Losing a child is the worst possible thing that can happen to a parent. It’s an unimaginably painful loss that changes a person forever.
At Hope House, we’re here to support local families going through the worst time they’ll ever experience. We provide a range of services from specialist bereavement counselling to support for brothers and sisters who often feel left behind.
We also have two Snowflake Suites, special temperature-controlled bedrooms where parents can bring their child after they’ve died to say goodbye in their own time and in their own way.
We’ve spoken to Jane Trevor, Head of Community Services here at Hope House, to find out how parents feel when they lose a child, how our Snowflake Suites can help the grieving process and how other people – from friends to family – can help parents through the horrific loss.
What words encapsulate a parent’s grief when they lose a child?
Devastated, overwhelmed, hopeless, disorientated and lost.
Is it possible to ever fully get over the loss of a child?
No. Everybody deals with it differently, but no one ever fully gets over it.
Are there any coping strategies/ways of healing that you think work?
It is impossible to answer this as grief is a unique experience. In my experience many parents say that nothing helps or heals. They are unable to stop the world, so they have very little choice but to wake up each day and keep on going.
What’s the most important piece of advice that you’d give to parents who have lost a child?
You are not going mad. Avoid making any big decisions like moving to a new house, getting a divorce and so on for at least the first year following the death of your child.
How does the Snowflake Suite help parents who use it?
Our Snowflake Suites help people in a number of ways:
· If a child dies in hospital, the Snowflake Suite can give parents the opportunity to ‘have their child back’ from the care of doctors and nurses, and care for them for a few more precious hours or days.
· Parents can sit and talk to their child and get the time to prepare for the final goodbye, ensuring that their child is cared for until the very end with the love and care that only they can provide.
· If a new-born baby comes to use the Snowflake Suite, it may be the only opportunity for that family to be a family. They can care for their baby, bath them, dress them or even take them outside to see the stars for the very first time. Parents may take the opportunity to introduce their baby to other family members or even take them out for a walk in their pushchair. The Snowflake Suite offers them the opportunity to do some of the things that they may have dreamed about doing with their baby throughout their pregnancy.
· Many parents say that their child’s time in the Snowflake Suite has helped them to begin to accept that their child has died, as they become aware of some of the natural changes that begin to take place after death.
How can parents who have lost their child best support each other after it’s happened?
By understanding that everyone grieves differently. Just because someone doesn’t react in the same way as you, it doesn’t mean that they care any less or are coping better – they are just doing things in a different way to you at the moment. Also, try to keep talking to each other about your child, even though this may be excruciatingly painful.
How can parents who have lost a child best support and help their other children?
· By being honest with their other children and giving them information in an age appropriate manner.
· By not over-protecting them from the situations surrounding the death, as this may lead to feelings of exclusion.
· By understanding that they will express grief in their own way. This may not be through tears, but may be expressed through other behaviours.
· By sharing feelings around grief and not always putting on ‘a brave face for the children.’
· By talking about their brother or sister, and remembering them at times when they were good, naughty, happy, sad etc (not always perfect).
· By encouraging familiar routines, such as bedtimes and mealtimes.
What advice can you give to people to help them best support a bereaved parent – both emotionally and practically?
· Don’t just ask if they need anything, take the initiative and do practical things like taking round dinner or picking their other children up from school. Bereaved parents may not be able to think clearly enough to ask for what they need, so try to be as proactive as possible.
· Don’t assume that time will heal.
· Don’t assume that having another child will make things ok.
· Remember that even though your life will return to normal in a few weeks, parents who have lost a child will never feel normal again and will not recover from their loss. Part of them will have died too and this will never change.
· Make time to listen – there are no words that will change this or make it any better, so instead of trying to say what you think you should, say nothing and listen instead, even if you’ve heard the story over and over again.
· Continue to talk about the child who has died. Don’t try to avoid it for fear of upsetting anyone. Parents usually want to have the chance to talk about their child and will feel pleased that others are remembering them too.
· For grandparents and other close family members, it may feel that you are completely consumed by focusing on your child’s loss, but remember that you are grieving too, and allow yourself time to express this.
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.