Guilt or anger, yes – but who would admit to jealousy?

After the loss of a child, there are so many emotions which come pounding in.

Sometimes they arrive ferociously, like the storm waves on a headland, so that we are overwhelmed by the depth of them; sometimes they creep up on us slowly, like the summer tide sliding up the beach, so that we only gradually become aware of how we are feeling.

People often speak of guilt in grief – guilt that somehow we didn’t prevent the death; guilt that we are here and they are not – and anger is frequently mentioned, but envy or jealousy is acknowledged far less.

Jealousy or envy seems to be an emotion which creeps up on us so we are perhaps less aware of it than guilt or anger, but when we realise that’s how we are feeling it can be quite unsettling for us. We push it down, put a smile on our face and pretend it’s not real. Jealousy is not an emotion we like to own up to!

Jealousy is described in the Cambridge dictionary as, ‘A feeling of unhappiness and anger because someone has something or someone that you want’.

After the loss of a child, at any age, what we ultimately want is our child back. However, looking at the definition, no-one else actually has our child, so it’s not quite that which we’re jealous of. We’re jealous of others having their children with them; jealous of their baby bump when our baby died; jealous of doing the school run with a full car; jealous of being able to pick up the phone and send our child a message or a silly photo; jealous of having a complete family photo. We are jealous of people still believing that these devastating things happen to others and not to them; jealous of their casual peace of mind; jealous of people even having a good night’s sleep.

As previously mentioned, jealousy is not an emotion we like to own up to – perhaps because it is mentioned so infrequently and seems therefore somehow less acceptable than grief or anger. An unwanted side-effect of this is that we feel ashamed of our jealous feelings and end up not only carrying jealousy but shame as well!

Being ashamed is described as, ‘Feeling guilty or embarrassed about something you have done or about a quality in your character’.

We have nothing to be ashamed of. Our child has died. We miss them and desperately want them to be with us. We find it painful to see others with their children. We feel torrents of guilt, anger and jealousy at times, but this is all completely normal for a bereaved parent. We have nothing to be ashamed of.

So how can we handle these feelings of jealousy which we have towards other parents and perhaps especially towards our family and friends? How do we cope with our embarrassment or shame for feeling this way?

  1. Acknowledge the emotion for what it is: I am feeling envious because they have something or someone which I no longer have. I don’t want to feel this way and so I feel ashamed of how I’m feeling.
  2. Remind ourselves that it is not their child that we are envious of. If we examine ourselves carefully, we may find that actually we are pleased that they are pregnant, or that their child is getting married. It’s not their child we want … it’s our own.
  3. Remember that it is OK to want to have our child with us again, that we miss our old life, that we miss all the things we did with them and those things we would have been doing with them now.
  4. At times, maybe around anniversaries or birthdays or any time when we are feeling particularly vulnerable, it’s OK to choose not to be with people with children of a similar age, just to give ourselves a breather from those emotions and not to put ourselves in those situations. It’s OK to look after ourselves.
  5. Let ourselves ‘off the hook’ of feeling ashamed of our feelings. They are perfectly normal and part of the long journey of learning to live again after the loss of our child – of learning to let those waves wash around our ankles and sometimes knock us off our feet.

When we lose a child of any age and in any circumstance, every part of our lives is affected and we will not be the same again. However, it is possible to acknowledge those changes and face those difficult emotions, without shame or embarrassment, understanding where they come from and that they are not justified. We can learn to be kind to ourselves.

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