How to cope when your child dies, from parents who’ve been through it

Alison, Nick and Arthur.

If your child has recently died, you’ll feel overwhelmed with grief and wonder how you’re ever going to get through the unimaginable pain you’re feeling.  

We’ve spoken to Nick and Alison, whose son, Arthur, died when he was two. They brought him to the Snowflake Suite here at Hope House, so they could say goodbye to him in their own time and own way.

In this interview, they talk about how they got through the first months following Arthur’s death, the coping mechanisms they’ve used and the support from friends and family which they found most helpful. It gives a unique perspective into how parents feel and deal with their own, unique grief in different ways.  

If you’re currently dealing with the loss of your child, or know someone who is, we hope you find this helpful. 

Describe how you felt when your child died?

Nick: Lost, empty, useless, shut-in and scared.

Alison: Confused, lost, frozen in time, devastated and overwhelmingly sad.

What things got you though the first few months?

Nick: Family, friends, Hope House, our other children and counselling.  

Alison: Family, seeing people, keeping busy and friends doing practical things for us, like shopping and bringing over hot meals. 

How did you get through the first year – any particular coping mechanisms, or specific support that helped?

Nick: Counselling, support from my wife, talking about Arthur and looking at photos and videos of him. Keeping to my normal routine as much as I possibly could helped too. 

Alison: Counselling, continuing to care for Arthur by tending to his grave, crying and keeping busy. I also made a conscious effort to organise things for us to look forward to.  

How do you feel when people remember or speak about your child?

Nick: Happy and sad, but it’s only right that you and others talk about your child. I’d rather people speak about him than not.  

Alison: It makes me feel happy when people talk about him because it highlights how special and loved he was. It’s comforting to know that people remember him. 

What words of advice would you give another parent who has just lost their child?

Nick: Attend counselling as soon as possible and try to consume yourself with happy memories rather than just the loss. Eat and sleep as much as possible and write down any thoughts or memories you have of your child, so you can cherish them forever.  Finally, don’t give up.

Alison: Focus on a time when your child was really happy to try and give yourself some comfort. Talk about your child and about how you’re feeling and take each day as it comes - that’s all you can do.

What are the most important things you’ve learnt since losing your child?

Nick: That anything can happen in life.

Alison: That everybody copes with grief differently and I’m more patient and resilient than I realised. I’ve also learnt that I can be happy without Arthur, as difficult as that is. Finally, I judge others less now and really value time with my other children more. 

What do you miss most about Arthur?

Nick: Everything

Alison: Seeing him grow, holding him, looking after him and talking to him.

How can other people – such as friends and family - best support a grieving parent?

Nick: By remembering that the parent shouldn’t need to console everyone else, by staying calm if the parent gets upset or angry and by asking them if they need some time to themselves.

Alison: By doing practical things like shopping and cooking. Listening is also key and try to talk about the child on an ongoing basis, so parents don’t feel like they’ve been forgotten. 

What words of advice would you give to someone wanting to support a bereaved parent?

Nick: Don’t over crowd the parent, try not to get too upset in front of them, always talk positively and don’t say “I know how you feel”, because you don’t and it won’t help.

Alison: Talk openly and don’t worry about trying to be polite – you can’t say anything that’s worse than what’s happened. Don’t try to imagine how they feel, as you can’t and they won’t want you to either. Finally, text every day, even if it’s just to send love and hugs.  

What did people do for you that really helped after Arthur died?

Nick: Friends and family cooked meals for us and looked after our other children.

Alison: People brought us home cooked meals, took our other children out for us and helped with the funeral. Someone also made us a teddy bear out of all Arthur’s favourite clothes, which was lovely.  

How did Hope House help support you after Arthur died?

Nick: Hope House provided support for our other children, gave us personal counselling and looked after Arthur in the Snowflake Suite after he’d died. The team was also always in regular contact with us to see how we were and if we needed anything.  

Alison: Hope House’s Snowflake Suite let us spend some precious time with Arthur after he’d died. We also received counselling and the team helped look after our other children. But, most of all, Hope House let us create some special, final memories with Arthur that we will cherish forever.

List five benefits from having had access to the Snowflake Suite

Nick: It gave us chance to spend more time with Arthur and to say good bye in our own time. I got a chance to speak to Arthur and say what I wanted to say. The support from staff was also amazing and really helped us get through the first few days and weeks following Arthur’s death.

Alison: It gave me to time to think about and process what had happened. I got to see Arthur looking peaceful in a homely, rather than medical, environment, which gave me comfort. Essentially, it gave me happier lasting memories of our final time together.  

Every week three local families face their biggest fear and their child dies. Tragically we can only afford to help one. No one should suffer the death of a child alone and with your help they won’t have to. Please donate now, so we can be there for every family whose child dies.

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