When Children Die: Book Offers Guide Through Parents' Emotional Hell

Filed under: In The News, Books for Parents

Parents have no choice but to go on after losing a child. Credit: Amazon.com

When a child dies, many parents, no doubt, want to die, too.

That's not an option, of course -- especially when there are surviving children who still need their mom and dad.

But how do you keep going? While it's mostly a matter of not having a choice, psychology professor Stephen Fleming at York University in Toronto, says grieving parents do not so much "recover" as they "regenerate."

"Parenting After the Death of a Child: A Practitioner's Guide," by Fleming and Jennifer Buckle, a professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, was written when Buckle was a graduate student at York. They interviewed numerous parents who had lost one child and had one or more surviving children.

"Dads tend to be instrumental grievers," Fleming says in a press release. "They go back to work, commit to working for the family and they tend to overcome the fear of putting their children out into an unsafe world sooner than moms do."

Mothers, he adds, are more focused on internal feelings.

"They have an almost paralyzing fear that if one child can die, another could die, as well," he says in the release. "So, often, moms are dragged back into parenting by the surviving children."

Fleming says he hopes the book will educate counselors on the often insidious forms depression, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder can take in grieving parents. Too often, he adds, parents are not properly assessed for these reactions.

For parents, Fleming says in the release, he hopes the book helps them deal with the expectations they -- and the outside world -- put on their fragile and vulnerable shoulders.

There are lessons in other parents' stories, he says.

It is healthy, for example, to honor the deceased child's memory by continuing to talk about him or her with the surviving siblings.

Fleming says in the release that there are myths surrounding the deaths of the children -- that parents are more likely to divorce or family members will be split up. Parents can play a vital role in reassuring children that these are only myths and misconceptions, he says.

Roles in a family often do change following a child's death, Fleming says, yet families survive because, well, that's what families do.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.