Tuesday 10 March 2009

When my child has died, please....

(This is one of many works on the subject of child death that I came across over twenty years ago when David died and we were subsequently involved in helping to establish the Alder Centre at Alder Hey Hospital and the Child Death Helpline. I shall probably publish a few of them in this blog from time to time. And may I take this opportunity to point out that a ‘child’ can be anyone whose parent outlives them – be they as yet unborn or 60 years old. Our love for and hopes for our children start long before they are actually born so when someone miscarries they have many of the sensations of an eighty year old who expected, in the ‘natural’ order of things, to die before their son or daughter. Although anonymous, the original writer of this was a woman.)

When my child has died, please...

Don’t ignore me because you are uncomfortable with the subject of death. It makes me wonder if what happened means nothing to you.

Acknowledge my pain, even if you think it shouldn’t be as great as it is... (because I’ve ‘only’ lost a baby or one of four!)

Losing a child is one of the most difficult experiences to face and the depth of my grief will shock even me as kit returns in waves. A tremendous number of emotional and physical hurts will come my way – please don’t minimise them.

Please be aware that holidays and anniversaries will be particularly difficult times.

If you invite me for lunch (or bring a meal around (and please do) in the midst of my grief, please expect to talk about my loss. It’s all I’m thinking about and I need to talk it out; small talk neither interests nor helps just now.

Please don’t change the subject if I start to cry. Tears and talking about it are the healthiest way for me to release my intense emotions.

Telling me that So-an-so’s situation must have been much worse won’t make mine easier. It only makes me feel you don’t understand or can’t acknowledge the extent of my pain.

Don’t expect that because my child is in heaven or ‘with God’ I shouldn’t be hurting. Even the most fervent believer in God would rather have their child with them. My arms ache to hold my child and I miss him or her so much. And God might not be finding favour with me right now.

Now is not the time to tell me about your own childbirth or child’s experiences... It reminds me in the most painful way of what I’m missing.

Don’t remind me that I’m so lucky to have other children. I am and I know it. But my pain is excruciating for this child; the others don’t take that pain away. Indeed, they can add to it because I’ve got to comfort them as well.

No matter how bad I look, please don’t say “You look terrible”. I feel like a total failure right now and I don’t need to hear that I look awful too.

Don’t devalue my experience or my child – the feelings of deprivation are so intense. A child who has never breathed is nonetheless missed so if I’ve ‘only’ miscarried or my child was stillborn don’t forget he was a very special, unique person.

Please don’t suggest my child can be replaced by my having more. Would you say “Don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea,” to someone who had just lost their husband?

When you ask my husband how I’m doing – please don’t forget to ask him how he’s doing too. He has also lost his child. If you ignore his hurt it suggests that his pain doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.


  1. What a poignant piece.

  2. First: I am so very sorry for your loss.

    Second: I am not a parent, but have witnessed the grief of three people who are close to me who have suffered this loss. I had no idea how to respond, except to listen. Thank you for posting this.

    First again: Again, my most heartfelt, sincere condolences for your loss.

  3. As a parent, I whole heartedly agree. Thanks so much for sharing this. I pray to God I never have to use it.

  4. Thanks for putting this up. The silence when one has lost a child, before or after birth is one of the hardest things to deal with.

    I read your post on the holiday from hell - it was worse than our holiday from hell, and that is something!!!

  5. I’m sorry to read about your son, David. Thanks for posting this. I colleague of mine just lost his 23 year old son in a car crash. This post is timely and helpful.

  6. A timely piece, Scriptor. My thoughts are ever with those friends whose children pre-decease them, at any age - It ought not to be the way of the world, ever.

  7. "The heart of the wise is found in the house of mourning..." Solomon.

    When my first wife died 12 years ago, a 16 year old son of a friend of mine came up to me and said awkwardly, "I don't know what to say..." And that was enough. It's all he had or knew.

    The writer you quote can teach us how to comfort and mourn because she learned firsthand. She's part of what I call The Fraternity of the Brokenhearted.

    Loss comes in many forms: a child, a spouse, eyesight (I've worked with two students who were going blind), ...

    I suspect that compassion is often learned as the result of personal loss. The lessons are valuable, but the cost is immense. No one signs up for that course, but almost all get drafted into it, one way or the other.

    The author provides pre-lessons for those who have not yet experienced great grief.

    Grief sub-sides, but never goes away; however, it outfits the mourner with a new capacity: compassion.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    Don - the broken-hearted

  8. Wonderful, Scriptor. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  9. A loss of anyone we care about is hard, but I can think of no other loss that would be more painful than the loss of a child. Truly. I'm so sorry that you had to experience it.
    This is such a wonderful reminder for all of us.
    Thank you!

  10. Scriptor, My post on this same date was a memoir to my nephew, Michael, who died 10 years ago at the tender age of 21. March 10th was his birthday.

    To this day it is difficult to speak to my sister about Michael but I do so with some trepidation. No matter how painful it is, we must never pretend he did not exist.

    There is so much irony with my sister & her 1st born and me with mine. So many similarities then and now... yet I pray that in 11 years, I will not follow her footsteps to the cemetery to bury my son. The pain of loosing a child must be excruciating.

    My sincerest condolences to your family on losing David. Although the grief may fade but the pain is ever present. If only one more day...

    I wrote a post about grief that I called "The Circle of Life". I look back on that piece every now and again to remind myself how precious life is...

    Thank you for sharing this post. It was a real eye-opener.

    Hugs ~ Lisa

  11. Thanks for letting me see this. I lost my two year old daughter a year ago and felt many of the things you touched upon.

    Its surprising how many people especially those who have known you so long try and second guess what to say to you and most often end up sadly saying nothing at all.


  12. My daughter died last year. What causes my Wife and I more hurt is when people say the same things you have mentioned.

    Your post spells out exactly how we have felt since Hazel died. Thank you

  13. Thank you. I wish more people would read this.....thank you

  14. Thank you for writing and sharing this. When my son died 3 years ago i felt like people avoided me and the subject of his passing. I hated it and felt like they didnt care.

  15. thank you ...my daughter died this feb 15 2011 and so unexpected ..like in 36 hours it was like you better come to the hospital..hospital..what is this about and then if you do not hurry you will not see her... I am still in disbelief and shock...it is all so surreal...life with out her seems impossible and unreal. i hear her i see her all day everyday. I love what you wrote and know only a parent who let a child knows this feeling. Yes, i have had people stop communicating with me and i know it is because they are uncomfortable...one even said..don't go to sad stay happy. I live in a surreal world of disbelief. thank you for your words....

  16. Three months and one day ago our daughter Miriam died at the age of 28, after many many battles with cancer since she was 15 years old, a freshman in high school. She was a star athlete, top in her class, loved the outdoors and adventure, a compassionate center for her close friends, and a loving and solid part of our family. The multiple relapse in different parts of her body, the surgeries, chemotherapies, courses of radiation, stem cell transplant, and countless biopsies and transfusions all took away pieces of her - except for her spirit. It was truly amazing watching Miriam fight back through every struggle and resume her life - graduating high school with no hair, having to recover for a year before going to college and watching her friends move on; having another relapse two weeks before orientation but she went to college anyway, graduating college after 5 1/2 years, working full-time, and getting married, married just three weeks after yet another relapse and open lung surgery. She had so much she wanted to do. She never gave up on trying to live - even to her last breath ... then she just stopped ... The force of life was so strong in her - she was a fierce warrior, It was a phenominal and unbearably painful experince watching her struggle to take in a few cubic centimeters of air while her lungs became filled with growing tumors and fluid.

    And now she is gone. I have so many thoughts and feelings. This is on my mind tonight. The pain is excruciating, choking me even when I let out the tears.

    1. Oh Hal, I feel so much for you. I can recall the time when one counted the days since one's child had died. And every day it seemed to be as bad or even worse snd not to get better.

      Miriam had a long, long struggle despite which she achieved so much. So very much. And you must have struggled along with her.

      Now, she is gone - physically - but she will never really go for as long as there is someone to remember her and to love her.

      And you, you have a new type of struggle. Whether or not you believe she is there for you as you were for her I don't know. But either way she would have expected you to carry on your new struggle as bravely as she did hers.

      Easy for me to say - my situation was different (as every child is unique so the circumstances of their death is unique). But I can tell you that if you carry on the fight it does gradually get better. There does come a time when you can look back on Miriam's life with a smile and a laugh and concentrate on the fact that you had her for 28 years rather than you have lost her three months and one day ago.

      But I won't lie to you - that time is not a few weeks off, or a few months off. All I can say is that you have managed three months. If you can manage twelve months and then twenty four months the worst is over and life starts looking livable again.

      I'm thinking of you.

      And if you want to e-msail me I'm happy to 'chat'. My e-mail is clivejedwards at gmail dot com

      Kindest regards,

    2. I also lost my little man dominic fuentes six years old this past may 23,2012 and i feel tired of this life. He had a great battle with cancer he relapsed twice and that second one took him.

    3. Oh, Erandy, I am so sorry. Every child's death is as different as the child themselves and I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to watch a child bravely suffer the effects of cancer though my brother has been through that experience with an older child.

      Clicking on your name only leads me to Google+ so I don’t know if you have a blog or a way of contacting you but if so – and if you want to ‘chat’ – I’d love to hear more from you. My e-mail is scriptorsenex at gmail dot com.

      I can’t make life any better for you but I can share some of the experiences of myself and people I have met and give you the opportunity to tell me more about Dominic. David will always be a part of my life and I will always miss him but I have been fortunate in finding life worth living again. Meeting and corresponding with others who had a lost a child helped enormously in that process.

      Even though most of the people I now know never met David he (and the effect he had on my life) is so much a part of me that he lives on through the way I interact with people.

      Kindest regards,

  17. I am so sorry for your loss.

  18. Wow! As a Mum of 4, who lost 2 other children through miscarriage (after the 3 months mark), I can totally relate to this. The loss was incredibly real and I had so many well-meaning people saying all the wrong things to make me feel like I should not be grieving as I was. Even back in the 1980's it wasn't talked about much. I was expected to just "get over it" and be happy. Minimising my loss was incredibly detrimental to the grieving process...

    1. Thanks for your comment, Liz. A lot of people fail to realise that a child is already nearly nine months old when it is born and that he loss through miscarriage has the same loss of the future feelings as the loss of a child after birth. As a bloke I find it impossible to imagine what the process itself must be like but I can imagine you getting many of the same comments. And, as you say, some of them are from well-meaning people which in a way makes it worse as it must simply isolate you even more.


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