Living with Grief

We, the staff of Michigan Medicine, wish to extend our condolences on the loss of your child. This section of our website is intended to provide supportive information about experiencing grief.   

This page is intended to provide information and support for the death of a child in the hospital. For information about the death of an adult, visit Grief Support Following the Death of a Loved One on UofMHealth.org. For support following pregnancy loss, visit Loss of a Desired Pregnancy on the Von Voigtlander Women's site.

Mourning the loss of your child will likely be the hardest thing you will ever face.  Your emotions are raw. Your heart aches. You are shaken to the core.  You have spent endless hours loving worrying about, comforting and nurturing your child, but these hours may feel like they were not enough.  It may seem that you will never smile or feel like yourself again.  Yet there may be pressure for you to put on a “mask” and go about your daily duties trying to hide your pain and grief.  Our Upon the Death of Your Child book is available for download and contains information and support about living with grief.        

Grief Reactions

“Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired, eating when you are hungry. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.” – Doug Manning

Initial Grief Reactions

Be patient. Grief reactions come and go, and can show up over many months and years. Most grief reactions begin to soften over time though bereaved parents honestly share that as a parent, you never “get over” the loss of your child.  Over time though, you do learn to adjust to life without the physical presence of your child and begin to focus more on the joy the child brought to your life than on the immense sorrow their death has brought. Every person’s timeline is different.  A multitude of emotions may be experienced including:   

Anger

Anger can be a confusing but a common reaction to the loss of a loved one. It is a way of feeling the helplessness and frustration that you can no longer have this person in your life and that you have less control over life than you thought.

Shock or Denial

It is hard to believe that the world has really changed because the person you loved is no longer in it. We try to pretend that nothing has happened, that this can’t be real.

Numbness

Numbness is a way we block out the overwhelming feelings of pain and loss.

Confusion

Confusion can show up as absent-mindedness, forgetfulness, trouble putting thoughts in order

Sadness

Some people cry a lot, others not so much. Tears are a way of releasing stress hormones that build up in our bodies.  However, the amount a person cries is not an indication about love the person had for the one who died.

Guilt

Guilt may come from a feeling that not enough was done to help, or that important things were left unsaid.

Relief

If things had been difficult between you and the deceased, or if the deceased had been very ill, this can be a normal expression of the mourning process.  One that is experienced frequently, but rarely shared.

Physical Symptoms of Grief

Typically, these symptoms diminish over time:

  • Change in appetite, either overeating or undereating
  • Low energy level or fatigue, even when there has been no physical activity
  • Stomach upset or headaches 
  • Sleep disturbance, either sleeping a lot or inability to fall asleep 

Ways to Cope

Express your feelings

Talk to a friend, write in a journal, somehow vent your feelings.

Seek caring people

This could be a support group, family and relatives, or just someone who has the ability to listen like a professional counselor or therapist.

Avoid making major life changes

Such as moving or changing jobs for the first 6 months to a year if possible.

Make sure to take care of your own health

Eat well and exercise.  Even a brief walk can be very beneficial.

Be patient

It may take months or years to begin to accept your loss.

(Adapted from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: J. William Worden) 

When it is Necessary to Seek Additional Support

If you are experiencing thoughts or feelings that include the following:

  • Life isn’t worth living
  • Wish you had died with your loved one
  • Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
  • Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
  • Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
  • Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

If you are experiencing any of these emotional and physical responses, and they become extremely difficult, unbearable, intrusive or are hindering your ability to function on a daily basis, please connect with your doctor, mental health provider, or spiritual leader and let them know how you are feeling. They can assist you in addressing your grief. You may also contact Michigan Medicine Depression Center at 734-936-4400 or the Psychiatric Emergency Room of your local hospital.  

Michigan Medicine Psychiatric Emergency Services is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be reached at 734-936-5900.  If you do not live near Michigan Medicine, you can call your local Emergency Room or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  

Contact Us

The Office of Decedent Affairs (ODA) is part of the Michigan Medicine Department of Social Work. The ODA is the centralized point of contact at Michigan Medicine for ongoing questions and concerns before, during, and after the death of a loved one. To contact the Office of Decedent Affairs, call 734-232-4919 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You may also email the ODA office at SocWk-ODA@med.umich.edu.