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.
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.
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.
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.
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.