Parents expect to see their children grow and mature. Ultimately, parents expect to die and leave their children behind…This is the natural course of life events, the life cycle continuing as it should. The loss of a child is the loss of innocence, the death of the most vulnerable and dependent. The death of a child signifies the loss of the future, of hopes and dreams, of new strength, and of perfection. – Arnold and Gemma 1994, iv, 9, 39
When a parent dies, you lose your past; when a child dies, you lose your future. – Anonymous
This space is with me all the time it seems. Sometimes the empty space is so real I can almost touch it. I can almost see it. It gets so big sometimes that I can’t see anything else. – Arnold and Gemma 1983, 56
A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But…there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that’s how awful the loss is! – Neugeboren 1976, 154
It is frequently said that the grief of bereaved parents is the most intense grief known. When a child dies, parents feel that a part of them has died, that a vital and core part of them has been ripped away. Bereaved parents indeed do feel that the death of their child is “the ultimate deprivation” (Arnold and Gemma 1994, 40). The grief caused by their child’s death is not only painful but profoundly disorienting-children are not supposed to die. These parents are forced to confront an extremely painful and stressful paradox; they are faced with a situation in which they must deal both with the grief caused by their child’s death and with their inherent need to continue to live their own lives as fully as possible. Thus, bereaved parents must deal with the contradictory burden of wanting to be free of this overwhelming pain and yet needing it as a reminder of the child who died.
Bereaved parents continue to be parents of the child who died. They will always feel the empty place in their hearts caused by the child’s death; they were, and always will be, the loving father and mother of that child. Yet, these parents have to accept that they will never be able to live their lives with or share their love openly with the child. So they must find ways to hold on to the memories. Many bereaved parents come to learn that “memories are the precious gifts of the heart…[that they need] these memories and whispers, to help create a sense of inner peace, a closeness” (Wisconsin Perspectives Newsletter, Spring 1989, 1).
Parental grief is boundless. It touches every aspect of [a] parent’s being…When a baby dies, parets grieve for the rest of their lives. Their grief becomes part of them…As time passes, parents come to appreciate that grief is [their] link to the child, [their] grief keeps [them] connected to the child. – ARNOLD AND GEMMA, IN CORR ET AL. 1996, 50-51