Pediatric Loss And Bereavement

What are bereavement and grief?

Losing a child causes feelings of bereavement and grief. Bereavement is a feeling of being deprived or suffering due to a loss or death of a loved one. Grief is a normal, healthy response to a loss. A person's grief is his experience and reaction after the loss or death. When a child dies, the people who were left behind may feel different for a while. The death of a child while inside the mother's womb or shortly after birth or during childhood or teenage years may cause deep sorrow and pain. You may cry a lot, feel angry, guilty, worthless, hopeless, helpless, or confused. Healing from a loss or death needs accepting, recovering from, and learning the meaning of the sad experience.

What are the stages of grief?

When you experience loss and death of a child, you may have different feelings at different times. You may go through the following stages when you are dealing with grief:

  • Shock, numbness, and denial: Even if the death of a child was expected, it may still come as a surprise or shock. Shock may leave you feeling numb emotionally which may lasts for hours to days. The shock and numbness may occur immediately after the death of a child. You may also deny or find it hard to accept that a child has died.

  • Yearning and searching: During this period, you may often be irritable and anxious. You may continue to miss and hold on to the memories of the child who died. Sometimes, you may feel guilty because of unfinished business at the time of his death. You may not have said all the things you wanted to say to the child. You may have had differences or conflicts with him that were not resolved. You may feel guilty for being the one who is still alive.

  • Disorganized and despair: You may feel confused, lonely, and depressed. Extreme sadness may be felt as though the pain and despair will not go away. There may be times that you might isolate (separate) yourself from your family or friends. Once you slowly recover, you may try to reach out to them and enjoy their company again.

  • Reorganization: As time passes by, you may learn to accept the changes in your life. You may finally say good-bye to the child and take control of your own life. You may now be ready to move on and nourish new relationships.

What are the signs and symptoms of bereavement and grief?

The loss and death of a child may cause shock and confusion at first. You may need time to go over and over the events around the death. You may think that mistakes were made, and feel guilty or angry. You may have any of the following after the death of a child:

  • Feel worthless, hopeless, helpless, or confused.

  • Get tired easily, crying often, and have a hard time enjoying things or having fun.

  • Holding on to the dead child's memories, such as his clothing or other belongings.

  • Poor concentration, not able to think clearly, or trouble making decisions.

  • Problems eating, such as poor appetite or overeating.

  • Sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep.

What are hospice services?

Hospice services aim to improve the patient's quality of life during his remaining days. This may also help you and the dying child's other loved ones. Hospice care prepares you for your losses and offers continued assistance through bereavement programs after death. You will be helped to become prepared for the child's passing, and get support through sad times after his death. After the child dies, you and other family members or friends may enroll in hospice programs. You may participate in formal bereavement programs during the first year after the child's death. Caregivers provide support for the bereaved survivors and check the need for bereavement counseling or psychiatric referrals.

What is palliative care?

The main goal of palliative care is to relieve physical, psychological (mental), social, and spiritual sufferings. This is usually given to those who have been diagnosed with any type of terminal illness. A terminal illness is an active and worsening condition which cannot be cured and is expected to lead to death. Aside from focusing on the quality of life of patients with advanced diseases, it also aims to help their families. The bereaved survivors are helped with coping with the stress of taking care of the patient, and the death of a child.

What can I do to help myself after the loss of a child?

Accepting the loss of a child and pain of the grief process is hard. You may feel angry, sad, or depressed. Anything can be a reminder of the loss and trigger these feelings. Events, birthdays, holidays, and the dates of death may also bring these emotions. The following may help you cope with the death of a child:

  • Express your thoughts, feelings, or guilt: Try painting, singing, playing a musical instrument, or writing poems, stories, or journals. Letting your feelings come out creatively is very helpful in working with grief. Counseling and emotional support may be given by caregivers. You will be free to express your emotional needs to someone who is willing to listen. You and your family or friends may join support groups, or meet other families who have been through the same experience. Ask caregivers for more information about bereavement and support groups.

  • Keep the child's memories alive: Even though the child passed away, it may be nice to keep some of his things. These may include pictures or mementos, footprints, handprints, locks of hair, toys, or blankets. Keeping them may help you remember the joys and happiness of the child.

  • Rest is important. Allow yourself time to heal. Grief is not something you can rush. Live and enjoy each day while looking forward to the future. Do not try to do everything all at the same time. Do only what is needed and let other things wait until later. Ask your family, friends, or caregivers for help.

  • Share your feelings. Try saying what you really feel or share stories of the one who just passed away. Often just talking things out with someone you trust or crying when you need to can be a big help.

  • Take good care of yourself. Do not forget to look after yourself and other family members or friends. You must eat healthy food and keep yourself healthy. Avoid using alcohol, smoking, or taking medicines other than those given to you by caregivers to hide your pain. Try to get out of the house a little each day. Go for a walk or meet with a friend. Be sure to spend time with your family and friends. It is also important that you have time to yourself each day.

How will I know if I need more help coping with the loss of a child?

You may be overcome by emotions brought on by grief, and have problems accepting the loss. You are unable to cope with the loss of a child when:

  • Bereavement and grief is chronic (long-term).

  • Grief reactions are delayed or too severe (bad).

  • Relationships especially with your family, job, or school are badly affected.

  • Reckless behavior, such as substance abuse or heavy drinking, develops.

  • True feelings are hidden or masked and you pretend that everything is okay.

Where can I find support and more information?

Experiencing bereavement and grief due to the loss or death of a child is hard. You may feel angry, sad, helpless, or frightened. You may blame yourself, other people, or the caregivers and think something went wrong. These feelings are normal. You, your family, friends, and other survivors may want to join a support group. This is a group of people who may also have a child who died or just passed away. Contact the following for more information:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address:
, or
  • National Cancer Institute
    6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
    Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
    Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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