As a mother, losing a child is a heart-wrenching loss. Everything changes. You may question your choices as a mother or even your ability to parent. You may blame yourself (or someone else) for what happened. In your mind, you may replay the events that led to your child’s death again and again. Some days, you may even feel like you’re going crazy. But you’re not crazy – you’re grieving.
As you grieve and work to come to grips with what has happened and how you can move forward, remember that there’s no timeline for grief. There is no need to rush the process. As you walk through your own personal grief journey, as you mourn the loss of a child who carried so many hopes and dreams, remember these things:
You have the right to grieve
Grief is directly related to love. Because you are a mother and you loved your child, you will grieve the loss like no one else. You carried this child within you. Held them in your arms and tucked them in at night. You also cherished hopes and dreams for your child that are now unfulfilled. The gaping hole left behind will need time to heal.
Keep in mind that mothers tend to take care of everyone else before they take care of themselves. Remember: you have a right to grieve and to focus on your own healing. If you find yourself getting stuck in your grief or having trouble functioning from day to day, you may have developed complicated grief. If you are unable to focus on anything except your child’s death, feel numb or that life has no purpose, or have trouble carrying out normal routines, consider talking with a professional to help you sort through your emotions so that you can get on the road to healing.
You have the right to talk about what you’ve been through
Talking about your grief will help you heal. For one mother, it will be easy to talk, while another mother, it will be very difficult. Find people you trust or other mothers who have experienced a similar loss and talk with them. Share the weight of your grief. You don’t have to walk through this journey alone – you can invite others in.
At times, you won’t feel like talking, and that’s okay. Listen to your needs but don’t give up on expressing what’s going on inside. Ignoring, suppressing, or bottling up your emotions won’t make them go away. In fact, it often makes them more powerful and more likely to negatively affect you down the road.
You have the right to feel what you feel
Losing a child is going to bring out many different emotions in you as a mother. Shock, denial, confusion, yearning, guilt, sadness, depression, to name a few. None of these are wrong. They are all normal. In fact, there’s no “right” way to grieve. For every one of us, the experience is different.
Depending on the age of your child, you may be dealing with guilt or blame. You may be angry at yourself for not watching your child more closely, for allowing them to participate in an activity, for not being there. Or similarly, you may blame your spouse/partner for these things. It’s okay to feel this way, but in order to find a way to live again, you will need to process through these emotions.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator says: “You might have the urge to ‘keep your chin up’ and stay busy and wait to ‘get over’ your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.”
So, embrace whatever it is that you feel – don’t push it away. Even though you may want to ignore it or push it away, you must go through the pain in order to move toward healing and reconciliation. And even though you may not believe it right now, you need and deserve healing.
You have the right to be tired, physically and emotionally
Grief is hard work. You may find it hard to sleep, and as a result, feel tired and overwhelmed. If you are mother to other children, caring for them may also drain your energy. In some cases, people even experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and weight loss or gain. Please know – this is a natural reaction. The body is in distress, the same as the mind and heart. Respect what your body and mind are telling you, especially if you have other children who need you during this difficult time. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Be kind to yourself as you grieve the loss of your child.
You have the right to grieve differently than your spouse/partner
Since there’s no “right” way to grieve, it stands to reason that no two people will grieve in the exact same way. But just because your grief and your spouse/partner’s grief don’t look the same doesn’t mean you aren’t both grieving. Give your spouse/partner space and grace to grieve differently. You’re both hurting – that is a certainty.
You may feel that your spouse is in some way to blame for the death of your child. If this is you, don’t keep those feelings bottled up inside. If you can talk it out peaceably together, do that. However, if you need a mediator, find an objective person (like a counselor or therapist) to help you talk things through.
You have the right to experience “grief bursts”
At times, the feelings of grief are going to appear suddenly and overwhelmingly. This is called a “grief burst.” It could be triggered by many things. You breathe in your child’s smell. Around the house, you find a photo from a favorite day. You realize that your child will never graduate, marry, have grandchildren, etc. A special day arrives, like a birthday, graduation day, or the holiday season. The powerful surge of emotion can be scary, but it’s normal and natural. When these bursts happen, honor and acknowledge them; don’t suppress them. Find someone who understands and will let you talk out what you’re feeling.
You have the right to participate in healing actions
Sometimes, in order to heal, you will need to do more than talk – you need to act. At the funeral or memorial service, share your cherished memories. Create a memory album. Mark your child’s birthday in some way. Talk about your deceased child with your spouse/partner and other children. Discuss as a family what you can do to honor your child’s memory. Write to your child on their birthday or on special occasions to share how much you miss them.
These are all acts of mourning – the outward expression of your internal grief. As hard as it is to believe, as you do the work of grief and participate in healing actions, you will find a way to move forward. You will never forget your child – nor should you – but you can find the path toward a good life for yourself, your spouse, and your living children.
You have the right to embrace your spirituality
Right now, your faith is either sustaining you, or it’s feeling shaky. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay. If you are a person of faith, find ways to express it that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings. Pray. Meditate. Journal. Talk to other moms. Share what you’re feeling with God; he’s big enough and loving enough to accept and understand whatever you’re feeling, even if it’s anger toward him.
You have the right to treasure your memories
As a mother, you have some very special and unique memories that no one else has. A mother’s love is unique and special, so you must find ways to treasure your memories.
You could collect keepsakes – photos, handmade items, favorite toys or clothing items, etc. – and create a memory box or scrapbook. Write your thoughts and feelings down. Have a piece of jewelry made to wear in remembrance. Start a tradition that brings you comfort. Talk about your child openly, not only to get your own feelings out but to allow your spouse/partner and children the same opportunity.
You have the right to move toward your grief and heal
While you may be dealing with guilt, shame, blame, or regret right now, remember that you do have the right to grieve and to heal. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that we never get over a death; instead, we learn to reconcile ourselves to the loss. He states, “Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future…. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”
Moms, the journey ahead is not going to be easy. The loss you’ve suffered is significant and heartbreaking. As you grapple with the loss, grieve in whatever way you need so that you and your family can find healing, peace, and reconciliation.
*Adapted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.