Coping with Your Child's Violent Death

Each year 25,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 die violently from murder, suicide, or accident. A child's unexpected death shatters parents' most fundamental assumptions about their own future, their self-worth, and the meaning of life. A study by Shirley Murphy of parents whose children died violently found that only 57% had found peace five years after the death of the child.

The key to finding peace is to eventually find some kind of meaning in what feels like a senseless disaster. Parents who found meaning reported less mental distress, happier marriages, and better physical health than parents who hadn't made sense out of their children's death.

Parents typically seek two kinds of meaning. First, they search for the concrete causes and remedies for their children's deaths. They focus on the drunk driver, the stray bullet, the fateful decision that put someone at the wrong place at the wrong time, or a child's suicidal depression. They may gather details of the accident or ponder obsessively what everyone could have done to prevent the death. Most parents find meaning at this level within a year, but that doesn't lead to peace.

It usually takes years to find the deeper meaning that characterizes the second stage of recovery. This is when a parent can feel grateful for the 16 years, "we had him/her around". The road to deeper meaning is long and difficult. Only 12% of parents find it within the first year. Usually it takes 3-5 years, and then, only 57% of parents are likely to achieve it, according to Murphy's study.

Most parents who found deeper significance said that they gained new insights into the purpose of life and reordered their own priorities. "I have realized that life isn't just about work, but about people and relationships." Others found existential meaning, coming to believe such things as, "everything happens for a purpose." 

Parents whose children were murdered were the least likely to find meaning. Parents that attended bereavement support groups were the most likely to find significant meaning in their child's death.

source: Psychotherapy Networker

 

Roberta Lester-Britton and Michael Walker specialize in helping parents cope with their death of their child.