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When the unimaginable happens


DEEPLY PERSONAL No two people will experience the grief of losing a child in the same way.

Living with the death of a child

Mental Health
Jannah Walshe

Bereavement is the name given to the process one goes through following the death of a loved one. The time after a death is often called the mourning period, and people are said to be ‘in mourning’ or to be ‘grieving’ or ‘bereaved’. Regardless of what this time or process is called, the death of a loved one can be an extremely challenging time. Nobody asks to become a bereaved person, yet it is something that happens to people every day.
We all know that we will face it at some point in our lives but we live in hope that we can avoid it for as long as possible. What no one dares to think about is what it is like to face the death of their own child. It feels so wrong and so unlikely to happen that it is something that we try not to dwell on, for fear of tempting fate.
Nevertheless, it is sadly something that many people have to experience. No two people will experience the loss of a child in the same way or in the same timeframe. A parent could be bereaved through the loss of an infant baby, or the loss of an adult child. It could be expected (when there is a terminal illness, for example) or unexpected (due to anything from an accident to suicide or a sudden-onset health issue). It can be peaceful or it can be traumatic.
If you have experienced the death of a child, remember that all reactions are natural and normal. Here are some guidelines that might be helpful:

  • Go easy on yourself. You will not be able to do what you normally do; grieving is exhausting and can affect our mental and physical health.
  • Be patient with yourself and your emotions.
  • Avoid major decisions if possible (changing residence, changing jobs, etc.) for at least a year after the death of your child.
  • Avoid making hasty decisions about your child’s belongings. Do not allow others to take over or rush you. Do it at your own pace, when you are ready.
  • Cry as freely as you feel the need. Crying is a healthy expression of grief, and it releases tension.
  • Find a good listener, someone who will just let you talk.
  • Often talking to another parent who has lost a child can help, as they are on a similar journey as you are, just a little bit further down the road.

Anam Cara is an organisation that provides a range of bereavement-support services throughout Ireland, including monthly support-group meetings here in Mayo. These Anam Cara support groups provide parents with a safe, comfortable environment where they have the opportunity to meet with other bereaved parents. Meeting with parents a little further on in their journey can help to give newly bereaved parents some hope that in time, they too will find ways to cope with the intense grief and sense of loss.

Anam Cara is holding parent-support evenings on the last Tuesday of each month from 7.30pm to 9pm in The TF Hotel in Castlebar. Further information can be found on or by calling 01 4045378.

Jannah Walshe is a fully accredited psychotherapist, course facilitator and mental-health speaker based in Co Mayo. More information about Jannah can be found at