Losing a Child Forever: A Parent's Greatest Fear

By: aseya

The recent headlines about the kidnapping of 21 South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan has brought shock and outrage in many parts of the world. The killing of two missionaries who were part of that group further heightened the tension in South Korea. However, the most disturbing scene that came out of that incident was the video of the wailing parents who pleaded for the lives of their children who were made prisoners by the Taliban. One Korean mother even pleaded that she be taken by the Taliban in place of her daughter. Such is the love of a parent for a child.

The news also brought to the fore the truth that there is no fear that haunts any parent more than the possibility of losing a child. The case of a lost or missing child, at least, provides the possibility of reunion. But the death of a son or daughter has a certain finality, a point of no return. Moreover, a child dying before the parent is simply looked at as an anomaly, a completely tragic and unnatural event. Regardless of country or culture, parents always believe that they are supposed to die before their children.

All parents, at some point in life, would think about death and the day when they would finally leave their children. It is a painful thought that no parent would dare dwell on except perhaps when one is seriously ill or so advanced in age. But what causes even more stress and anxiety is the thought of losing a child.

Parents normally see themselves as completely responsible for raising their children which entails going to work in order to raise money for food, shelter, clothing, and school expenses. Beyond the material things, parents also seriously take their role as the first teachers of their children. Before they die, they want to see their children finish school, and if possible, get married and start a family of their own. This, for most parents, is the natural law and cycle of human life.

Losing a child during pregnancy or during the delivery....in an accident...in war... or because of a violent crime...all these tragic events cause untold grief and depression not only for the parents but for the rest of the family. Seeing a child die is a scene that causes deep emotional pain that could scar for life. The distress caused by losing a loved one, especially a young child, can hurt so much that a parent could even temporarily lose the ability to think rationally. With the loss of appetite and sleeplessness, a grieving parent also loses interest in relating with other people, even those from their own family. The depression totally takes over the life of a grieving mother or father, debilitating them physically and emotionally.

During a wake, most people try to give the grieving parent some words of encouragement. But these words often do not help and may even make it more difficult for them. Some would even say, “It's all right...death is part of life,” or “Everything will be okay. At least, your son is now in heaven.” These words often add more hurt rather than comfort to the grieving parent. For this reason, it is important to understand that a grieving parent or any person who lost a loved one undergoes a grieving process. This process involves the following stages: denial, sadness and depression, anger, and acceptance. A parent who first learns about the death of a child will be filled with shock. This will be followed by denial – a psychological defense mechanism that is intent on blocking the sad news about the death of a child. Once the parent is able to understand that the child has really died, the next set of emotions to come will be sadness and depression. At this stage, the parent would usually reminisce about the times spent with the child --- from the time that the child was born, to birthdays, holidays, and other happy memories. These thoughts tend the deepen the sadness and depression of the parent. In some cases, the depression can be so severe that a grieving parent may have to be given anti-depressant prescriptions. After some time, anger may set in and makes it even possible for the grieving parent to blame God for the death of the child. After this stage of anger, which is the most emotionally heightened period of the grieving process, the parent will eventually accept the situation and the death of the child.

It will take some more time but emotional healing is eventually attained. The length it takes to have emotional healing, of course, depends on the ability and willingness of the parent. Some find it hard to let go, while others are able to move on because of their emotional and spiritual stability.

Indeed, there are no words that can comfort a parent who just lost a child. It takes time, a lot of prayer, and acceptance to get over the death of a son or a daughter. In reality, a parent never really gets over the death of a child. Moving on is not about forgetting the child but about embracing death as an inevitable part of life --- and about retaining the best and happiest memories they had together even if the child has passed on and the parent still has to continue living.

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