Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Parents Share Feelings On The Death Of A Child

February 24, 2003

This column was first written in 1988 in memory of a 5-year-old nephew who lost his life in a hit and run accident. I thank the parents who shared their stories with me, for their openness and honesty and their willingness to relive their pain one more time. I hope their thoughts will provide a small measure of comfort by helping others appreciate what it is like to endure one of life's greatest heartaches - and to validate their feelings as normal and natural.

What is it like to lose a child?

It is a different world shared by those who have experienced the wrenching loss of a child. It is a world none of us want to know but some are forced to enter. Here is a small glimpse into the violent impact a child's death can have.

The incredible grief. "In one instant, my life was changed. My world was shattered. It was turned upside-down."

"For two months, I went through intense physical pain. It was so intense thought I was going to die. My heart was being squeezed out of me. My head felt like it was going to explode. I couldn't breathe. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack or a stroke."

"It would have been nice to know that the pain doesn't actually kill you. I felt so what. This is it. I wasn't afraid. I wasn't so happy to be alive. There isn't any sorrow as great. I felt I had an elephant on my chest."

"It was like a cannonball landed on your chest."

"I was so sick. I wasn't able to sleep. I would scream 'Oh, if,' 'oh, if that,' 'what if.' There was nothing I could do. I felt like people could see a hole in me. I stayed away from church."

"I couldn't remember things. I lost my concentration. I thought I was going crazy."

"I had to think, 'What can I do tomorrow to get out of bed?' I went through the motions. If you felt numb for the rest of your life, you'd be blest. Nothing made a difference. Everything in this world seemed so frivolous."

"It was sheer hell! More than you can stand."

"You think to yourself, how could this accident have been prevented. It should never have happened! The threads of possibilities run through your mind. You ask the 'whys' over and over again."

"I remember every detail and I imagine some."

"I replay the conversation just before his death."

"I would hate to see other teenage boys."

"He is gone. That little boy is gone. All those years of love are gone."

"There will never be a full measure of happiness in my life. One of us is missing."

Challenge to faith. "It called into question the whole set of beliefs I believed in. It forced me to confront the questions, 'Where do the young go?' and 'Is this all there is?"'

"For a time I hated God. My son would have had such a good life. I couldn't believe God would let him suffer."

"I like to think he is all right. When I'm feeling down, I lose my faith. Some days I wonder, 'Is he really in Heaven? I want proof.’"

"I had to give him up to God. I had to quit trying to get him back."

"You are caught between two worlds. Part of you wants to be in the next world so you can be together."

"I was afraid for my other children. I thought, 'My God, that could happen.' But I could survive. I am not afraid of death. The worst is that I'll be with my son. If I had to go through it again, I wouldn't like it but I'd live."

"Our faith is the only thing that gets us through it."

"We know he is safe."

Healing. "Either you grow or become bitter. What a rotten way to grow! I'm a neater person. I am much more compassionate. My self-esteem has grown. I want to make my mark in the world. I want to help other people. It does get better. You can grow from it."

"I did most of my crying in a John Deere where nobody could see me. I got so I could enjoy things again. It took about a year. I'm O.K. I'm happy I'm here."

"The second year is better. I'm getting used to a smaller family. Setting the table for four. I am getting too used to it. I don't want to feel this is the way it is supposed to be."

"We took our first vacation. It was wonderful...with peace and quiet. I felt, ’Life is too good. Our child isn't here.' I felt so guilty. I had to learn to take care of myself. . . that it is OK to do that."

"I wanted to be there for other bereaved parents. I wanted to help the newcomers in a support group. They need someone who understands. If I go to the positive, I heal better."

"You can live through things you don't feel you can live through. I stayed alive. What else could I do? I am stronger than I thought I was."