, to not be sad all the time, to get on and live their life. Children will grieve and react to death in their own way, which can be different then adult grieving. Understand your child may act up or out. They may need time off from school, they may be clingy or more distant, or they may regress acting babyish. You may wish to notify school and other supporting adults that your child has been affected by the death of a sibling.

Don’t force very young child to attend the funeral. Given them the option. Let them know you respect their choice. If they can’t make it to the funeral, ensure they have a trusted adult at home with them, who will care for them during this difficult time period. Don’t just leave them alone at home or with a babysitter.

Ask your child how they would like to remember sibling. Very young children may be very confused by death and may not understand what it really means.  They will need your guidance and explanations to grasp what death really means. Your teen children may have their own way of expressing and remember their departed sibling. There is no right or wrong way to remember someone. Remember to give your child the space to express him or herself in his or her own way. It may not be the way you want to remember your child but it is their way to express their own feelings of loss.

Be willing to sit in silence with someone, whether it’s your partner, your child or a relative or friend who has lost their child. Sometimes words are not enough or words are just not able to be expressed. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. And that’s OK. Your presence is the biggest support you can give.

Continue to provide support yourself and your family over the coming year(s). The first year may be difficult with all the first birthdays and holidays to be celebrated when your child or brother or sister is gone. But when your child passes milestones of their dead sibling, there may also be a trigger or a reminder of the loss as their sibling never got to be that age or they died at that age.

Bereavement or Grief Counselling

Offer the opportunity to your family and partner to attend bereavement support groups, individual, family or marriage counselling. There are times when meeting other children who have gone through this experience can be helpful to children. It shows them that they are not alone.a man grieves for his child at a cemetery Support groups can offer support to your family as a whole and to each of you individually as you meet other families at different stages of the bereavement process. Talking with a therapist can help you, your children, and your family heal if you find you are stuck in grief. Call us at Family-Therapy we are here to support you and your family through the grief process at 613-287-3799.