Blog 106: Death And Bereavement – Of A Child And The Repercussions.
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How we experience grief differs from person to person. Sometimes if we haven’t fully grieved in the past, a current grief can seem overwhelming – because we’re really grieving both the past and the present. And how we grieve or what we grieve can differ too.
A parent’s grief on the other hand, until experienced, is beyond what most people think grief is about.
A child can never be replaced, and when a mother who has carried her child for 9 months and then also watched them grow, experiences this loss – she can feel that part of her has also died. This excruciating feeling is felt – beyond what any word can ever hope to offer. The stabbing emotional pain can feel like your a gut has been wrenching out. It can feel like you’ve had an amputation or like part of you has been sliced away.
And fathers can feel this loss too. They too can feel that something within them has died albeit it a different type of feeling than what a mother may feel. Sadly however, often fathers feel overlooked because although they try to be emotionally strong and supportive, inside they maybe desperately weeping their loss too.
1) “A Child Should Never Die Before Their Parents Do”:
This statement has been passed down through many generations, and uttered without questioning or deeper insight. Yet it can set up many unnecessary expectations – because if the opposite happens, it can lead to parents feeling a deep sense of failure which can also lead to a conscious or unconscious guilt and anxiety about their ability to have children.
But we all know that life doesn’t always follow our rules or expectations. Things happen and children can die before their parents do. Allowing people to believe otherwise is looking for trouble. Because the reality is that – many children do actually die before their parents do. And when this happens, the loss and devastation a parent can feel is usually utterly and totally unbearable.
If it’s your only child and if being a mother or father was a built in part of your identity then in one foul swoop, your life and identity could change and you could be left – childless with no one to call you mummy or daddy, and possibly even grandma or granddaddy. And depending on the time of your life you may also not be able to go on to have other children of your own. This could of course add to the excruciating agony. But even then, this thought could prove difficult, as no parent would want to forget a lost child by ever trying to replace them.
Losing a child or indeed a baby, can stab so deep that you may feel you’ll never recover. And for many, the loss can be so intolerable and even unendurable, that for them the only thought is to die too. And sometimes this becomes a reality but thankfully, most find a way of enduring the horrendous and heartfelt pain.
Worse still and for many, waking up each morning to the memory and reality of the situation, as it comes pouring back can be tortuous. All the questions, the remorse, the if’s, the should’s, or indeed what you did wrong, will come flooding back. These thoughts could eat away at you. And what happened will go round and round in your head, and you’ll be endlessly asking yourself if there was anything, just anything that you could have done to prevent your child’s death. These feelings could go on for many, many months and for some – it may never ever go away. And numbing the thoughts or trying to sleep at night can be very hard too.
What usually remains is a vast emptiness and sadness that is utterly unspeakable. Some may choose, especially in the early months, to remain in bed with the covers pulled over their heads. But slowly they may get up and try to look like they’re managing. Some days they may even think that they are, other days they’ll know that they’re not.
And here’s the thing – mourning a child will take as long as it takes. One minute you’ll feel fine and the next you’ll feel tears running down your cheeks as you remember that something that you did together, and so on.
But, if a two parents experience this loss together, they may find it very hard to stay together and sadly, many couples land up splitting up as a result. Why?
– Many couples might not have access to bereavement counselling or they may not realise its value.
– Everyone grieves differently and getting support from one another can be very hard. It can lead to frustration, arguments and anger – especially if one parent begins to blame the other for what happened.
– Sharing and even talking about a grief can be extremely hard and sometimes too difficult to bear.
– Sometimes it can feel that one partner is grieving more than the other, and the relationship can fall apart, no matter how close the couple were before the loss.
– For couples who blame themselves, splitting up can be a form of punishment. Separating or splitting up may seem to bring relief especially if they’ve projected blame and anger onto one another. This is always sad to witness. This is why couple therapy often helps a couple manage their grief better. Unfortunately, many couples arrive too late, after too much has been said or felt. And sadly, in these circumstances, no matter how hard some couples try, they may still separate even months or even years after the loss.
– Besides therapy, finding any outside support can be difficult. Many parents who have lost their children often complain that family, friends or even work colleagues often think or say that it’ll all get better soon but then as time goes on, many get irritated if it hasn’t .
– On the other hand, many grieving parents also hope that what they feel will get better some time soon and when it doesn’t – it can become very frustrating.
This is why the quicker we learn that you don’t ever move on or away from your grief. Rather, you learn to live with the grief as part of your life.
Understanding this, is also especially helpful to parents who worry that they’ll forget a child. You don’t.
All you do is you learn to live your life with that grief held inside you.
2) Your Child Is Not Your Only Identity.
What can also make the grieving process even more difficult, is when parents or indeed a single parent has lived their lives through their children. So when they lose a child, it can feel like they’ve lost their only identity. This is so hard to witness especially if their grief and pain then becomes part of their NEW identity. And if this new identity feeds off their loss in any way, this often forces people to walk away, leaving the bereaved confused and lonely. This is why we should guard against – making someone your everything, because when they’re gone, you’ll have nothing. And yes, this certainly apples to our children too.
Another area that is often not really spoken about is the loss of a child through miscarriage. Just because there is no actual body doesn’t mean that a parent doesn’t grieve this particular loss. This is why it has been suggested that parents create a ceremony of their own. Some suggest using flowers or roses strewn over water, if there isn’t any ash.
But most importantly, many parents who lose children due to miscarriage are inclined not to share their loss openly. Consequently, many never realise just how much support and connection there is out there, from other parents who have experienced similar losses. As a result, parents especially mothers, can bury their shame that something is wrong with them if they’re unable to carry a child to full term, and are unable to share this experience with others.
But also, if a parent who became a mother, loses a child, only to be told they cannot have another. This news can be a very hard to accept and grieving would become twofold – not only for the lost child but also for not being able to have any more children.
It is therefore so important to contact support groups, in order to share what many think is a burden they have to carry on their own.
4) 5 Stages of Grief
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief in her book, “On Death And Dying”.
The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with loss. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline. In other words, we can feel any of these five stages all at once or in a different order to what is presented and so on.
The stages of grief and mourning are also universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures.
It is therefore certainly worth reading this book if you are experiencing grief orhave in the past, as it offers an excellent explanation of the grieving process.
5) The Repercussions Of Death For Siblings.
All to many times I have been told by clients that as a result of a loss of a sibling, they felt their mother or indeed father withdraw their love. Somehow a death/s can cause an emotional and even physical paralysis. A mother may be terrified to love again, fearing another loss. She may also be scared that her dead child will be forgotten. Consequently, she may hold on to the memory, unable to let go. As a result, she may even start to live in the past, ignoring the fact that life goes on and her other children may need her love and attention. On the other hand, she may become over-protective of the other children leading to emotional smothering and so on.
But children aren’t always able to understand why a parent withdraws their affection. Sometimes they are too young to understand the reasons, especially if grief or a death wasn’t fully explained.
Consequently, siblings may begin to yearn for their parent’s love and attention. If it wasn’t or isn’t forthcoming, then eventually and as adults, they may project this need onto either the relationships they choose or addictive substances – in an attempt to dull the pain.
Sadly though, and as I so often repeat – we are attracted to people who are similar to our parents. Sometimes this is not always clear from the start, but as a relationship develops it usually becomes clearer. And if a parent was emotionally unavailable for whatever reason, a child could attract a similar pattern in their adult relationships and this could lead to immense disappointment and further sadness.
This is why it is so important that we get to know our issues, because stuff happens, and sometimes we need to spend time getting to understand what happened, in order to make better life choices.
6) Find Help, Find A Listening Ear:
Coming back to parental loss: There is no tragedy in life like the death of a child.
Neena Verma once wrote that, “There is no word in any language to describe a parent who loses a child. How does one describe the pain of ultimate bereavement?” She is right.
And if any of you have or are experiencing the loss or death of a child please do seek support and help. You are not alone. There are support groups for both men and women or indeed couples.
You will NOT be seen as a failure and there is no shame in losing a child – no matter what the circumstances. But grieving on your own and all that it involves can be heart wrenching to watch. Instead, please try to find a listening ear whether you are a grieving mother, or a grieving father as doing this on your own can be very hard.
And it is worth remembering Khalil Gibran’s poem called, ‘On Joy and Sorrow’.
“Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall”.
© 2019 Deidré Wallace All rights reserved.
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