Loss of a child. How to deal with it?

Nurses General Nursing


My firstborn daughter passed away at age four through a drowning accident. It has taken several years for me to come to terms with the loss. To be truthful, I don't believe I have yet. I have not visited her gravesite since she was buried.

As a student studying this awesome profession, I know there may come a time where my daughters' scenario may replay itslef out in a form of another trajedy and I will be exposed to this. It is my fear that perhaps I may lose composure and not competently be able to do my job in this life or death situation.

But on the otherhand I feel it is my duty to follow my heart in being able to develop the skills necessary that may help me aid in the recovery of a little girl that is fighting for her life in the future.

Should I discontinue my studies in nursing and pursue a career "safe" from relapses or should I go through with it anyway?

Specializes in Telemetry, Case Management.

I have not lost a child other than through first trimester miscarriages. But I lost my grandson last Christmas and have watched my son and his fiancee go through their different ways and stages of dealing with it.

Everyone deals in their own way. You know you may not be done working through it. That is IMHO better than denying it and saying you're okay when you're not.

If you want to work as a nurse, and feel that is an innermost goal to be able to help someone else's child in the future, you should go for it. If that child/patient should die and the parents are grieving, and you cry with them and say to them, I have done this, I understand your pain, I feel so bad for you, your empathy will mean more to them than someone else's sympathy. Crying at the death of a patient when it resembles the death of someone you love is not a sin. And if it gets too bad, excuse yourself, go in the bathroom and bawl your eyes out and come back. We are only human. Nurses are human, and showing emotion at a time like that is not unprofessional at all.


185 Posts

Several years ago I had a miscarriage. During my grieving a friend told me that any good that came out of such a heart breaking event would come from the special sort of empathy that I would have for someone else going through a similar situation. He said that I would be able to understand and help in a way that someone else would not because I had walked a mile in those shoes. It is possible to be a nurse and not face this situation with a patient. There are lots of research jobs or public health jobs etc. that don't involve death and dying. But maybe you feel such a longing toward nursing because there is someone out there that you are meant to help. Go with your heart on this one. Good luck and my deepest sympathy on your loss.


213 Posts

briefly i will share my story. i lost my infant son several years ago. i can work with adults effectively but i cannot work with babies. there are many areas of nursing you can work without having to relive your pain. good luck.


231 Posts

Specializes in LTC, Post OP.

I am so sorry for your lost, I gave birth to my stillborn son at 7 months( for unknown reasons) after knowning carrying him in utero for 1 month demised because the risk of induced labor was to great to my health , I have to say i have truly not even gotten over it i think how i went around that whole month think the doc was wrong and he was alive any way that another story, sorry I don't think u every do get over it, i think it a day to day thing. I don't know if u believe in a higer power but i believe when things like that happen God gives annointing us to help other that come in our path that this happen too. One way i dealt with my son death was creating a web site. I think u will be find, and its nothing wrong with crying, i do it all the time. I can only imagine how harder it is to lose a child at 4, i can't even begin to imagine.



237 Posts

When my dear friend Carol lost her son at 19 she turned to the Compassionate Friends, a group of parents suffering loss of their child who help each other with group meetings. She is a facilitator now and highly recommends this group to other parents looking to resolve issues about loss of a child. Here is thier webb site:



231 Posts

Specializes in LTC, Post OP.
Originally posted by Hardknox

When my dear friend Carol lost her son at 19 she turned to the Compassionate Friends, a group of parents suffering loss of their child who help each other with group meetings. She is a facilitator now and highly recommends this group to other parents looking to resolve issues about loss of a child. Here is thier webb site:


Highly recommend this, I went to see a counselor too and i canit even begin to explain just how much this help me deal with my ds lost and the pregnacy with my dd after:) Counseling and talking helps more than anything i have every tried:)

Specializes in MICU, neuro, orthotrauma.

it's ok to show emotions as a nurse. if you want to work in ER medicine or in pediatric medicine, i think that sharing with a mother or father who is grieving for the loss of their child will only help them. and i think it would help you, too. i know that some people advocate an emotional distance for medical professionals, but i think that this method of health care delivery has come to pass. i think that your certain empathy is not something to worry over or be ashamed of, rather it gives you a perspective that many other nurses dont have.

i am so sorry that you lost your baby girl. i wouldnt know the first thing about how to comfort you. all i can do is say how sorry i am and give you a hug. in any situation, you could do more for others than i ever could.


265 Posts

The way I feel is as long as I live so will he - in my heart and in my memories.

Will you ever "get over it"? I can't speak for anyone else but myself - but no I won't - Nor do I expect to.

I can only thank God for allowing me the time I had with him.

And to clarify, my loss was my son - He wasn't my son by birth nor in the eyes of the legal system, but my wife and I raised him from the time he was 5 months old until he was a little past 2 years old - his first word was "daddy" and he was talking to me - He stood for the first time pulling up on my leg so that I would hold him - In my heart he was and always will be my son.

A page I made for him - My Doodlebug

(If you are on dialup the photos and music may take a lil' bit of time to load)

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

97 Articles; 21,237 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

So very sorry for your tragic loss. I work in the ER (level one trauma center). I have not lost a child, but still find it hard sometimes to cope with acute grief. You have so much to give, you don't have to deal with children unless you want to. Please continue your studies. Your loss will only make you that much more compassionate.

CseMgr1, ASN, RN

1,287 Posts

Specializes in Case Management, Home Health, UM.

My son's playmate died in a drowning accident in a neighbor's pool when they were both 4 years old (they were born one day apart). It was one of the most wrenching things that I have ever been through, for that little boy and my son were like two peas in a pod. It was the first time in the eight years that I was married that I saw my husband cry, for we had bonded with him, as much

as we did with our own son.


208 Posts


It makes me very sad to hear of your great loss. I firmly believe that we never "get over" these things, but over time we do begin to reluctantly accept them.

My first husband died unexpectedly in a gun accident in 1988. For a good 5 years I would start to cry after saying about 5 words about the incident. I moved away from our town right away because I couldn't stand being there... every street corner held some type of "Michael" memory. It's now been 15 years and I must say the first 10 were the worst.

I remained very close to my former in-laws. They had a very hard time with it too, finding much help by talking about Michael with understanding people. Loosing a child just goes so against the normal circle of life and this is what has caused so much pain for Michael's parents. His father passed over 2 years ago so now his mom is pretty much alone, so I keep a close relationship with her. As a matter of fact, the anniversary of Michael's death will be on Sept. 3rd so she and I will talk together on that day. The anniversaries and other important dates/holidays can really take an emotional toll.

To answer your question about whether you should discontinue your nursing studies because of your loss and the fear you would not be able to help a child in a similar situation as your daughter's, I don't have an answer for you. This is something you must decide for yourself.

I went to nursing school the year after Michael died. Part of me wanted to understand his head injury completely. Part of me wanted to be a nurse all my life since I basically grew up in hospitals due to a congenital kidney problem. I remember walking into anatomy class one day and seeing brains in jars of formalin sitting on our study tables. I just about lost it thinking "I can't do this!". I immediately went to our instructor's office and confided in her about Michael's death and she was sooooo sweet. She was compassionate and encouraged me to continue with the class and that she'd help me get past this. Sure enough, I made it through and felt a little stronger because of it. Then, during my last class in nursing school our clinical was in the Emergency Department. As you might have guessed, we got a call from the EMTs saying they were bringing in a 31 year old male with a gunshot wound to the head in critical condition. OMG! I started to shake and sweat... all the memories came flooding back to me. For some reason, I guess because I was in a "work" frame of mind in the middle of "class", I decided I could survivie this too. I quickly told my nurse preceptor about my history and she said she understood and if I had to leave the room that would be fine. Ironically I found myself seeing how Michael must have been cared for when he arrived at the Emergency Room and I was strangely comforted. I won't go into details but I will say that this experience also helped me in my healing process. Most importantly, I was strong enough to get through it. Like another poster said, the experience has made me a more compassionate and empathetic person... no one can understand a situation unless they have been in the other person's shoes too. It's so very true!

Everyone grieves differently and if not going to the gravesite is helpful for you then that's just fine. Your daughter's spirit lives in you and everyone else who loved her anyway. I somehow think she'd be proud of you for wanting to be a nurse. If you can somehow help others by using your own personal experiences, then you've found a tiny silver lining to a very, very dark cloud.

And yes, I agree Compassionate Friends is a great organization!!!

Wishing you all the best life can offer!

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