Poetry helps bereaved parents

When my daughter passed away I was surprised by how much I needed to talk, repeating to each of the visitors who came to offer sympathy, the whole scenario of the last day of her life. I don’t understand why I had to do this, but, of course everyone wanted to know what happened. I did welcome these questions and when people were in the apartment it meant I was distracted – that is, I didn’t need to think too deeply – so perhaps I was using conversation as a delaying tactic. Although, at the time I wasn’t aware of doing so.

After some weeks, when people came to visit I stopped talking about the accident, I didn’t want to put people off calling in, but I did really need their company. However, I still needed to realise the emotions building up inside and this was when I was inspired to write down everything. I have been writing ever since. Today I want to share with you the first and best poem I have written pertaining to my grief, I hope you are helped by the words. I know not all bereaved parents have a faith, but please respect my right to mine, thank you.

The Garden

Many miles away from here
In a land of sun and sea
There is a beautiful garden
Where God came to call on me

He said he needed Lisa
I said, ‘but, I need her, too.
But if your need is greater
Take her to be with you

You want to take my daughter
Then, please send me your Son
To help me through the hurt
Then let Thy will be done

You sent to me your Spirit
To walk along this road
To support me if I ever
Could not bear the load

Thank you, Lord, for loving me
And giving me new hope
For answering all my prayers
And teaching me to cope.

Bereaved parents and special occasions

It doesn’t matter what time of year we loss our child sooner or later we have to deal with family events, our daughter or son’s birthday and the totally unavoidable heartache of Christmas without them. So, how do we do this?
I’m not going to say that it will be easy or just grit your teeth and get on with it. What I would say is don’t make it harder for yourself than it will be. By this I mean don’t plan to have a big celebration, even if you have always been the organiser, hand over the reins to someone else and if on the day you don’t want to go then you can choose not to. Yes, people might not understand why you don’t wish to be all happy and jolly – it’s amazing how soon even our closest friends and family forget the aching void in our hearts – however, they will have to be grown up about your decision and respect it.
Over time we will learn how we wish to confront these times you would rather not. What I might suggest could help you but each of us needs to go at our own pace and what helped me could be completely wrong for you.
During that first excruciating year many of us have little recall of what we did or understand how we managed to survive it. Yet we come to realise, ‘yes, I did manage so perhaps I can find a way to help myself’.
In her book, ‘One Step at a Time / Mourning a Child’ author and bereaved parent, Betty Madill writes about how she was able to deal with the loss of her daughter. Her sources were her Christian faith, The Compassionate Friends, meeting ot8her bereaved parents and writing.

Bereaved parents helping each other

When the first few bereaved parents started meeting in each others homes, in January 1969, they found a level of understanding and compassion they hadn’t experienced anywhere else. While the couples still had a great deal of pain and anguish to endure – they discovered that talking about these to people who were also having to cope with the same emotions in some way helped each one slowly learn to live without their children.
The most important thing for all was finding a place where they could speak freely about their loss, pain and ultimately their child. They could speak their child’s name and people would be happy to listen, instead of turning away or changing the subject not wanting to hear or understand how important it is for us to say our child’s name aloud.
Those six or so parents became the foundation of what has grown into The Compassionate Friends which now has bereaved parent support in many countries across the world.
So wherever you live in the world type into your search engine http//www.tcf.co.uk. You will be taken to the TCF UK website where you can find a link or address for your nearest TCF contact person who can help you on a regular one to one basis and tell you where the nearest group meeting is.

Ways to help bereaved parents

Many of us are at a loss when we meet a friend or family member who has suffered the death of their child. Others might offer platitudes without thinking. This is generally because it may be the first time we have known a person in this sad situation, and we have only got past experiences of other people’s deaths and therefore can inadvertently cause more pain to those grieving for their child.
If you are in this position it is better not to say anything, simply say you’re sorry for the loss, give them a hug if they are receptive and just sit with them quietly. Don’t feel you have to fill the silence, should you feel you need to do something make them a coffee then leave after an hour or so -to give them time to rest – it’s amazing how energy zapping grief can be.
On another visit you could take in some provisions such as biscuits, tea and coffee so if the person is not yet up to going grocery shopping, they will have something to offer their visitors.
These suggestions are mostly relevant for the first month or two, but might be useful for longer. However, it is important for the grieved to slowly take back control of the day to day running of their lives, but it would be a good idea to call in or phone them every couple of weeks – more to let them know you have not abandoned them to their fate, as this is all too often what happens. This in turn leads to isolation for grieving parents.

What helps me…

The ways I find that helps me might not be what helps you. This is because we have all got our own ‘baggage’, we come from different backgrounds and our relationship with our own child is unique; and each mother and father of the same child has a differing connection with their son or daughter. Yes, they have many shared memories, but these too may have meant different things to each parent. This is why it is so hard to find the right copying mechanisms for everyone to use.
One of the hardest things to accept, after the death, is that no one can take the reality away from us. No matter how much we long for our child to be with us they cannot, and no one can exchange places with us so we have no choice but to endure it and try the best we can to help ourselves to deal with our bereavement.
I am sure it is possible to manage completely on our own, but for me the only way I could was by praying and demanding God’s help. I know and respect others choice to turn away from God, however I believe for me no one else could give me the solace I needed. It was about six months along my grief that I discovered The Compassionate Friends (TCF) and while I continued to find my Christian faith as my main source of comfort, they gave me a place to talk about my daughter, my pain and the many different emotions I faced daily as well as dealing with unsympathetic people who didn’t understand.

Special occasions and events

Whether we like it or not sooner than later we have to face family occasions. This may be your child’s birthday, the anniversary of the loss or someone in your extended family is getting married. How do we deal with these dates without feeling guilty for not wanting to be there for the ‘happy couple’; handle the death day or mark the birthday which once had been a celebration but now brings the reality of our situation to its ultimate. For each parent these are unavoidable events and how we cope with them will depend on our basic instincts, it is for the individual to work out how to do this.
For myself, I had to face things head-on, since I couldn’t avoid them I would consider options i.e. Was it important to me that the occasion was marked by a party? If not perhaps I would go to a ‘safe’ place, sometimes a church or coffee shop alone but not isolated, where I could reflect on what happened, shed quiet tears, allowing a bit of self-pity and then when I felt ready to rejoin the hubbub of life, I would feel surprisingly refreshed and a little bit stronger.
The important thing is to be kind to yourself don’t believe that you have to be responsible for how other people may react to your choice of coping strategies, unless they have also lost a child they cannot comprehend, just smile politely, shrug and move on with your day.

You are not alone

Grieving can be a very lonely experience. Different people have varying degrees of how the death of a close friend or family member affects them and mourning a child is no different in this respect. However, the main difference is that we can put those other deaths into perspective because they have happened to an older person so in the ‘natural scheme of things’ it is a fact that these things happen or they did not live with us; and despite the pain of the loss we are able to gradually get on with life.
However, for grieving parents this does not happen not for a very long time if ever. How can it? The child was a part of their parents lives every single day. If an adult child dies the parents have to readjust to this too.
For some they may have family and friends who will help them by providing distractions, but for many the feelings of isolation are overwhelming and finding reasons to get out of bed in the mornings is extremely hard.
If you should find yourself in this dilemma, go on line to find a bereavement support agency that can help or visit your GP and ask for counselling. Don’t feel disappointed with yourself for asking for support its actually the bravest, in my opinion, thing you can do, as you are ready to face and deal with your wide and varied emotions.
see the archive on this page for names of various bereavement agencies. Alternatively, type into your browser what you child died from and you should be able to find the best one for your particular situation.

Talking to other bereaved parents

For myself my main source of help came from The Compassionate Friends ( TCF ), when I made my initial contact with them, it was such a great relief to find people who knew what I was experiencing because they were bereaved parents too, they were further along in their ‘journey’ of grief for their own child(ren). For the first time in my mourning I didn’t need to feel apologetic for wanting and needing to talk about my daughter and how much I ached for her. At the time in 1983 the main method of contact was letter or phone. However, now there are many easier ways to communicate and find parents who are willing to listen to us.
TCF host an online Forum where you can get together with other parents and find an outlet for airing your anger, pain and ongoing mixed emotions. Should you wish to use the Forum click on the link on this page.