One of the most devastating things to face is the loss of a child. October 15 marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Area events honor those affected, with groups such as local OC- based filmography “Still Project” aiming to increase support by ending the silence around such tragic events and the OC Walk to Remember, a nonprofit organization that provides support to fami- lies who have experienced miscarriage, pregnancy loss or infant loss of any kind, holding a Forever Footprints event on October fourth.
Whether facing it within your family, or trying to help a friend through their pain, Fran Solomon, Founder of HealGrief.org, of- fers advice on how to mourn, process the loss and help your family move toward healing.
Coping with Your Own Loss
It’s important to be both realistic and optimistic — you will never get over the loss of your child, but you will survive it, even as you are changed by it. You will never forget your child or his or her death. As you go through each holiday, each season, each happy and sad occasion that may trigger another wave of grief, you will gain greater strength and better tools for coping with the pain.
If you have feelings of guilt – which are common but not always present — confront and admit them. Examine the reality of how your child died and your actual intentions and actions at the time. You may see your actions or reactions in a more positive light. For- give yourself for being imperfect — you did and continue to do the best that you can.
One of the major hurdles parents experience in their return to the world of the living is their inability to accept pleasure, or ac- knowledging that it even exists. However, happiness and enjoyment are important survival tools, even if for just a moment in your grief. It’s okay to laugh in the midst of tears or to smile at someone or something. You might feel that your laughter betrays your child’s memory, but you need to know you are not abandoning your griev- ing by enjoying yourself. The only way to survive bereavement is to step away from it occasionally.
Break down the future into small increments such as an hour or a day, and deal only with one portion at a time. Focus on tasks — feed the cat, do the laundry. These little bits of normalcy and focus- ing on the moment at hand will make grief more bearable.
Focus on the positive events and experiences in the relationship you had with your child. At some point, consider making a journal of all the details you want to remember about your child’s life. Review your family photographs and include some in your book. You may not feel ready to do this right away or you may take great comfort doing this in the early days — each person is individual in his or her needs.
Many people want to be supportive but are at a loss for what to do — they are unable to process this loss or know exactly what to say. Bereaved parents may have to be the ones to take the first step in reaching out to others. Let friends and family know your needs, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re afraid of run- ning into someone who might say something about your child, ask a friend to do some shopping for you. Others could help you deal with daily tasks. Maybe you’d like someone to be available to listen to you or be around to ease your loneliness. Only you know what you need.
Helping Siblings through Sadness and Disappointment
One of the most difficult roles for a mother or father when a child dies is to continue being a parent to the surviving children. Parents must continue to function in the very role they are grieving which is an enormous challenge. The surviving child or children shouldn’t feel that they are alone or have been set aside, as dif- ficult as it may be to find the emotional reserves to support them. Parents have the difficult task of switching roles constantly, from being comforted to being the comforter, at a time when they have little ability to do so. Some parents swing to the other extreme and become extremely overprotective of their child, determined to keep them safe.
Children of all ages process grief differently. To ensure the healthy survival of your family, your children’s needs must be ad- dressed not only by you but other family members who may have greater emotional reserves at this time. Others can help you help your child; you are critical to their healing process, but not the sole provider of comfort.
It is important for children to be given the opportunity to ex- perience and express their feelings of grief, such as sadness, anger, relief, confusion, etc. They need support and encouragement to un- derstand what happened, identify their feelings, and embrace their loved one’s memory.
18 Parenting OC Magazine | October 2014
Staying Connected with your Partner
“Stay strong” is a cliché that leaves a parent often feeling weak — making them feel that they are weak if they openly show their emotions. It’s extremely important that each spouse understands the importance of communicating their feelings, and just as one should not judge themself for their reaction to the loss, they should not judge their spouse.
Often we push the grief away, or tamp it down by distracting ourselves with activities or tasks. Trying to avoid grief only leads to prolonging it; the grief has to be allowed to surface. Unre- solved grief can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and health problems.
This can be done in many ways, depending on your creativity or usual means of expression. You can write about your loss in a journal, or send a private note to the person you’ve lost. You can make a scrapbook, photo album or create an online memorial celebrating that person’s life. You can also get involved in an or- ganization or philanthropy that was meaningful to them, or make a donation in their name.
Your mind and body are connected, and physical health helps with the emotional healing process. It’s natural to feel lethargic or low energy, but if you’re able to take a walk or a run, it will promote the process. Combat your fatigue with an appropriate amount of sleep, and choose foods that provide you not just with comfort but energy.
You are allowed to grieve for as long and as deeply as you need to. No one, including yourself, can tell you when to “move on” or “get over it.” It’s okay to be angry, to cry, not cry, or even laugh — you need to allow for moments of joy in your grief, and feel no guilt for having a moment without pain.
How to Talk to a Friend about their Loss
Don’t: Don’t use clichés, which minimize the loss and emotions the grieving person feels. Clichés to avoid include:
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “He/she is in a better place now.”
- “Thank goodness you are young — you can still have more kids.”
- “It was meant to be.”
- “You have an angel in heaven.”
- “You are so strong…I could never handle this.” (Or “You canhandle this.”)
- “God would never give you more than you could handle.”
- “You need to move on.”
- “You’ll get over it in time.”Do: Say things that provide comfort and acknowledge your friend’s loss and struggle:• “I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”
• “You’ve been so strong and helpful for your family. If youwant to lean on me, I’d be honored to try to help you.”
• “It’s okay to be angry or frustrated — it’s part of loving someone
and grieving for them.” What you feel is normal and appropriate.” • “It’s okay to cry, and I may cry with you.”
Fran Solomon, founder of HealGrief.org, is a member of the Cedars Sinai Board of Governors and served as a member of the Board of Directors and past Chair for Our House Grief Support Center. HealGrief.org
By Sascha Zuger