Post by Still Standing Contributor Loni H. E.
The death of a child is one of the worst traumas a parent could ever experience. When your child dies, you find yourself completely lost. It’s as if you’re drowning, but somehow you can still breathe. You find yourself in a new world filled with pain and devastation.
You don’t recognize this new world, and you struggle to accept it because it doesn’t include your baby.
You want to start walking in the right direction, but you don’t know what steps to take. A big step as a bereaved parent is learning to let go. Not learning to let go of your child, but learning to let go of certain beliefs or expectations. Liberating yourself of them can guide you down a more healing path.
I’ve compiled a list of things that helped me heal and grow after the death of my daughter. While we each have our grief to carry and our path to walk, I hope these can help you reflect on your journey.
Here are ten things you must let go of in order to heal:
1) Not being able to save your child –
One of the hardest things to let go of is the idea that you could have done something, anything, to keep them. We blame ourselves, piling shame on top of our already crushing grief. As a parent, we feel it is our responsibility to protect our children. When they die, we are left with an overwhelming amount of guilt.
First, know that you are not alone feeling this guilt. I have yet to encounter another bereaved parent who hasn’t felt this sense of responsibility or blame in some form. It’s very normal. Secondly and most importantly, you must know that it wasn’t your fault. Let me repeat that – it wasn’t your fault.
We could never have known then what we know now. It is crucial that you let your guilt go. Let the love you have for your child remind you that every choice you made was founded in love.
2) Not grieving the way you think you are supposed to –
Everyone grieves differently. It doesn’t matter how many times society tries to give you a road map or stages of preparing for; your grief will be as unique as you are. Many factors contribute to how you grieve.
How do you handle stress? What sort of support system do you have? Have you experienced other traumas? The list goes on. Take one day at a time and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
3) Feeling guilty for wishing others felt your pain –
This is a thought that has crossed all of our minds.
If only they knew how I felt. If they just knew how excruciating this is.
You don’t wish a tragedy on anyone. Your thoughts merely correspond with a desperate need to be understood and supported. Having these thoughts is okay.
4) Feeling guilty for feeling jealous –
It is almost a guarantee that you are going to experience jealousy. It makes sense that you would feel jealous of others who have healthy, living children. All the healthy babies around you are painful reminders that your son or daughter died. You’ll wonder to yourself, Why does it work out for them and not me?
This is normal. Allowing yourself to feel jealous might help you process your feelings and get to a place where you can heal.
Related: Jealousy: The Dark Side of Grief
5) Feeling guilty for not being able to function at work or in daily tasks –
The world around you can often be impatient and expect you to be ready before you feel ready. Don’t let others dictate when you are supposed to feel more functional. It takes time to re-adjust to daily life. Those who are judging you’re or rushing you might be best kept out of your life.
6) Feeling guilty for being moody or unable to control emotions –
Being angry, reactive, tearful, anxious, depressed, bitter, anti-social, etc. are all symptoms of grief. You will say things in anger, you will break down into tears, and it’s all ok. Allowing yourself to feel these emotions and vent them will aid tremendously in your healing process.
If you try to suppress or ignore these feelings, they will only resurface more dramatically later. Surround yourself with people who have empathy for you (if not friends or family, try a support group or therapist).
7) Feeling guilty for surviving when your child died –
This is difficult to accept. Most, if not all, bereaved parents would give their lives for their children in a heartbeat. It wasn’t a choice we were given. An option you do have is to live the best possible life you can in honor of your children. Try to live a life that would make them proud.
8) Feeling guilty for experiencing joy –
When your child has died, it’s hard not to feel guilty for enjoying moments in your life. There is a part of you that doesn’t feel you should ever be happy or smile again. That is a part of you that you will have to negotiate with for the rest of your life. It’s normal for a bereaved parent to feel guilty when they feel happy but work towards allowing yourself to embrace those joyful moments.
9) Feeling guilty for choosing to say goodbye to unhealthy relationships and people –
When you lose your child, your priorities shift dramatically. Suddenly the people you thought would be supporting you aren’t. It’s your decision who you keep in your life and who you don’t, but I would encourage you to let go of the idea that you need to keep your friends, family, and social circles precisely the way they were before your child died.
Simply put, if someone is harmful steer clear of them, no matter who they are. You might also find that new, incredibly supportive people will begin to appear in your life. Welcome them.
Related: Losing Friends After Child Loss
10) Feeling guilty for crying/getting emotional around your living children –
Some parents who have experienced the death of a child already have living children or will go on to have living children. It’s hard not to feel guilty when your grief and emotions come up when you are around them.
It’s up to you whether you choose to speak of your grief with your living children. There is no perfect way to handle it. But there is one thing you can count on when it comes to grief…you have no control over it.
You will get emotional around your children at one point or another. Let go of trying to control that. I would encourage talking about your feelings with them and explaining to them how you work through those feelings. It will likely aid them in managing their own emotions. Let it be a way to bring you closer together.
Sometimes you will be able to let go of these issues or feelings and other times you won’t. Take one day at a time… better yet one moment at a time.
This is a life-long process. The more guilt you can let go of, the less you may struggle. Doing this can allow you to focus on healing and living a more peaceful life.