Bereavement support can be provided towards end of life and also occurs after a child has died. It is offered to parents, siblings, grandparents and any other significant members of the child’s family or support network. Bereavement support can include phone calls, home visits, counselling (or referral to local counselling services) and support groups.
The Experience of Grief and Loss
We all have different reactions to grief and behave differently when we are grieving. The information here is intended as a guide to help you understand what you may be feeling. If you are concerned about yourself or a family member, you should contact your local GP immediately or Lifeline 24 hour service (13 11 14).
Sometimes when we experience intense emotions, it is helpful to understand the thinking behind them. Grief is the name of the emotional response to loss. We all feel grief at different times in our lives.
Grief is not only related to death, it can also be a reaction to the loss of something – the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of what we have planned in our lives or the loss of something physical – like our hair or a scar left from surgery. The grief experienced by parents after the death of a child has been described as the worst type of loss, because it is a combination of all of these things.
Parents mourn not only the physical loss of their child, but also the loss of all the plans they had made for their lives and their child’s life. The loss of plans made for their child’s milestones, starting school, graduation; starting university and getting married have all gone. The reaction to these losses can be just as severe as the physical loss of the child.
Grief can be an all-consuming emotion, and it can strike when we least expect it. A memory, a noise or a smell can elicit such a strong reaction that it renders us unable to move or function as grief passes through our body.
You may meet someone new who asks you how many children you have. The differing possibilities of how to answer this question will flow through your mind, as will the grief of the reminder that your family is no longer whole. Many parents tell us that after some time you figure out a way to answer this question that feels right and also honours your child.
Reactions to grief can be physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Examples of physical reactions are appetite disturbance, breathlessness and absent-minded behaviour. Examples of emotional reactions include yearning, anger and sadness. Examples of psychological reactions are anxiety and hallucination. Examples of spiritual responses include questioning your faith or searching for meaning. It is normal to feel these reactions, and we all need to experience them in order to manage our grief. We all grieve differently, so what one person experiences may not be the same as another person.
If your reactions are preventing you from performing the tasks essential to your day-to-day life, it may be helpful to seek advice from the Bereavement Support Service in your area, or from your GP or local counsellor.
If you have experienced a prior loss, such as the death of another child or someone close to you, have a pre-existing mental health diagnosis or have little social support, it might be harder for you to manage your grief. Talking to a counsellor or involving yourself in a support group may be useful. Everyone has good days and bad days in grief but it is important to know who you can talk to you when you need some support.