Expert Health Articles

Grieving an Adult Child

Niki SidleNiki Sidle MSW, LISW-S

Bridge Home Health & Hospice, Bereavement Coordinator

In a world of varying opinions on grief and loss, one thing remains steadfast; parents should never have to bury their children. The death of a child, regardless of age, is overwhelming as parents are never prepared for the days, weeks, months and years to follow. But with the death of an adult child, there are unique factors that may affect the grieving process.

Discounted Grief: One phrase heard by parents is that they should be grateful that their son/daughter lived for as long as they did. This attempt to encourage parents to “look on the bright side” is more harmful than helpful. While they may treasure every moment they were blessed with, even 40 years is not long enough to a parent whose child has died.

Guilt: Many parents feel intense guilt having outlived their child. This guilt is compounded if the death was the result of suicide or a drug addiction. Judgmental statements or questions such as asking if the parent “saw this coming” add to the guilt felt.

Family ties: If the adult child was married or had children, the grief support will usually surround the immediate family, often excluding the parents. This is difficult for parents as they are seeking support and validation in their loss, also. The relationship between parent, child and family has a number of characteristics that will determine the situation, but share memories, offer to help each other and remember that all involved have lost someone dear.

Siblings: This may be the most overwhelmed with grief that other children have ever seen their parent, so be honest with them about feelings and what is happening. Acknowledge their presence as they may feel “left out” with all of the support focused on a spouse or parents. It is also important to take note of sibling position within a family system. For example, if the adult child was the oldest of three and the organizer of family functions, the dynamic will change drastically as the younger siblings may struggle with who will fill that role.

Grieving the death of an adult child may be one of the most difficult experiences in a person’s life, so it is important to remember that self-care and honoring the adult child is imperative to the grief journey. Make an effort to eat well and sleep; find a support group of other parents who have lost adult children; plan for special days, such as birthdays and holidays and treat them gently; seek comfort in spiritual beliefs; and seek help when the days seem too long to bear.

The connection between parents and children may be best said by Robert Munsch, in Love You Forever, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”