Learning to Cope After the Death of a Child

Nothing can compare to the pain and anguish parents experience following the death of a child. The organization, Bereaved Parents of the U.S., attempts to describe this indescribable loss.

"Bereaved parents do not 'get over' the death of our children nor 'snap out of it' as the outside world seems to think we can or should...We are forced to do the impossible: build a new life and discover a new normal for ourselves and our families in a world that no longer includes our beloved children."

In the United States, about 50,000 children die per year, triggering a complicated and traumatic grief response in parents left behind. The Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey, a long-term study of how different life experiences affect people, evaluated the effect of a child's death on parents. Bereaved parents report more symptoms of depression, a lower sense of purpose in life, more cardiovascular health problems, higher rates of marital disruption, and increased religious participation.

How to Cope

Everyone copes with loss in his or her own way. If you've lost a child, you can find a multitude of organizations, books, blogs, and support groups to help you. Behind them all, you'll find parents who have also suffered the same loss.

Sandy Fox, author of Creating a New Normal....After the recovery from death of a child, offers more than 80 techniques in her book for coping with your loss. On her blog, titled I have no intention of saying goodbye, Fox writes that she's continually working on creating a new normal after the death of her daughter. She notes that, among many other triggers, certain dates and holidays can provoke an overwhelming sense of grief.

The COPE Foundation (Connecting our Paths Eternally) provides online forums, workshops, support groups and an extensive list of resources on its website. COPE also offers numerous tips for bereaved parents, including:

  • Acknowledge the pain and suffering of your loss
  • Talk with caring persons and tell people what you need
  • Realize there's no timetable for coping with grief
  • Seek activities that help preserve your values and give meaning to your life
  • Write about your feelings in a (print or online) journal
  • Plant something living to honor your child
  • Create reminders of your child around your home
  • Be good to yourself

Experts say one of the most significant and healing steps you can take as you learn to go on without your child is to find meaning or purpose in your life.


The Compassionate Friends. Web. http://www.compassionatefriends.org/about_us.aspx

Bereaved Parents of the USA.Web. http://www.bereavedparentsusa.org/BP_NewlyBer.htm

The COPE Foundation. Web. http://www.copefoundation.org/

Rogers, Catherine H., Floyd, Frank J., Seltzer, Marsha Mailick, Greenberg, Jan and Hong, Jinkuk. "Long-Term Effects of the Death of a Child on Parents' Adjustment in Midlife." Journal of Family Psychology 22(2) (2008): 203-211. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841012/