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Coping with child loss: Advice from the experts

SINGAPORE — The loss of a child, whatever stage it happens, is one of the most profoundly painful and inconsolable experiences for parents to deal with, experts TODAY spoke to said.

Parents are at times encouraged in counselling sessions to write a goodbye letter to the child. Photo: Freepik.com

Parents are at times encouraged in counselling sessions to write a goodbye letter to the child. Photo: Freepik.com

SINGAPORE — The loss of a child, whatever stage it happens, is one of the most profoundly painful and inconsolable experiences for parents to deal with, experts TODAY spoke to said.

“It violates the natural order of things — as children are not supposed to die before their parents. It evokes rage at the injustice of it all — it is not fair for an innocent child to lose his potential and fail to see his dreams fulfilled,” said Ms Majella Irudayam, Principal Medical Social Worker and Chairperson, Bereavement Support Committee, KK Women’s And Children’s Hospital (KKH).

When it does happen, parents can sometimes try to rush through or even skip the important grieving process because they want to avoid those painful emotions. But it is important that the parent allows him or herself to grieve and reaches out for support from family and friends, said Ms Silvia Wetherell, Counsellor at The Choolani Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Medical Centre.

Shock, confusion and feelings of extreme suffering and pain are all normal, and parents should not feel pressured to rush the healing process.

“It may take weeks or even months to come to terms with the pain of their loss ... Bereaved parents need to know that the pain of the loss will never disappear. With time, they will find ways to cope with the pain,” said Ms Irudayam.

Some parents, the experts said, have found that spiritual, religious or symbolic rituals can help with coming to terms with a loss. Writing can also be very therapeutic and parents are at times encouraged in counselling sessions to write a goodbye letter to the child, said Ms Wetherell.

They also recommend creating a memory box of their child with tangible items such as photographs, journals, handprints and footprints. This can provide comfort and healing as they act as meaningful reminders of their child’s existence and a physical go-to when they want to remember the life that was lost.

For friends and family of the bereaved parents, the experts advise allowing the parents to express their feelings and pain as much as and as often as they want to. Be careful, though, when trying to comfort the parent that you avoid making comments such as: “It is God’s will” or “At least you have another child”.

Finally, on difficult occasions such as birthdays, the death anniversary, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, the experts said, giving the parent a telephone call, visit, or card would mean a great deal.

Parents who have suffered the loss of a child can seek support from among others, Child Bereavement Support Singapore at http://www.cbss.sg, Facebook group “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group Singapore”, KKH’s Department of Psychological Medicine (Mental Wellness Service) and NUH’s Women’s Emotional Health Service. ALISON JENNER

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