It is very difficult for someone who has not suffered the loss of a child to comprehend the total devastation that a bereaved parent feels, especially in the early weeks and months. Some friends and relatives will feel so unable to communicate with you that they will stay away. The desertion may be temporary, and it may be long-term. If you feel so strongly about a particular individual's absence from your life that you want to reach out, do so. But always keep in mind that your own well-being must come first.

Ten Guideposts

As you look at the awesome task ahead--how to negotiate the pitfalls and anticipate some of the hazards in the valley of the shadow of death--these are some of the things you should try to learn:

1. Do those things that give you peace of mind; not necessarily what others suggest or pressure you to do.

2. Surround yourself with people who understand and make you feel comfortable; who know they can't fix things; who are compassionate; and who don't try to take your grief away from you.

3. Tell those who care about you what you need in order to survive (they do not automatically know); and accept the fact that not all relatives and old friends will be able to provide what you need at this time (so you may have to give some of them up).

4. Give yourself permission to do what you feel like doing, as long as you harm no one: cry alone, pray, scream, cry with others, withdraw, express anger, meditate, cry some more.

5. Grieve when and how you want to, rather than on someone else's timetable.

6. Do things at your own pace, in accordance with your own feelings, and therefore accept the idea that you may not be able to accomplish everything you used to--at least for now, though perhaps long-term as well.

7. Maintain open communication with your spouse and children, recognizing that we each grieve differently.

8. Look out for your own needs first; this is one time of life when selfishness is really okay.

9. Try hard to believe that life really is worth living--whether your rationale be to perpetuate your child's memory; or to resume accomplishing the goals you previously had set for yourself; or to strive toward entirely new goals; or to try to find the answers to the age-old question of "Why?"; or for any other reason that has meaning to you.

10. Have faith, even on the darkest days, that there will indeed be light at the end of the tunnel; that life may again have meaning as you begin to emerge from the valley of the shadow.

Excerpted with permission from