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Parents Who Lose A Child More Likely To Die

September 12, 2011
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Yes, parents can die from a broken heart.  In the American culture, we don’t like to talk about grief, how long it lasts, preferring instead to assume that grief can be fixed by therapy, medication, or any combination thereof, anything to not be sad.  Yet a new study shows that even with our preoccupation for trying to make things happy all the time, grief has real life-endangering effects.  This study was recently completed to determine how grief impacts life, but the effects were startlingly demonstrative that grief can cause death:

RESULTS: The results, which were broken down by region, showed a general heightened risk of mortality among bereaved parents, especially among mothers. Parents who lost a child in Scotland were more than twice as likely to die or become widowed in the first 15 years after their loss compared with their more fortunate counterparts. Bereaved mothers in Wales and England were more than four times as likely to pass away as well. And even though these correlations lessened over time, they lasted for up to 25 years.

CONCLUSION: Parents who lose their infants are at significantly higher risk of an early death for up to 25 years after their loss.

IMPLICATION: The stress from losing a loved one may leave a biological legacy, the authors say. The bereaved may have weakened immune systems or may be more likely to use maladaptive coping strategies, such as alcohol abuse, that could lead to death.

SOURCE: The full study, “Increased Mortality in Parents Bereaved in the First Year of Their Child’s Life,” is published in the journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

I can remember when I lost two pregnancies, and one left me with a permanent life-altering injury, that I was grieving enormously, but that others found that strange.  People kept suggesting grief counseling, to help me be happy again, but neglected the period of bereavement that must accompany death and loss of our loved ones, particularly our children.  The only other people who seemed to understand were those who had lost a child themselves, and as one parent put it “it’s the club you never want to be a part of…”

There is always a certain understanding of the fragility and capriciousness of life in those people who have lost a child.  And while the women’s movement has lauded abortion as a cure-all for women’s independence, there are still women who grieve the loss of a pregnancy created by people in love.  Our culture currently shows empathy in pregnancy loss as a the loss of a child, but grieving parents do understand these concepts.  I have studied this grief response I had, and those of others to find out why my grief and that of the baby’s father offended so many.  Strangely enough, many people understood my partner’s grief better than my own, as if men must surely value pregnancy more because they can’t be pregnant.  When I would cry, I was encouraged to “just get pregnant again,” as though that would surely end the grief.

Those of us who have grieved the loss of a child know that it’s as though there is a different world for parents who have not lost a child, and there are stark differences that are never quantified.  So, it was with great interest that I read about this study, one of the first of its kind to study the effects of gried, and how long-lasting they are, how devastating it really is to grieve the loss of a child.  I find it interesting that at last there are hard numbers that begin to quantify the effects that grief wreaks on the human body.  Now if we could just find a way to get this information out there for grieving parents.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. strugglingwithbipolar permalink
    September 12, 2011 5:49 pm

    I just miscarried my second child and I can say that it does change you significantly. My first loss led to a serious deep depression. This time I’m holding it together, but just barely. The grief hurts.

    • brokeharvardgrad permalink*
      September 14, 2011 6:09 pm

      I am so sorry for your loss…

  2. December 12, 2011 6:43 am

    I am sorry also fo rthe loss that both of you ladies are living with. I have lost all three of my children, and I can say honestly that many of my friends are now gone as well, you are not alone on that score either. It seems to me that none of them understand that callous things that as parents they can and do or say or imply about their lives and their children and still laugh about, just are not funny, they are a source of pain. Most people get angry with me for saying anything, they accuse me of offending them and then expect apologies for my having expressed opinions that differ from theirs, or in some cases have questioned their opinions and callousness as though I am not allowed to question their behaviour because they still have their children therefore they are supoerior to me, or as though I am not allowed to grieve in front of them or around them and their families while their perfect lives continue – How dare I besmirch their happines with my rude reality!? Is their attitude. – I do think that they if they aren’t serious about hating their kids, or hating life with kids that they need to be expressing that rather than making inaccurate and inappropriate jokes about life with, and I have recently mentioned this to two other friends and lost both of those friends as well. I have lost more than one friend to the attitudes that you are talking about, the lack of awareness, lack of appreciation for their gifts. They all seem to expect me to have done my grieving and moved on (despite the fact that the places at their tables become more occupied, and mine have become empty – for holidays, birthdays, celebrations and sports or arts activities), and more than one have suggested that I just get married and have another one, as though children are items to be bought sold, lost traded, and only valuable as tokens. Yes, losing a child really does change us, and I am grateful for the fact that studies are being done, and awareness being raised. To you ladies, thank you for sharing and having the strength to have done so, for those who are like us will find our comments and perhaps not feel so alone, and maybe that will help us all, I know that knowing I am not alone in what I go through helps me a little more, so again, thank you, sincerely, and I give to you my heartfelt support in hoping that we all find new better friends and healthy ways to continue to live our lives despite our losses, ways that don’t require us to bury our emotional selves along with our children.


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