A New and Changing “Norm”
Extreme sadness, disbelief, rage, anger, regret, fear, hate, melancholy, disappointment, helplessness, numbness, hopelessness, vulnerability, self-pity, inability to concentrate, and lack of motivation are all emotions associated with grief. Those who have lost a child ride an emotional rollercoaster. What you’re feeling is normal! Your whole world has changed—even the basics of your everyday life, eating and sleeping, etc.
Life without your child becomes a “new normal.” What is normal in this terrible, new reality? You may fluctuate between having no appetite to eating everything in sight, not sleeping to sleeping night and day, weeping constantly and then not being able to cry, wanting to be with people to wanting to be totally alone, talking all the time to lacking energy to even complete a sentence. Although contradictory, all of these emotions are common and normal because grief is not straightforward—it’s complicated and sneaky.
Losing a child is heartbreaking. And although the heartbreak is normal, it’s unfamiliar and uncommonly painful. The pain can even seem unbearable at times. Some have described it like a warm knife in their heart, deep and unlike anything that you have felt before. The losses are not one, but many. Besides the death of your child, there may be the loss of identity, familiar routine, security, future expectations, or anything that has value or makes sense in life. Each loss hurts and each one is new to you.
Choosing the Future
As the world you know crashes down around you and chaos becomes the norm, the one thing you have control over is your attitude. You basically have two choices:
- You can choose to be bitter and angry
- You can choose to learn from and accept your new reality
You have the right to be happy, the right to move on, and the right to be optimistic. Give yourself permission to be more than your present situation. We tend to focus on what has been, instead of what can be. You have control over your life’s course!
Sometimes there’s an identity change after the death of a child. That child no longer calls out your name when they need help or food or love. They no longer call on the telephone. Your connections and conversations are changed. You see their friends much less frequently. You identity was tied into being that child’s parent. When this aspect of your life is turned upside down, you may feel like your identity is unfamiliar to you and that you’ve lost a part of yourself.
Nikki: One of the hardest parts of losing a child was feeling as though it changed who I was inside and out. Once your child is born, you are given a specific role as a parent, protector, teacher, etc. I was a mother of four. I always counted four heads. I did everything for this child and after Taylor’s death, I felt like I could do nothing for her. I lost who I was. I was not the same person. I felt like my role as a mother was uprooted and personally taken away from me. What was my role? Who was I? What was my identity? What was my new normal?
The Pressing Decisions
When you welcome a baby into the world, you dream of his or her future. You think about what the child will enjoy doing, who will they will look like, and what contributions they will make to this world. Unless your child is born with a life-threatening situation, the last thought on your mind is how to take care of their funeral arrangements.
Just as parents are never given a golden spoon when it comes to parenting, we never think of needing to prepare for a child’s death. But if your child dies, you will immediately need to make many decisions that may include:
- organ donations
- cremation vs burial vs interment or other methods
- type of casket or urn to purchase
- where to place the remains
- wording of the obituary
- memorial or funeral service plans
- who to notify
That is a lot to place on the shoulders of a grieving parent. The problem is that no one knew your child as well as you, the parent. Even if others take on many of these responsibilities, part of accepting your child’s death is participating in these events.
Here are some additional actions and decisions that families who have lost a child may need to face within a very short period of time—along with suggestions and tips.
- If your child’s death is expected, ask someone to help you remember to look at a clock so you know the time of their death. This will be required on their death certificate. Hospital personnel are prepared for this, but if your child dies at home, it might be missed.
- Be prepared for a police report. A child’s death is what the legal system terms as “untimely.” Therefore, the police will be called whether the death was imminent and expected or accidental and a total surprise. This is necessary to rule out any foul play. Don’t be upset at the intrusion by a police officer, if it happens.
- Notify family members and close friends. They will want to know. This can be delegated to a close friend or family member if you don’t want to do it. Just provide them with a list of names and what you would like them to say. If details of the death are painful, then choose a person who will be sensitive and yet direct enough to let family know that further information will be provided at a later time.
- Contact a funeral home. Most funeral home directors are wonderful when it comes to helping you with details. They have experience with the death of a child. They can help you with decisions that may include
- Deciding between cremation, burial, interment
- Choosing an urn or casket
- Opting for a viewing, open casket, or neither
- Contacting the newspaper to place a notice of death (obituary can come later)
- Deciding when and where to have a memorial service, funeral, or celebration of life
- Choosing a grave marker, if applicable. This is not a decision that needs to be made quickly. The choice of a headstone or marker can be done at any time and does not need to be accomplished before a funeral.
- Complete the necessary paperwork required for the death certificate and insurance. Depending on the cause of death, insurance may cover many items including the cost of burial. Remember to make copies of anything that you send in the mail. Order more than one copy of the death certificate in case you need to send official copies to health insurance companies or other agencies.
- Think about what you want in the obituary. Like inscriptions on grave markers, the obituary is a permanent record that your child lived on the earth. It’s natural to want others to know your child, and the obituary can be an important final tribute. If you are not a writer, find someone to help write the obituary. Many people want to help in the aftermath of such a loss, and this is one way someone can be of assistance. Include the location, time, and date of a service. If the service is to be held at a later, unknown date, that can be simply stated in the obituary, also.
- Individuals may want to make a monetary gift in memory of your child. Determine the recipient of that gift and include this information in the obituary. It may be a non-profit organization, educational fund, service club, school, sports team or something else that may have been dear to the heart of your family or your child. You can also choose to have it be “a charity of one’s choice.”
- Pick a date for the service. Unless your religious beliefs suggest an immediate burial, this does not have to be rushed. You may wish to accommodate family members who may be far away. Picking the date will provide you structure during a very unstructured time of your life and give you a focus point on which to plan.