home · contact

Carol's Columns

How Can We Care for Ourselves After the Death of a Child?

This is a frequently asked question and most important. We all know how lonely we feel after our child's death. For others, life continues on and we can't even figure out what to buy at the grocery store. Our life must go forward as well but how? We may have other children to care for and yet we can hardly get out of bed. Just getting dressed is a struggle. I would like to offer a few suggestions that have helped me and some of my bereaved clients.

First, we must break things down. All we need to think about is what must be done — getting children off to school, paying bills or making meals. We can step back from our volunteer or social commitments. We probably cannot step back from work. Hopefully, you are in a supportive environment where work can be a refuge from the chaos of your personal life.

Second, pamper yourself as much as you can given inescapable commitments. This can be as simple as a bubble bath, a walk with a friend, massage, nap or curling up with a good book. Appreciate that you may not feel like doing any of these but it is important to try. Our energy is low when grieving, even if we've had eight hours of sleep. Grief is exhausting!

Third, just because people ask questions about our child's death, we don't have to answer them. Some people mean well and some are just curious. This is especially true after the death of our child due to murder or suicide. We can simply say, "I'm sorry, I just don't feel like talking about it." Or, "It's too painful for me to talk about my child's death." If they persist, and friends won't, they are asking for themselves not you, and I would simply walk away.

Fourth, the holidays are just around the corner and we may be already dreading them. Appreciate that you can do something different and meaningful. Please go to my web site, www.carolkearns.com, and search for the "Carol's Columns" link. There are a few articles on grief and the holidays that I hope will help.

Fifth, do not turn to drugs or alcohol. We want to do anything to lessen the pain, but this is not the answer! I can't stress this enough. In my practice I have seen too many people add even more pain to themselves and the family already in pain, because of complications from alcohol and drugs. Seek help from a therapist experienced in grief issues instead.

Sixth, it's okay to say "no." This is one important way to reduce stress, even if our child hasn't died. How many times do we do things we don't want to do because we don't know how to say no? This gets tricky after our child's death, because we may have a tendency to isolate and that's not good either. Finding the balance that works is important.

Seventh, keep a journal. Initially, when our child dies, the pain is so great we feel we can hardly breathe. With time and some serious grief work, we have better days but when a dark day again hits us, we feel like we've not made progress, and no matter how hard we try, are only going backwards. The journal can remind us of all the days in between when we did feel better.

Eighth, be careful about sanctifying your deceased child. This can complicate the grief of siblings who end up with jealousy on top of their grief. My son once said to me, "Mommy, why do our friends all have pictures of Krissie and not me?" I was shocked but relieved that he addressed this. I answered, "Sweetie, that's because we have you, but we don't have Krissie anymore. If you had died, they would have your picture and not her's."

Ninth, if your spirituality is important, now is the time to turn to it. Some find great comfort in their beliefs and others are so angry at God, they have no comfort at all. I was reminded by a very spiritual woman after Krissie's death that it was okay to get angry at God. He may be running the show but you don't have to like it!

Tenth, if you have a creative outlet, please turn to it. So much of our pain is ineffable. Our creative side, whether it's painting, music or poetry can be a way of facilitating healing. Having always been a painter, I went into my studio and found myself crying more than at any other time. Through my creativity, I was able to reach levels of pain that I couldn't through words alone.

These are only a few suggestions. You may have ideas of your own that have helped you. If you would like to share them with others or if you have any questions, please contact me at: clkearns@comcast.net. Take good care of yourselves.