The Loss of a Child
Posted June 7, 2017
To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself.
~ Dr. Burton Grebin
There is no greater grief than when a parent loses a child. As a person, I had never truly experienced such a gut-wrenching heartache, until the day that my wife and I lost a child. As a psychologist, some may think that I am trained to have “all the known answers,” but the truth is, there are no answers, quick fixes, or remedies to mend the heartbreak around the loss of a child.
The loss of a child is an inconceivable and an unimaginable experience. While my wife and I never had an opportunity to get to know our child by physical touch, perception, or smell; we had already bonded with our developing child.
MY DAUGHTER’S HEARTACHE
The day that we were told that our child had passed on was the most egregious experience of my life. On this very day, not only had I lost my child, but my precious and tendered hearted Delilah experienced the loss of a sibling. At the time, my daughter was a mere five years of age, but her cry and her mournful spirit penetrated the very nature of my being. At that moment, I recognized not only the impact that this loss had on myself, my loving wife, but the dire impact that it had on my precious daughter. For me, the loss was like an ocean of emotions consuming my person, but it was further deepened by witnessing the breach of my daughter’s innocence. It was the tenderness of my daughter’s cry that pierced my heart and my soul. It was like I had experienced yet a second loss, a loss of my precious daughter’s innocence and my inability to protect her from harm, that broke my spirit.
MY LOVE’S PAIN
Generally women are more expressive about their loss, and more likely to seek support from others. Men may be more action-oriented, tend to gather facts and problem solve, and therefore often do not choose to participate in support networks that consist of sharing feelings. This does not mean he is not grieving. Often men bury themselves in work when they are grieving.
~ American Pregnancy Association
The day that the love of my life and I lost our child, was one of the most heartbreaking experiences within the context of our relationship. My wife, my love and my best-friend was devastated, and I felt helpless, without an ability to provide complete comfort. I knew that I was incapable of offering a word of resolve, comfort, or absolution. Nor could I provide a word that would erase the painful memories from her mind and soul.
I felt broken, dismayed, and guilty that I was incapable of protecting my family from this egregious experience. Naturally, my wife was conveying feelings of regret, blame, shame and guilt over the loss of our child. Despite all of my formal education in psychology, I felt at a loss, and puzzled how to proceed. While I am formally trained as a psychologist, I realized long ago that my humanhood remains a vital part of my person. Clinicians are expected to remain professional in “all” circumstances and events, but the truth is, we are human too.
THE LOSS OF A CHILD FROM A FATHER’S PERSPECTIVE
When a woman miscarries, the experience of the father is often forgotten. But men grieve pregnancy loss too...
~ Author Unknown
The loss of my child broke my spirit. I do not feel that I have ever weeped so deeply or so intensely. While my wife and I never had an opportunity to celebrate the birth of our child, our loss was just as profound and genuine as the loss of a birthed child.
As a father and a husband, I felt incapable of protecting both my daughter and the love of my life. I felt such an emptiness and hollowness, that even to this day I am incapable of fully expressing the loss of my precious child.
“Men are often relegated to a supporting role during pregnancy loss. The focus usually falls on the mother—her physical and emotional needs, her experience, her recovery. But fathers are deeply affected by pregnancy loss.” (Czukas, 2014) As a clinician, I had no real idea or fathomable comprehension of the authentic pain that occurs when one losses a child. The loss of a child burrows deep into your soul. As a father, I personally felt my emotions and feelings had been dismissed by my friends, family, and my professional associates. I am not an attention seeker, but in my time of need, I felt abandoned and as though the urgency of my pain was unimportant. As a clinician, I had heard these words, but it was not until I had this experience, was I capable of completely understanding the pain associated with the loss of a child.
WELL MEANING WORDS AND UNTIMELY STATEMENTS
Losing a child is unspeakably painful, so finding the right words to say to those grieving can be difficult.
~ Kira Brekke
The day of our loss, brought with it many well intended words. Many of the words brought warmth and comfort, while others fell sadly short. Have you ever experienced words of comfort and condolences? Did you feel that the individual offering the sympathetic expressions were authentic in his or her communication? Many well-meaning words often fall short of their intended target or message. While the words may be sincere, the message of sincerity may have had a shortfall.
As humans, we have all encountered, or at least witnessed, someone receiving words of comfort. We ourselves may have been the individual responsible for offering the supportive communication. The words may have been met with acceptance or rejection, but either way, you felt compelled to share your heart. Speaking words of comfort is a balancing act teetering on empathetic and sympathetic. While empathetic words are an ability to understand and share the feelings of another; sympathetic words are frequently met with pity and sorrow for another.
Unfortunately, sincerity is not always the best approach to helping someone deal with personal loss. In some cases, a silent word, a warm embrace or the simple knowledge that you are present is the best approach to offering comfort. Even if our words of comfort and condolences were a sincere attempt to provide an expression of sympathy, we may have missed the target of being empathetic. It is extremely important that our words are always balanced with sincerity and empathy.
My wife and I experienced a variety of communications. In some cases, the words were thoughtful and encouraging, while a few words were unfavorable. Either way, my wife and I were encouraged by the willingness of others to connect with us during our time of heartache.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
~ C. S. Lewis
Loss has no friend, no allies, no benefit to the human spirit. The loss of a child exploits the emotions of each individual it encounters. “Everyone suffers loss in different ways depending upon their beliefs, culture, family history, and relationship with the person who died. It doesn't mean that others care less if they mourn differently than you do. Grief can also vary greatly depending upon how the child died. While some losses are less visible, such as miscarriage, other experiences of loss are more traumatic, such as an accident, illness, murder or death during war.” (Weiss, 2014)
The loss of a child is a heart wrenching experience. If you have encountered such a loss, you will relate to the fact that no words bring complete comfort to the pain that lies dormant within the interior of your heart. The loss of a child is liken a scar, while the wound has already occurred, the scar remains with you throughout the entirety of your life.
Unfortunately, in some families the loss of a child will not be the only loss experienced. For some parents, the indescribable pain is too much for the couple to endure, thus leading to ultimate demise of their relationship.
As an individual, you are entitled to your time of grief, process of grief, and right to grieve. You should not be forced to call an end to your grief. The grieving process should have no timelines or guidelines. It is seldom that two individuals grieve identically. The process of grief and loss is as unique as your personal DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid); no two individuals will have the same experiences or relationship to grief. Most importantly, it is of critical importance that you be allowed to grieve and process the loss of your child.
NORMAL GRIEF REACTIONS
Unfortunately, there is no expiration date on grief.
~ Elizabeth Czukas
The process of grieving any loss is dependent upon your relationship to the person. However, the age of the individual whose life was cut short will often effect your perspective on the loss. The reactions to grief will vary as does the process of grief and loss. The following grief and loss reactions are some of the most common, but not an absolute measure or determination of one’s reactions to grief and loss.
- Do not be dismayed if you cannot concentrate.
- You may feel sudden and uncontrollable emotions.
- It is very common for those who have experienced loss to feel as they are “going crazy.”
- Do not feel bad if you are experiencing elevated feelings of anxiousness or stress.
- As a parent, you may feel a extreme remorse and guilt over outliving your child.
- You may, and most certainly will experience, times of lethargy (fatigue, a lack of energy and personal motivation).
- For many parents, you may feel misunderstood, or that your grieving process lacks empathy.
- Parents often have a strong desire to escape.
- You may feel as though you are an alien, living isolated from your known world.
- For many parents, the rejection or questioning of one’s faith and spiritual belief system may occur.
- Parents often feel bitterness towards the medical and scientific communities.
- It is very common to have dreams that your loss was simply a dream.
While the above is a list of some of the normal experiences around grief and loss, it is not an absolute or an exhaustive list of the related experiences and expressions of normal grief and loss.
CHERISHING AND KEEPING THE POSITIVE MEMORIES ALIVE
When those you love die, the best you can do is honor their spirit for as long as you live. You make a commitment that you're going to take whatever lesson that person or animal was trying to teach you, and you make it true in your own life... it's a positive way to keep their spirit alive in the world, by keeping it alive in yourself.
~ Patrick Swayze, The Time of My Life
Whatever stage you have lost a child; whether you have lost a child during a pregnancy, youth or into adulthood; the loss remains the same. The loss is an intolerable experience that words, nor deeds, are capable of eliminating.
As parents and family members, we must keep the positive memories alive. Do not avoid talking about your loved one, rather take joy in the positive memories associated with the person who you have lost.
ANCHORING ONE ANOTHER
All you need is one safe anchor to keep you grounded when the rest of your life spins out of control.
~ Katie Kacvinsky
Whether you are the parent, a sibling, an extended family member, or friend; it is important to offer and be supported through your time of grief. Grief can decay the soul, therefore it is essential that you do not avoid reaching out for support or offering your support for another.
“As the shock of the loss fades, there is a tendency on the part of the griever to feel more pain and sadness. Well-meaning friends may avoid discussing the subject due to their own discomfort with grief or their fear of making the person feel bad. As a result, people who are grieving often feel more isolated or lonely in their grief.
People who are grieving are likely to fluctuate between wanting some time to themselves and wanting closeness with others. They may want someone to talk to about their feelings.” (University of Texas, 2014)
The following are a few suggestions for helping others through a time of grief and loss:
- Be an active and compassionate listener.
- Sometimes it is best to simply be present with another.
- As a friend or family member, be certain to share your feelings and relationship to the loss.
- It is important to acknowledge the loss and pain associated with the grief and loss.
- Let them experience the feelings of sadness.
- Make it known that you are available.
- Never minimize another’s relationship to grief and loss.
- Send friendly and supportive texts, emails and messages.
- Do not avoid discussing the positive memories.
- Allow yourself to be an anchor and anchored by others.
- Most importantly, be available and approachable.
As an individual, I can attest to the strength of an anchor. An anchor is not only a support, but it is an individual who provides stability and confidence in an otherwise volatile and unpredictable environment. My anchor, was and is, my wife. I too have always tried proving a positive and supportive anchor for my wife, my love, and my best friend. An anchor is not perfect, rather is striving for a state of being free, or as free as possible from the problems of this life. An anchor is not only supportive during the calm times, but rather the most difficult ones. Anchors learn to support, to uplift and to help guide down the paths of health, wellness, and happiness. In my personal and professional opinion, happiness is neither giddiness or silliness, rather true happiness is a peace that passes all understanding. Therefore, an anchor is someone who helps to see beyond the problems and transitions of this life. My anchor has helped me to help her. An anchor should be someone who is personally open and willing to communicate. During times of loss, communication is the key to one’s recovery. Without healthy and clear communication, the tides will rise and the storms will overcome. Let me be clear, anchors are not perfect, but rather, are helpful for guiding, supporting, and offering positive encouragement. Most importantly, anchors must remember, not only are they supports for others, but they too must create supports and fortifications within their own lives. My wife and I continue to learn that we are not only our best advocates and allies, but it is through our personal advocacy, we have learned to be advocates and supports for others.
THE HEALING PROCESS
Respect your needs and limitations as you work through your grief and begin to heal.
~ American Pregnancy Association
The healing process is a process indeed. It is through a series of cautious steps that you will ultimately find your place of peace and sincerity. The healing process will not eliminate those fond memories that you have of another, rather they will only enhance the positive memories related to that person. It is the healing process that will serve as your pathway to health and wellness.The journey of the healing process begins with:
- Allow yourself to heal.
- Do not punish yourself for surviving.
- Live your life as you may have expected your loved one to live his or her own life.
- “Reach out to those closest to you. Ask for understanding, comfort and support.
- Seek counseling to help both yourself and your partner. You don’t have to face this alone.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to grieve and the opportunity to remember.” (APA, 2014)
- Avoid making any hasty or sudden changes, such as selling your home or quitting your job.
- Consider taking time for yourself and making time for your partner.
- “Being respectful and sensitive of each other’s needs and feelings.
- Sharing your thoughts and emotions by keeping communication lines open.
- Accepting differences and acknowledging each other’s coping styles.” (APA, 2014)
- Do not overwhelm yourself by taking on new tasks, assignments, or projects.
- Consider keeping a journal.
- Allow yourself to mourn and to be okay with the process.
- Consider taking time to breath and meditate.
Always remember, that you are not alone. There are others who are trained to offer support and guidance through the process of your grief. “Healing doesn’t mean forgetting or making the memories insignificant. Healing means refocusing.” (APA, 2014) Healing is an opportunity to cherish in the life and relationship. Healing is a combination of the good with the bad. Allow yourself time to heal, to mend, and to be well.
Author: Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.
The following article was originally published with The Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association. It has been adapted and reworked for Psychology Today.
American Pregnancy Association, APA (2014, October 4) After a miscarriage: Surviving emotionally. Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-loss/miscarriage-surviving-emotionally/
Cancer.net (2014, October 5) Grieving the loss of a child. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.net/coping-and-emotions/managing-emotions/grief-and-loss/grieving-loss-child
Czukas, E. (2013, October 6, 2014) Men and pregnancy loss. Retrieved from http://miscarriage.about.com/od/forfriendsandfamily/tp/Men-And-Pregnancy-Loss.htm
University of Texas (2014, October 4) Grief and loss. University of Texas. Retrieved from http://cmhc.utexas.edu/griefloss.html
Weiss, M. F. (2014, October 5) Grieving the loss of a child. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/consumer_updates/grieving_the_loss_of_a_child.aspx