Parents who have lost their children find comfort in memorial jewelry

Child loss and bereavement: effects on parents 

Dealing with the loss of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. An indescribable trauma. In fact, losing a child has been shown to cause greater levels of stress than losing a spouse or parent. 


Cancer. Accidents. Drowning. Every single day, about 15,000 children under the age of five die from a variety of causes.


People have a hard time dealing with the loss of a child because it’s often unexpected, and in complete contrast to everything we know as normal. A child is expected to plan the funeral or memorial for their parents when they die one day, not the other way around. Keep reading to explore the topic of child loss, bereavement, and the effect that it has on parents.

Child loss puts parents as risk for medical conditions

Parents are left in a world where they must move forward, even while grieving the loss of a child. There are bereavement support groups they can attend to help deal with the loss, but even with adequate social support and grief counseling, parents who have lost a child are at greater risk for complicated grief among a wide range of physiological and psychological conditions. 


Child loss can cause serious long-term effects on parents. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology (JFP):


“An average of 18.05 years following the death, when parents were age 53, bereaved parents reported more depressive symptoms, poorer well-being, and more health problems and were more likely to have experienced a depressive episode and marital disruption than were comparison parents. Recovery from grief was associated with having a sense of life purpose and having additional children but was unrelated to the cause of death or the amount of time since the death. The results point to the need for detection and intervention to help those parents who are experiencing lasting grief.”


Other studies come to these same conclusions and show that parents who have lost a child often experience: 


  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Increased risk for suicide
  • Marital problems
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Physical pain


Complicated grief disorder (see it listed in the DSM-5 for further study) poses a real threat to parents who suffer from those issues long after the death of a child. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very similar condition to complicated grief disorder.

Can losing a child reduce a parent’s lifespan?

Researchers have been looking for a link for many years between parental grief/child loss and a reduced lifespan. Losing a child is so hard that anyone who has ever been there can definitely understand how the emotional toll could be so great as to take some time off one’s life. Younger parents who have experienced the loss of a child tend to display less outward signs of distress and resilience than the eldery population of parents. 


Elderly parents often have medical problems which can put them at higher risk for complications following a period of grief. Anxiety and stress can trigger these medical conditions adversely. Preliminary studies show younger parents are more resilient, but research into the older generation of parents has brought up some alarming trends. 


A study published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, took a look at how child loss affects older adults. The following are some of the key findings from this study:


  • Bereaved parents were more likely to have poor physical functioning
  • Significant depression was more likely among the bereaved parents
  • Cognitive functioning was lower for bereaved parents
  • Bereaved parents reported more feelings of loneliness
  • Parents who lost a child were more likely to have frequent contact with their surviving kids and grandkids


Parents who have lost a child showed shorter life-spans than the non-bereaved parents at the 20-year follow-up of the study. Appropriate controls were put in place for things such as gender, age, and whether or not the person was a widow, and yet this relationship continued to stay strong. It’s also notable that bereaved mothers were much more likely to die prematurely than non-bereaved mothers. 


Researchers have proposed the following as a few possibilities as to why losing a child is associated with earlier death in parents:


  • Unresolved grief
  • Prolonged post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms 
  • Loss of meaning to one’s life
  • Impact of severe prolonged stress on the body

Effective coping after the loss of a child is paramount for a happy future

Losing hope can be easy for someone who just experienced such a traumatic and devastating loss. However, living a full and happy life after such a tragedy is possible with effective coping skills.


If you know a parent who has recently lost a child in their life, it’s a great idea to reach out and offer support or even a bereavement gift in honor of their child. During the acute phase of grief, memorials provide comfort for the bereaved. 


If you are the parent who is grieving and looking for a way to pay tribute to your child, you might want to explore the idea of having a diamond made from either cremated ashes or hair. It’s a unique way to immortalize a physical part of the departed by having them turned into an authentic diamond set in jewelry and worn.


As time goes on, if you or a loved one experiences prolonged periods of grief that impacts quality of life, explore grief counseling or bereavement support groups nearby.