The death of a child comes as a great loss and may give rise to acute grief. The
child may be young and their death can seem tragic and unfair to their parents,
carers, family members and friends.
The death of an adult child is also a great loss for parents and also may seem
unjust. The significance of the loss may not be acknowledged by others because
the person was an adult. Children are not supposed to die before the parents in
the natural order of things.
People usually find they have strong reactions even if they knew the death was
coming. Some may feel numb or dazed with the shock, or get really upset, and
feel angry, guilty and sad.
It may be hard to sleep or eat. Some may feel very tired and find their minds
are full of many thoughts. All of these responses are part of normal grief.
Each person, young or old will respond in their own special way which may be
different from others in the family. There is no set pattern or time limit.
Mostly, the first strong emotions become calmer after some time has passed, but
certain reminders can bring these feelings back again, such as Mothers Day,
Christmas, anniversaries and other memories of the child.
Parents may find they have the “aching arms” of yearning and needing to cuddle
They may find that along with the death of their child they have lost their
sense of future direction.
It can be very hard to talk with other parents about their children.
While some parents may be able to help each other, many find it hard or even
impossible to do. Each is trying to cope with their own burden. They may have
different ways of doing this. One may want the comfort of being close and
touching, or to talk. Another may want to be alone and to think or be out doing
something to keep busy. Sometimes this can be different to their usual
behaviour. Some parents may develop difficulties in their relationship because
of their different ways of grieving.
It can help to get support from a good friend, a professional person or support
group until they feel better.
- Staying with a child who has just died, alone or with close family, holding,
touching and talking to the child, can help people to accept that the death has
- It is important people are allowed to show their strong feelings of grief if
they want to and are given support, time, and have their questions answered.
This includes others who may be affected, for example, brothers and sisters,
grandparents, school friends, and those who cared for the child around the time
- It can help to get information from doctors and others to try to make sense of
how the child came to die.
- The funeral service is a way in which people come together to remember the child
and celebrate their life. They can also pay tribute to them, express their
sadness, say goodbye in a public way and receive the support of family and
friends. Cultural groups often have their own ways of doing this and of
continuing the period of mourning. It is usually helpful for parents and other
family members to be as closely involved in the preparation of the funeral as
- Some find it helps to provide a means by which the memory of the child can live
on by, for example, making a garden, or creating some other memorial.
All of these things can help people come to terms with the death of a child. It
does not mean they forget or that there is no longer any sadness and pain.
However it often happens that the child gradually occupies a different place in
their minds and hearts and they can adjust to life without their physical
presence. They learn to live with the pain, not in the pain. They will also need
support and permission (but not pressure) to continue with life: to laugh, to
think about other things and to make plans for a different future.
Page last updated 17th April, 2008