Loss of the Future -- The Death of a Child
by John Henry Reininger, M.A., LMHC, DAPA

Dr. Reininger is a National Certified Grief Therapist and a Certified Diplomate in Psychotherapy. His center is located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, at the Lauderdale Psychological Office. You can reach him at (954) 491-6163. His Web site is currently being developed.

The experience of loss comes in a wide variety of forms and intensities. The loss of a job, relationship, or death of a parent is all painful. However, if one were to rank the grief experienced from the death of a child, most will say the pain is beyond description. So unnatural is the death of a child that the English language has no description for the survivors. A person is a widow or widower when a spouse dies or orphan when both parents die, but for the mother, father, or siblings who remain to grieve the loss, there is no word. There is only the realization that the future that was hoped for no longer exists.

Raising a child is a lifetime process and so is working through the death of a child. As in life, there is a wide spectrum of emotions experienced throughout childcare; in death, grief is only a general term for all the feelings. Guilt, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, depression and despair flow like an emotional torrent hour by hour, day by day through the parentís life.

The initial task for the survivors is basically to survive. This is not done in isolation but with the support of family, friends, and utilization of services, support groups, even professional help if necessary. Maintaining physical health is essential. The risk is getting stuck in the grief and minimizing the importance of the remaining family, especially surviving brothers and sisters. The challenge is not how quickly to work through grief but to do so with tenderness and compassion toward yourself and others.

The secondary task is to allow yourself to grieve in your own style. This does not mean ignore the loss. Prayer can be a source of healing here as well as throughout the process.

Finally, it is good to remember that the child is not more important in death than in life. The child was special because of the manner in which he or she lived. The year or two it can take to rebalance yourself and the family will be difficult, but not impossible. The future will be different certainly; the quality of that future is up to the individual.