It is every parent’s nightmare to lose a child, at any age, and the staff at Hospice of Santa Barbara have experienced firsthand the immense pain and suffering parents go through when a child dies.
It is a heartbreaking experience that can shatter a family’s world and leave them struggling to find any hope in moving forward.
One of the greatest difficulties a parent faces when they lose a child is intense emptiness and hopelessness.
While it is natural to feel overwhelmed with grief, sadness and anger after the death of a loved one, when it is one’s child who dies, these emotions can be compounded.
Parents may also experience incredible guilt, feeling they could have done more to prevent the loss of their child or that it “should have been them instead.”
“I never thought I would outlive my own son,” said a former client who went through grief counseling at Hospice of Santa Barbara. “It goes against the natural order of things, and for a long time I didn’t want to live anymore.”
“A parent/child relationship is unique in that the parent has and feels a responsibility for the child’s safety and development, especially during childhood and young adulthood,” said Michael Cruse, bereavement services manager at Hospice of Santa Barbara.
“A child’s death is a challenge to a parent’s primary purpose and core identity; often invoking irrational feelings of guilt and shame and unfinished business,” he said. “Parents keep expectations that their children will have a full and meaningful life and succeed them in death.
“There is great suffering when these expectations are not met as they come to terms with the unacceptable.”
There are a variety of ways parents can cope with their pain and loss. One of the most important things is to reach out for help and support from others, according to Hospice of Santa Barbara.
Support groups, grief counseling, and therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment where parents can express their emotions and receive guidance on how to cope with their loss.
Grief is a complex process that takes time, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Support groups that focus specifically on the loss of a child can be one of the most beneficial and healing ways for parents to move forward, Hospice said.
Having the shared experience of losing a child in a supportive and safe environment can be incredibly powerful and lets these parents know they are not alone.
It is also important for parents to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. This may involve taking time off work, getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly.
Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment, such as hobbies, volunteer work, or spending time with loved ones, can also help parents find meaning and purpose in life after their loss.
Finally, Hospice said, it is important for parents to remember they are not alone.
Hospice of Santa Barbara offers a range of services and resources for parents who have lost a child, including counseling, support groups, and education on grief and loss. Hospice said its team of professionals will support parents every step of the way as they navigate the difficult journey of grief and healing.
Losing a child is one of the most challenging experiences any parent can go through. But with time, support, and self-care, parents can find hope and meaning in moving forward, and honor the memory of their child in a way that brings peace and healing, Hospice said.
“Parents mostly describe their sorrow as getting different with the passage of time and reject the idea that it gets better,” said Cruse. “Even when parents successfully reinvest in their lives and re-engage with joy and fulfillment their sorrow remains – this is the cost of a parents’ love.”
For more about Hospice of Santa Barbara, including volunteer opportunities, call 805-563-8820 or visit www.hospiceofsantabarbara.org.