I have already written posts about killing off characters, and the grief experienced by those left behind.
I would suggest reading both of these, if you haven’t already, as much of the information is applicable here, and I won’t duplicate everything. My post about how I approach mental health issues, in my fiction, also relates.
I felt the need to address child death, in particular.
It’s such a specific, and heartbreaking, subject – and one with which I myself deal, in my fiction.
One way in which child death can occur is following a terminal illness, and this is something with which I actually haven’t yet dealt, in my own work.
In such cases, the child, along with loved ones, could have potentially been fighting a long, excruciating battle, which he or she has finally lost. The story may have been following the characters throughout the exhausting process of hoping and praying, and trying out various treatment options. The grief, when the death finally takes place, could be laced with a degree of relief – and, at the same time, guilt, for feeling this way. Of course, all of this would apply, no matter how old the person was, who had died in this way. But something like this happening to a child would make everything that much more intense, and add an extra layer of tragedy to the outcome.
Then there is death by sudden illness.
Again, this hasn’t come up in my own writing. An example that comes to mind, however, is cot death. Shock, and possibly total disbelief and denial, are likely to be reactions. Guilt, blame, and questioning.
Accidents, resulting in death, are an area in which I do have experience, from a writing perspective.
For me, this has generally been in the form of road accidents. In terms of how it will affect loved ones, there is certainly much in common with the sudden death due to illness. Shock and denial are likely – as are the guilt, blame and questioning aspects. Some of the close family members may be witnesses. Of course, that could also be the case with the cot death example. But with a car crash, it’s very possible that some of the child’s family were actually involved. Survivors’ guilt could be an issue, and it may even be that the accident really was the fault, or partial fault, of whichever family member was in the driver’s seat.
Miscarriage is another form of child death, and can be overwhelming, and also isolating.
The effects can be felt by fathers, siblings and others, as well as the mother. And there can be a lack of validation, because people don’t generally regard the loss as a bereavement, in the usual sense. Which it still very much is. A couple in my novel, who later lose their daughter in a road accident, do also lose a baby, prior to this, through miscarriage. The double loss, along with other relationship problems, contributes to the mother’s eventual breakdown, and effectively, the disintegration of the whole family.
Abortion results in an even more complex form of grief, and is one of the most controversial, and deeply painful, subjects out there.
One of my characters does have an abortion. Her pregnancy is the consequence of her being raped, at the age of fourteen. The girl’s own mother bullies her into going through with the operation, believing that she is doing the right thing. However, the guilt, along with the loss of her baby, leaves the young girl feeling suicidal.
And yes, suicide is another form of death, which it is too easy to avoid, as writers.
Again, controversial, dark, and complicated. And, in my view, too important to be ignored – or worse still, dealt with poorly.
When it comes to child death, in its various forms, I believe that we do need to go there, in our fiction.
Research any specific issues that come up, in connection with your particular stories. Also, allow yourself to go deep, and feel the raw emotions. When you find yourself able to do so, you’ll know that you’re doing your characters justice. And potentially, your novel could be a source of support and hope, for many of your readers.