How to Cope with the Unexpected Death of a Child

By: John O’Brien

The heartbreak that accompanies the loss of a child is unmatched and deeply rooted, but when the child dies due to someone else’s negligence, the impact on the family can be devastating. While it may seem impossible to recover from such a tragic event, it can bring comfort to know that you are not alone. Numerous channels have been created by those who’ve endured this journey before you and are available to help you receive the support needed to carry on.

Don’t Give in to Anger

Grieving parents grapple with a host of emotions after the unexpected loss of a child, and often, anger is one of them. It is not uncommon for anger to be directed at a “perceived” fate, their spouse, other family members, or even oneself. Replaying events and groping for what could have been done differently is a tireless activity. Yes, thinking about what was taken from you by someone else’s negligence – the love, the future, the joy – may understandably make you angry. 

These emotions are natural for grief, but we want to encourage our readers not to allow anger to keep them from seeking comfort. In fact, seeking comfort brings us to the next step: Avoiding isolation. 

Avoid Isolation and Seek Comfort Among Your Friends 

No one should rush a grieving parent from the alcoves of their grief process. There is no set time to reach out for help – so perhaps the best thing to do is constantly perform a self-examination: Is the grief becoming unbearable? Am I taking care of my necessities? Are my negative thoughts or emotions too heavy for just me to carry? Have I tried speaking with someone that can help shoulder this emotional burden? 

Many have found a foothold forward by allowing family and friends to reach out to them to offer comfort. Although no one can precisely know what your loss means to you, heartbreak is universal, and empathy can be the key to allowing someone who hasn’t experienced your loss to still help you carry it. Sometimes, what makes the difference on a hard day after losing a loved one, is finding someone who simply is ready to take the time to listen to you. 

If, however, this sort of help in your own friend or family group is lacking, then professional care can be the next helpful step. 

Request Professional Care When in Need

Friends and family members want to empathize and be supportive, but they too can feel overwhelmed with how to offer practical help. This is when therapy can prove highly beneficial, as it teaches you various coping mechanisms, gives logic to emotions being felt, and can give guidelines that will help manage your feelings. 

Therapy group sessions can be a genuine gold mind to someone exhausted from grief. Meeting others who have had similar circumstances, losses, or perhaps grieving patterns can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyone grieves differently, and the traumatic loss of a child can affect your relationship with your spouse or with your other children. Some have opted to seek counseling as a family or include loved ones in a session. A tragedy may have caused a rift in your family, but it doesn’t need to be permanent.

Strengthen Your Family Bonds 

Everyone feels a child that is missing from the family unit. There is now someone missing from the car rides, the dinner table, and so many other ways. Seeking comfort from each other while grieving can be a difficult challenge but can also be the most rewarding. 

Learning to lean on each other can bring much-needed comfort and strength throughout the sorrow in the household. Even if your child is lost physically, it does not mean that they will not remain part of your life and continue to exist in your heart and thoughts. Keeping their memory alive through a shared family tradition might be just what your family needs in terms of stability and connection.

Don’t Neglect Yourself or Your Regular Activities

Trauma can generate severe health consequences: chronic stress and physical symptoms, such as stomach and chest pains, headaches, and muscle cramps that can develop into long-term ailments. 

Mourning can turn mundane tasks like getting out of bed and eating into overwhelming endeavors. Therefore, it is vital to make a sustained and gradual effort to regain your strength and the former routines and hobbies you enjoyed before the loss of your child. 

Also, try adding exercise as a means of helping you cope. When it comes to stress brought on by trauma, our bodies often manifest the “fight or flight” response; biochemically speaking, it is prepared for strenuous effort. Physical exercise will help you use up the extra sugars and fats in your blood caused by stress, thus helping restore your body’s healthy balance.


Above All: Let Yourself Grieve

Grief is not something you get over, but you do learn to live with it. Still, anyone who has lost a child in death should hear this phrase: “Let yourself grieve!” Be patient with yourself. Let the tears come when they need to, and don’t be surprised if, months or years later, you suddenly face strong emotions equal to what you perhaps felt in the initial days or weeks. But if you keep taking things one day at a time and seek help when you need it – you can recover. In the end, you may find what you have experienced will make you more sympathetic and understanding to others who have to cope with a similar loss. 

About John O’Brien

John founded the Elk Grove-based firm, the O’Brien & Zehnder Law Firm, in 1996, practicing personal injury. He is recognized throughout the California legal community as a zealous and effective advocate for individuals who’ve been catastrophically injured or who have lost loved ones due to the negligent actions of another. Besides aiding each client in seeking justice through the legal system, his team helps them get into grief counseling, if appropriate, and other types of counseling when warranted. They also help them achieve closure by honoring their loved one’s memory and fighting to hold bad actors accountable. John has witnessed how helping survivors focus on something other than their grief can be very cathartic. 

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