THE BLOG
12/29/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2015

Learning to Live Again After Losing a Child

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No parent ever completely recovers from the loss of a child. After all, this child was part of you and when your child dies, it forever alters the way in which you define your past, your present and your future.

However, you can find strategies to live in a new, constructive way with the life that you have ahead of you. That life can be even more vital than before if you allow yourself to have your grief; if you let it wash over you, then you can face your present with both authenticity and fearlessness. This allows you to both accept what has happened to you and reconstruct your new identity. Then, you can go forward into life.

It is important to be aware of your other children -- the siblings of your deceased child that are left behind -- as they have tremendous feelings of grief as well. Parents must pay attention and help their other children grieve. Siblings suffer terribly -- not only for the loss of their brother or sister, but also from the guilt they may feel from childhood squabbles left unsettled, as well as having never seen their parents so fragile before. In fact, they often suppress their own feelings to help their parents. By putting their feelings on hold and delaying the grieving process, they can suffer later in life by feeling paralyzed in their social behavior, relationships, school and work.

Finally, it is imperative to communicate authentically with your mate. A 1985 study by Teresa Rando revealed that approximately 80% of all marriages that suffer the death of a child end in divorce (1). One reason may be because it is very difficult when you are in such pain yourself to help your mate grieve. In fact, we look to our mate in all circumstances to support us in times of need. But grief is different as both parents are so wounded, they can barely extend a hand to the other. This is the first time that you must count on your own interior. In the end, this is the only way to reclaim your relationship. Creating new rituals such as the reconfirmation of your vows can help you reconnect and find your way back into the safe haven of each others' arms. Programs such as Compassionate Friends, as well as family therapy, can help keep those communication lines open.

The important thing to remember is to treat yourself, your mate and your children without guilt, judgment or criticism. Be gentle, be kind, and you and your family will come out of the darkness of descent into the light together into a new normal. For though you will never be the same again, you can inspire a new way of living even more vital than before, because you know something that most people suppress... that life is fragile and must be lived in the present. So, say "yes" to life, then remember: that which was deconstructed can be reconstructed into a new whole -- a new life and new beginning for you and your family.

Source: "Bereaved parents: particular difficulties, unique factors, and treatment issues," Social Work, vol. 30, p. 20