When a child dies before their parents

A never-ending flow – like the tears of a bereaved parent

We have ancestors – those who lived in the generations before us.

We might have descendants – children born to us, and their children after them.

Ancestors have died. This is the expected ‘natural’ course of events.

But we don’t expect our descendants to die before us.

This is not the expected ‘natural’ course of events.

The death of a child or grandchild is an unwelcome interruption in the passage of generations.

I am a bereaved mother. I no longer have the potential for any descendants.

I had two children. I expected in the fullness of time to have grandchildren. That is no longer possible.

There are other parents like myself. We are sometimes referred to as “childless parents”.

Perhaps there are people reading this in a similar position. Perhaps a child has died in your family, or perhaps you haven’t been able to have children.

This is an article I wrote recently for the “Childless Parents” quarterly newsletter, published by The Compassionate Friends.

If you are a bereaved parent or grandparent who has been bereaved of a child of any age, whether you have other surviving children or not, I highly recommend that you connect with The Compassionate Friends and the wonderful support they offer. Find out more here: www.tcf.org.uk


(From the spring edition of The Compassionate Friends “Childless Parents” newsletter)

Hello everyone

The grass is getting greener and the first of the flowers are blooming. Perhaps you too find some pleasure in the brightening days as spring unfolds around us. It’s lovely to see life returning.

As much as I enjoy spring, it also has a nasty sting in its tail. My lovely daughter Catherine died in the beautiful sunny spring of April 2011. My dear little son Pax died on 27th May 1982. That is forty years ago. I miss him still, and I always will.

It was Catherine’s death that left me childless. The death of one child is painful enough, but to lose two is devastating. From my own experience, becoming childless adds so many other dimensions to grief. I don’t have any grandchildren or close relatives that could even begin to fill the gaps that my missing children have left.

When Catherine first died and I began this ‘childless’ chapter, life felt utterly empty and devoid of meaning or purpose. I couldn’t see a way forward or even believe that I could survive the agony of my grief. Looking back at my journal entries of those first couple of years, I was in a very dark place. It’s a bit of a wonder to me that I survived, but I did.

So have you. You’re reading this newsletter because you have no living children, whether you were sadly bereaved of one or more child. You’re reading this with a broken heart. You’ve been through sleepless nights and you’ve endured agonising days. You have felt the loneliness of your grief, a grief that so few people can even begin to comprehend. Perhaps you have felt the sting of hearing other parents complain about something or other that their child has done, the mess they left in their bedroom or their lack of motivation in their job. What you would give to have something like this to talk about! Perhaps you feel apprehension about the future.

But I hope you have also been able to celebrate your child’s memory. They lived. However long or short their life, they lived. Life always has meaning.

In recognising the meaning of our children’s lives, we just might find meaning in our own. That might be through honouring our children’s memories and discovering the breadth of the legacies they have left us. That might be through helping others, as we recognise just how tough it is to cope with grief. And it might be through other ways of embracing the life we still have, such as enjoying a walk in the spring.

That’s what has happened to me. The life I’m living now is not what I expected or wanted, but it is no longer meaningless. Yes, there are times of deep sadness – and I’m sure Pax’s anniversary in May is going to be particularly poignant. But my life has also found meaning, largely motivated by wanting to honour the memories of Pax and Catherine. This has been partly through editing TCF leaflets (and the guest editorship of this newsletter), partly through my own ‘Living with Loss’ project, yet also through enjoying life, such as nature, walking, music and craft activities. Keeping busy has been key to my survival, but I find the busyness needs to be balanced with finding relaxing, even restful, ways of spending my time.

I hope that the sharing of experiences, poems and other material in this newsletter will help you through another season of your loss.

Abi May

Pax and Catherine’s mum

Pax was 3 when he died. He was proud to be a big brother to his little sister.
Catherine was 30 when she died. She was a kind, intelligent and generous young woman.

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