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Will my 14-month-old suffer permanent emotional trauma from his father’s death?
Q: I have two questions: first, I have a 14-month-old boy whose father passed away suddenly from illness three months ago. Many say my son will not remember, but he points to pictures saying "dada" and looks for him still. I am careful to be cheerful around him, and he is a very happy baby, but is sometimes quiet and thoughtful with a sad look on his face that breaks my heart. Will he suffer from emotional trauma for the rest of his life because of his father’s death? And second, he is very clingy now; his grandmother says that I am spoiling him by picking him up all the time, and he will be a problem in the future.
A: He will get over it, just as we all eventually get over the death of a loved one. But, though we can’t know exactly what the experience means to a pre-verbal child, we can be sure that it has left an effect. It sounds as though you are being extremely helpful in your interactions with him, and I would not expect any permanent trauma. Don’t worry because he sometimes get quiet and has “a sad look on his face that breaks my heart.” All babies look sad at times, and parents are generally at a loss to know why. In your case, because you know the cause, you may be more prone to take note of such episodes than another parent would.

Certainly you should expect him to be clingy now, and it is important for you to respond to his need for contact with you. You are not spoiling him; you are giving him the extra emotional support he needs from you at this difficult time. Politely tell his grandmother that, if he is a problem in the future, it won’t be because you held him too much after his father’s death.

Finally, let me say that you must also be emotionally traumatized by what has happened. You need a way to deal with your own grief, with your own feelings about suddenly being left with a baby to care for all by yourself. If you don’t have anyone in your family with whom you can ventilate and explore your feelings, look into a pastoral counselor at your church or seek out a mental health professional in your community.