How It Feels After the Death of a Child

Soon after Jax died I dove into the Internet for comfort. A few people told me about The Compassionate Friends, a national organization aimed at helping parents and grandparents grieve the death of a child naturally and without isolation to heal and find hope again. One evening my wife came to check on me in the office and found my red, puffy face soaked with tears. I joined a chat room at the website of The Compassionate Friends and explained to strangers for the first time Jax’s death.

The Compassionate Friends

The Compassionate Friends

“Why would you even want to do that to yourself?” she asked with a compassionate smirk. I laughed back. “I don’t know,” I answered.

That same night I found a section of the site for “To the Newly Bereaved.” I read it and realized I wasn’t alone. My wife dealt with everything differently than I did. She didn’t want to deal with any of it. So the ability to identify with countless others that already experienced and came through this hell was a big deal for me.

The “To the Newly Bereaved” lists emotions and feelings that parents, grandparents and siblings might feel shortly after the loss of a child. It’s divided into psychological, emotional, physical and family/social categories. If you know of anyone suffering through grief, this may be of help to them. They’re not alone. Below I’ve listed what I remember feeling and struggling with, and often still do.

Psychological

  • You wonder how someone can feel this much pain and survive.
  • Thoughts of suicide briefly enter your mind. You tell yourself you want to die—and yet you want to live to take care of your family and honor your child’s memory.
  • You are no longer afraid of death as each day that passes puts you one day closer to being with your child.
  • Thoughts of “what ifs” enter your mind as you play out scenarios that you believe would have saved your child.
  • Your memory has suddenly become clouded. You’re shrouded in forgetfulness. You’ll be driving down the road and not know where you are or remember where you’re going. As you walk, you may find yourself involved in “little accidents” because you’re in a haze.
  • You find there’s a videotape that constantly plays in an endless loop in your mind, running through what happened.

Emotional

  • You rail against the injustice of not being allowed the choice to die instead of your child.
  • You yearn to have five minutes, an hour, a day back with your child so you can tell your child of your love or thoughts left unsaid.
  • Guilt becomes a powerful companion as you blame yourself for the death of your child. Rationally you know that you were not to blame—you most certainly would have saved your child if you’d been given the chance.

Physical

  • You no longer care about your health and taking care of yourself—it just doesn’t seem that important anymore.
  • The tears come when you least expect them.
  • Your appetite is either gone or you find yourself overeating.

Family & Social

  • Things you liked to do which seemed so important before now seem meaningless.
  • If you have surviving children, you find yourself suddenly overprotective, not wanting to allow them out of your sight. Yet you feel like a bad parent because it’s so difficult to focus on their needs when you’re hurting so bad yourself.
  • Others say you’ll someday find “closure,” not understanding that closure never applies when it is the death of your child.

One of my goals of this blog is for it to be a resource for the newly bereaved. My vision is to create a section that parents can click on and find anything and everything to help them realize that they’re not alone, that they have the strength to get through this and to keep breathing as the sun will rise tomorrow. A link to “To the Newly Bereaved” will be the first thing someone will read in that section, when I can get that up.

9 thoughts on “How It Feels After the Death of a Child

  1. Even though I know it is irrational, I still have guilt that I couldn’t ” will” Jax better or “pray” him back to life in the hospital that day. I have the tape recorder play back of my experience that day, that happens In my head, often.

  2. Your words are going to be so helpful, as they have been for me. Thank you for opening up about your feelings. Being so far away I have no way of knowing. You are certainly in my prayers.

  3. I relate to so much of the different reactions/ responses you wrote about. Some of it has been delayed and hasn’t even hit me until fairly recently. I don’t think it ever gets easier or that any of us will find closure, but something that sticks with me is an idea I read in that little yellow book Mom gave all of us. Our lives will never be the same. We will never be the same. We need not try to get over it or through it or find closure but to learn to assimilate this loss into our lives, to incorporate the meaning of Jax’s loss into our lives. It has changed us, and we should let it.

  4. I, like Eloise, really appreciate your willingness to share your grief and thoughts with us. Each time I read one of your blogs I end up crying myself. I have Jax’s name where I pray and study and pray for all of you often. I love you all and will be here if there is anything else I can do besides pray and love.

  5. Since Jax has left us all so has so many other things. All who knew Jax and his family hold on to what memories we had with him and we cherish them. I have so many in my backyard picking strawberries, paddling around the pool in Mariah’s boat while we get everything off the surface of the water only to throw everything back in to be retrieved again. At the District we would laugh so loud we were probably disrupting others but I didn’t care because the joy on his face when we bounced that ball high above the buildings in the middle of the quad was priceless and I didn’t care if we got in trouble or the ball landed in a kiosk. Like Karis said we will never get closure and instead of figuring that out I choose to focus on missing him and remembering the amazing things about him like I will never get rid of those strawberry plants in my backyard and as I pick them this season and eat them I will remember how amazing it was when we picked them together and laughed at silly things then went and did a puzzle with grandpa and grandma on the outside table. This is what we do to cope with his loss and we do it together.

  6. I did not know Jaxson that well except through pictures of his adorable face, But I know you and love you all and I still share in your grief. I lost a child at 14 weeks of age. There are no words.

  7. Hello, it’s Karie, Karis’ friend. Your post today reminds me of an experience I had with an elderly woman almost 20 years ago. I went on a senior citizen tour with my great grandma twenty years ago. On the trip, I met a lovely older lady, who was around 80 years old. She was a widow and had outlived 3 husbands. As she recalled her life and youth, her eyes twinkled as she spoke of each of her husbands. One was funny, kind and the father of her children. One was a great dancer. One was hardworking and a man of God. All these stories were shared with laughter and a smile. But then she recalled the loss of her son. He had died from cancer when he was 30 years old and she was 50 years old. It had been 30 years since he had passed on but the pain of losing her child brought her to tears and she couldn’t speak anymore. At 16 years old, I witnessed that the pain of losing a child never ever leaves. The mourning of the loss of your child becomes a part of you as long as you live. No matter how old you are or your child was. It’s a loss that no parent can ever get over. My sister in law lost her son (our nephew) 2 years ago, I realize that her mourning is not a “period of time” but instead a new part of her that we embrace as we grieve the loss with her. Prayers to you and your family.

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