Grief and bereavement

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Losing a child is one of the most difficult losses a person can go through. This page describes common reactions to grief and available supports. 

Key points

  • It is normal to feel overwhelmed with emotion after losing a child. 
  • It is healthy to express your emotions and ask for help. 

What is grief?

Grief is a normal emotional reaction to loss. Grief is often experienced following the death of a loved one. However, grief can also be experienced when a serious illness is diagnosed, or when an accident causes significant physical changes. It can be felt anytime an experience is different from what was hoped for or expected.

Grief can include a range of emotional reactions, including sadness, shock, denial and anger. Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify what triggers grief in a particular moment, but those feelings are real.

Grief can also be felt physically. You might experience significant fatigue or changes in appetite. Rarely, grief can lead to changes in heart rhythm, referred to as “broken heart syndrome”. This should be assessed by a doctor.

Grief is experienced by parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, friends, teachers, health-care providers, and anyone who is impacted by loss. Each person’s experience of grief may be different. There is no one right way to grieve.

How do I get through this?

Although grief can feel incredibly isolating - you are not alone. Find support that feels right for you. What feels right might change over time. Potential supports include:

  • practical supports for ceremonies and funeral planning
  • formal counselling services, available through employee assistance programs or private insurance
  • grief resources through your hospital, such as the Pathways Program at SickKids
  • peer support groups for parents and family members

Families often ask, “does it ever get better”? Again, everyone’s experience is unique. For many families, grief changes over time. As time passes, most will encounter fewer triggers for intense feelings of grief. No one ever “gets over it”. However, families often find ways to experience joy once again and less frequent moments of sadness. The experience of grief often becomes incorporated into one’s individual identity.

What are ways to honour and remember my loved one?

You will never forget your loved one. However, acts of remembering can be helpful to honour their memory. Again, there is no one right way. Acts of remembering may include:

  • simple acts like saying their name, honouring their birthday with their favourite meal
  • "paying it forward" by purchasing a coffee or donut for someone else and if thanked, letting the recipient know you are doing this in your loved ones’ memory
  • organized or formal remembering (participating in a charity run, fundraising in their memory)

If grief feels overwhelming, ask for help from your family practitioner, a counsellor or bereavement support group.

Last updated: May 8th 2023