Doing Life Together

Doing Life Together

Coping With the Sudden Death of a Child

The death of a child is one of the most difficult life events: Children are supposed to outlive their parents.

The painful loss of a child by sudden death is not something any parent ever wants to experience. It’s out of sequence and interrupts the normal family life cycle. Children are supposed to outlive their parents. However, when tragedy strikes, parents often find themselves asking specific questions. These questions are normal and part of the grieving process. Perhaps the most difficult questions for any person with faith is, “God, why?”

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 can’t 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 life’s greatest tragedies and challenges. Children are not supposed to die before their parents; it’s 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.

The sudden death of a child brings on intense and prolonged emotional pain. Adjusting to a child’s death is more difficult than any other family life-cycle transition.

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…” It’s 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 survivor’s 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 can’t I talk to him or her one more time?

Obviously you can’t prepare for sudden death because you don’t know it’s 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, didn’t speak or had to discipline. Regrets and unfinished business are normal. Don’t dwell on them. It serves no purpose.

God, why?

It’s OK to ask this, and you will, many times. There is no easy answer. You may never know, and that’s the toughest part of saying goodbye.

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