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Expert Talk: A Psychiatrist’s Advice On How To Cope With The Loss Of A Child

Losing loved ones and friends is never easy; it can be physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging. The grief and pain caused by the loss of a person close to you can impact a person’s life in numerous ways. While losing any person is catastrophic, the pain and grief are understandably more significant and complicated with the loss of a child. 

Losing a child is challenging for any parent as making sense of the event is emotionally traumatic. This is intensified when the death is sudden and without any warning. In such a case, the loss is so profound and suffocating that it might take years and sometimes decades to accept and process this tragic event. If an individual is going through such a loss in their family, it is highly recommended that they seek professional help from a trained mental health professional (Psychiatrist or Psychologist) to cope with the same. 

The Channel 46 collaborated with Dr Fabian Almeida, Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, who shares tips that may help parents navigate the tragic incident of losing a child.

1. Accept That Overcoming Grief Will Be A Lifelong Affair

Expert Talk: A Guide On Understanding How To Cope With The Loss Of A Child

Some people think grief has a specific timeline and will be over after a year or two. However, this is not true. While intense grief will be felt initially, waves of grief will be felt throughout a person’s life. With time, these will become less frequent, but the feelings of sadness and loss are something a person can experience lifelong. 

It is important to remember and understand that even decades after losing a child, important events and milestones can trigger pain and grief. Remember crucial events like birthdays, graduation day, wedding, and other occasions are common triggers. Learning to accept them and experience them with a more positive perspective can help towards a more effective resolution of grief.

Read: 11 Tips For Parents With Introverted Kids, By A Psychologist

2. Everyone Has A Different Way Of Grieving

Expert Talk: A Guide On Understanding How To Cope With The Loss Of A Child

Grieving does not have a format or template, which means that parents who have lost their children may show different ways of grieving. While one parent may grieve by talking and sharing their experiences, another would like personal peace and privacy to mourn their loss. Additionally, cultural expectations and gender roles can also impact the grieving process of men and women. This is because while women are allowed to grieve openly, men are expected to be strong and care for those around them, making it even more emotionally challenging.  

Since there are differences in how each person tackles loss, it can sometimes cause lack of communication. In couples who have lost their child, it can be disturbing for their relationship, as they might believe that the other person is not grieving correctly. To avoid this, it is best to talk to the partner and work towards understanding each other’s coping mechanisms, limitations, expectations, and more.

Read: 9 Signs Your Mental Health Needs To Be Prioritised, By A Psychologist

3. Find Meaning In Life

Life can sometimes be more overwhelming for some people than for others. But it is essential to find the meaning in life to align your priorities and to find happiness and purpose again! For some parents, a vital step in honouring their child’s legacy is through volunteer activities. These can include volunteering at a local hospital or a cancer support organisation. Alternatively, a parent can also choose to start a memorial fund that supports the interest of their deceased child or plant trees in their child’s memory – the choices seem limitless! Get off the guilt trip – remember it is never disloyal to your child to live your life and enjoy new experiences once again. 

Here are ten helpful tips to make this journey of grief easier for you:

  • Make grief a shared experience. Include children, extended families, close neighbours, and friends in discussing memorial plans and rituals.
  • Spend as much time as possible with people you love so that you can share your grief with people who can comfort you.
  • If a child has lost a sibling, never compare them to the child who died. Always ensure they do not feel the guilt or need to “fill in” for them.
  • Ask family and friends for assistance with housework, errands, and caring for other children. This will give you the time to process, evolve, seek support, and stabilise.
  • Take your time getting rid of your child’s belongings. Take time to decide what to do with them.
  • Overcoming loss takes time and patience. But it is always a good idea to have regular routines, as knowing that life goes on will help children and parents to grieve and channel their loss more effectively.
  • Prepare yourself mentally to respond to difficult questions like, “How many children do you have?” or comments like, “At least you have another child.” Remember that people are not trying to hurt your feelings. They do not know how to comfort or talk to you. You may limit your interaction with others judiciously if it gets too tough.
  • Because the intensity and isolation of parental grief are heavy, it is recommended that parents join a support group where they can share their experiences with other parents who understand their suffering and pain.
  • Find creative ways to express grief – journaling, expressing your talents, finding a new hobby, volunteering with an NGO etc. All these can help divert your mind and refocus your attention on creative outlets and self-development.
  • Take care of your physical and mental well-being. Whether it is getting enough sleep, keeping yourself hydrated, or even eating a healthy meal, these steps are essential to help your body and mind recover.

In conclusion, remember that grieving is a normal healthy process that often looks and feels different for everyone. The most important thing you can do in this situation is to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, embrace patience and self-awareness, accepting that this phase will take some time to subside. As Marcel Proust says, “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but grief develops the process of the mind.” 

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