Dear Barb—Lost Children

Dear Barb:

Hi, I have heard that losing a child is one of the worst traumas in life.  I don’t have children, but I have had a few relatives and friends who have lost children and they were never the same after the loss.  One was a friend who had a miscarriage, one couple lost their daughter at 14 years old and another lost their daughter as an adult.  I know these people well, but I did not know what to say to them.  I cannot understand their pain, but I would like to try to find a way to be a support for them.  It has been over twenty years for my friend that lost her daughter, and she still struggles.  When it is her daughter’s birthday she stays home and grieves by herself.  Her husband seems to be handling it better; he is living his life and rarely speaks of it.  My other friend’s losses were more recent, so their pain is still very raw.  Because of the pain I have seen these people go through, I am almost fearful of having a child in case this was to happen to me.  Is my reaction normal?  And what can I do to be a support to friends and family who are experiencing this terrible trauma?  Looking for advice. 

Thanks, Vanessa.

Hi Vanessa:

Thanks for your letter.  Losing at child at any age is a painful trauma and very difficult to come to grips with.  It is an experience that most of us will never experience or understand unless we have gone through it.  The worst thing you can do is tell the grieving parent you know how they feel.  You don’t. Not unless you have gone through it, and, even then, grief is a personal experience.  If you have lost a child you share the feeling of loss, but that’s it; after that the experience depends on many other factors—like the age of the child, the circumstances of the death, and whether you knew the death was imminent.

All these factors, plus many more, make the experience of grief unique to that person.  Aside from the parents, siblings will also grieve, as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends.  It is important that you remember the child.  Parents do not want their child forgotten.  So if you talk about the child, don’t feel you are going to upset the parents, their child is always in their thoughts and they love to remember them and talk about them.  A loss changes someone’s life; they can never go back to the way they were before.  Don’t rush someone through their grief, offer support and a caring ear.  You mention your friend having a particularly hard time around their child’s birthday, a time when grieving parents imagine what their child would look like or what their lives would have become.  Some people still celebrate their child’s birthday by having a party, while some celebrate alone.  There is no right or wrong, just be there and don’t hesitate to talk about their child.  They can’t pretend it didn’t happen and they don’t want the rest of the world to either.  I believe your reaction is normal and you will come to realize this is not something that happens often; you should not let it prevent you from living your life   .  You seem like a very caring person.  I hope this information was helpful.

Email your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality; your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.
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