Depression after Loss of a Child
by Cindy Dix, RN
Feelings of depression and despair after the loss of a loved one, especially a child are normal but very confusing for the person experiencing them, as well as those around them. For the parent who lost a child after a long battle with an illness, it is normal to feel that they could have or should have done more, tried yet a different doctor, not have tried that experimental medication, or perhaps should have tried it.
For the parent losing a child to a sudden tragic accident, the feelings of guilt range from "I should have stopped it,” “I should have driven,” “I should have........ “ These guilty feelings in both situations are normal. We are the protectors and caretakers of our children, and when things go wrong we blame ourselves. If other parties are involved in our child's death, (a doctor's possible negligence, a negligent child care worker, or negligent driver) it puts a different twist on our feelings, leaving us angry, but with a focus. If our child's death was due to their own poor judgment, there is no ONE person on whom to place the blame and the guilt abounds.
On the Loss of Child boards we have talked numerous times about our feelings of depression and despair after the death of our children. Society places a huge burden on our backs for these feelings, believing we should snap out of it... life goes on... we have other children, or perhaps we could have another baby.
I have talked to parents about their difficulty in finding a compassionate and well informed counselor to help deal with the particularly painful feeling of losing a child. One topic that constantly surfaces is our feelings of depression, and our fear of being labeled as crazy for these feelings, therefore, too often, many parents especially the fathers go without treatment due to the stereotypes society places on those seeking help. Many parents cannot focus on daily living activities, and have a hard time even opening the mail, bills can be left unpaid due to the parents lack of energy to write checks or go to the post office.
Family members often are in different stages of grief at any given time and often there is family rife that can be harmful to the marriage and family as a whole. If the deceased child died from illness the surviving child has probably been placed on the back burner, so to speak, while the parents attended to the bedside of the sick child. If the deceased child died in an accident, the parents now seek to protect the remaining child often placing impossible restrictions on their activity. The siblings themselves often go through survivor's guilt, don't know how they can live up to the idolized status of their deceased brother or sister. They are here and living, but feel particularly unnoticed. They may act out or begin to take on the personality of the deceased sibling.