The Sudden Death of a Child
- Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D. Psychotherapist
- 2001 16 Jul
Children are the most important emotional focus in a family. They are extensions of us, representing our hopes, dreams and unfulfilled expectations. We want to give our children all that we can. We love and esteem them, and we cant imagine our lives without them. Nothing can be as painful as losing a child, an event made even more horrible by the aspect of sudden death.
Most people view the death of a child as one of lifes greatest tragedies and challenges. Children are not supposed to die before their parents; its out of sequence.
We expect to help our children grow and to launch them into the world. When they die suddenly, that launching never occurs, the family life cycle is interrupted and our dreams come crashing down.
All members of the family are shaken and affected by the tragedy, and with sudden death, there is no anticipated grieving. Siblings are frightened, feeling lost and confused, and marriages come under tremendous strain. Sudden death raises apprehension about the future, brings on a sense of insecurity and is hard to grasp because of the overwhelming pain. Families who experience the sudden death of a child commonly ask several questions:
Did it really happen?
It takes time for the full impact of the loss to register. The initial reaction is disbelief, shock or numbness.
Could I have done something more or differently?
If only Its normal to rehearse various scenarios in our minds as to how we could have prevented the death.
Am I worthy of living?
What did I do to deserve to live? This is known as survivors guilt.
Who can I blame?
When we experience anything out of our control, we want to blame someone or something as a way to make sense of it.
Why do I have to deal with all the medical and legal authorities?
At the time of a sudden death, no one wants to deal with questions from police, coroners, doctors, investigators and other officials. We feel they are invading our private moments of grief, and they are. Yet sometimes these intrusive questions are vital to obtaining needed information. We also feel a sense of morbidity when we deal with funeral directors, the county coroner and others trying to make funeral arrangements. These people are accustomed to murder and death. Sometimes they appear insensitive and uncaring.
Why cant I talk to him or her one more time?
Obviously you cant prepare for sudden death because you dont know its coming. The last thing said may have been pleasant and loving. Maybe you were able to give a last hug, smile at your child or tell her you loved her. Maybe you had an argument, were hurried that morning, didnt speak or had to discipline. Regrets and unfinished business are normal. Dont dwell on them. It serves no purpose.
Its OK to ask this, and you will, many times. There is no easy answer. You may never know, and thats the toughest part of saying goodbye.
Reprinted with written permission from Kids Killing Kids, by Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D., and published by Creation House, 1999.
Dr. Mintle author, professor, Approved Supervisor and Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is a speaker and media personality, as well as a licensed clinical social worker with 20 years in psychotherapy practice.