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Grieving Process

When a child dies, families mourn and begin the long process of bereavement. The many different emotions often experienced by bereaved families include shock, disbelief, sadness, loneliness, depression, fear, anger, regret, guilt, despair, and personal loss. These feelings are all part of the emotional reaction called “grief.” Feelings of grief may be overwhelmingly intense, and each family member may approach them differently. Some tend to keep feelings inside, while others are able to express their grief easily and openly.

The Compassionate Friends® (TCF) is a self-help support organization which has a mission to assist bereaved families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age and to provide information to help others be supportive.

The secret of The Compassionate Friends is simple: As seasoned grievers reach out to the newly bereaved, energy that has been directed inward begins to flow outward, and both are helped to heal.

Sharing with others is the very heart of TCF chapter meetings. Chapter meetings are havens where members feel free to talk about their children who have died; the emotions they are going through; the painful, thoughtless comments that may have been made to them; their feelings of sadness, guilt, or anger, subjects no one else wants to hear them talk about. They discuss the progress they are making and ways of coping that have been helpful to them.

With the guidance and reassurance of members who are farther along in their grief journey, gradually, sometimes over a period of many months or several years, members learn how to survive what has happened, find a “new normal,” and begin to rebuild their lives.

Families that feel they are coping effectively with their loss, as well as those discouraged by a lack of progress, find attending meetings to be helpful. While there are no instant solutions, no easy answers, and no timetable for grieving, there is comfort in the sense of direction found through knowledge and understanding of the grief experience. Bereaved families are able to find hope, healing, and the will to survive.

When a child dies, parents mourn and begin the long process of bereavement. Those who have had a child die often immediately experience shock, numbness, denial, and disbelief, all of which act as a cushion against the full impact of the loss. As time passes and these emotions wear off, others emerge, often including guilt, anger, loneliness, despair, sadness, and regret. These feelings are all part of the emotional reaction called "grief" and may be so overwhelming that parents often do not understand what they are experiencing.

Parents will approach this emotional process in different ways. Some express their grief easily and openly, while others keep their feelings locked inside. While there is no "right" way in which to grieve, many bereaved parents have found it helpful to have some guidance along the way. The following information has been prepared by parents who have, themselves, experienced the death of a child.

Grief, with its many peaks and valleys, lasts far longer than society in general recognizes. When your child dies, grief is not over in a week, a month, or even a year. Expectations others may have of you should not be a guideline for your own progress. Be patient with yourself. You've been through a lot.
Because each person's grief is different, don't expect that you, your spouse and other family members will travel this journey at the same speed or in the same way. Be tolerant of the different approaches your spouse and other family members may take.

Some of the common emotions experienced by bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings: Guilt, real or imagined, is normal. The feeling that if only something had been different, the child might have lived, is common. By learning to express and share this feeling with other bereaved parents, eventually you may forgive yourself, understanding that no one can foresee the future.

Despair and loneliness are common. Even when you are with a group of people, you may feel alone. Few people can understand how deeply a bereaved parent hurts unless they have been there.

While every parent, grandparent or sibling ultimately will have to find his or her own road through grief, you will survive and you do not have to do this on your own. There is plenty of support available from those who have already been where you are today. You Need Not Walk Alone.