I had the pleasure of speaking with someone recently who said that as a bereaved parent, nothing’s changed throughout their grief experience of many years. These sentiments echo my own. I’ve been bereaved since 2005 after losing my daughter to suicide.
I’ve written before about my frustration as a bereaved parent, in that we really don’t talk about grief. Which makes the recovery process that much harder. But whenever I have it mirrored back to me through someone else’s experience, especially long-time grievers, I think it’s important to talk about again. And again. Because nobody knows when their world is going to be rocked by a loss or something else that can feel almost as devastating. Read on to discover the 5 ways to change this.
Sadly, I had a reminder recently of just how much our grief culture today remains unchanged from sixteen years ago, when I lost my daughter (and decades before). One of my family members shared with me the difficulty they had in knowing what to say to an acquaintance, who has a family member who is critically ill with COVID 19.
Given our own bereavement and the isolation we all felt as a result of it, I was somewhat taken aback to learn that this encounter for my family member still felt extremely awkward, despite everything we’ve gone through after the suicide of my daughter. It turns out that the bereaved can be just as tongue-tied when having an unexpected and/or unpleasant conversation with someone going through stress, worry or trauma. In this case, someone coping with the serious illness of a loved one that could potentially lead to their death.
When I first became bereaved in 2005, after the suicide of my daughter, I felt confused and distrustful of everything. My entire world had fallen apart. I had no idea how I would ever live without my child and was terrified something else really bad would happen to my family. I couldn’t imagine what I could ever do again that would feel worthwhile. I felt isolated and different from everyone else and in pain so extreme, I didn’t think I could survive it. I felt powerless. There was no relief in sight.
But I did survive. More importantly, I’m starting to truly live again through a healing process I can’t wait to share with others.
Wow, so I just read that the Netherlands is set to approve euthanasia for children under twelve years old. Again, just wow on so many levels. The first being that this is perhaps some of the most liberal thinking in the world on euthanasia next to that of Belgium, which became the first country to allow voluntary child euthanasia in 2014. Since then, they have reported two deaths of children in this age range.
Wow, because for a parent to have to consider never mind be willing to let their child go this way is perhaps the ultimate sacrifice any parent may ever have to make. And unless you’re in that situation, it’s hard to say what anyone would be prepared to do.
I have been dedicated to a spiritual practice for nearly forty years. Figuring out (at least trying to) decades of life lessons has taught me to appreciate our physical existence as so much more than what we can only appreciate as tangible experiences. In fact, I’d suggest it is more painful to confine ourselves only to thinking about physical existence as just that and nothing more. There has to be more.
A few days ago, I came across this article that shockingly (for me, anyway) told the story of a young Norwegian woman who tracks Instagram’s dark web for anyone at risk of attempting suicide. This young watcher (she is only twenty-two) scrolls through her Instagram feed looking for signs of imminent suicide attempts on the more than 450 accounts she’s been given permission to follow. She intervenes when she believes it necessary to do so based on the type of content posted. Despite not being formally trained in mental healthcare, she alerts the police and ambulance services requesting them (sometimes pleading with them) to further investigate those individuals she identifies as critically at risk of suicide. Some of these professionals don’t always take her claims seriously. Sometimes lives are lost.
As a bereaved mom of a daughter who died by suicide in 2005, I have long been a proponent of change in how we view difficult loss and grief in our culture and the importance of understanding trauma and PTSD associated with certain types of loss. Not only for grievers, but everybody supporting them through their grief process.
It’s not only child loss that can traumatize people, but keeping it to bereaved parents for a moment, I am certain there isn’t one mom or dad out there who hasn’t been traumatized by the loss of their child, no matter the cause of death. They may even have PTSD and not know it. Little to no information is available on the topic. Despite the lack of information on the risk of PTSD for bereaved parents, it is encouraging to see that a quick internet search pops up a number of articles and studies done on PTSD in parents coping with a critically ill child, which is progress. (As an aside, there is even research for traffic accident victims who have PTSD). I remain astounded at the apparent lack of information and interest to take up this cause for the grieving.
I came across this article in a Canadian newspaper recently where a New York supreme court judge gave permission for the parents of a deceased son without his prior consent to use his sperm to produce a male heir. Cultural differences aside (they are from a culture where male heirs are important), they stated they were desperate for a part of their son to live on, which is universal to all grieving parents.
As a bereaved parent myself, the story left me wondering whether this case could set a precedent giving every parent the right to produce a grandchild from their deceased child without consent, all because we want a part of them to live on. This raises all sorts of questions about the ethics and ramifications of this extended arm of assisted-baby making techniques; not only for bioethicists, but our culture at large. It also left me wondering whether I would have done it if I could when my child died in 2005. The answer?
I lost an extended family member recently. Attending the funeral brought back lots of memories. None good. Burying my daughter, father and mother in relatively rapid succession (every two and a half years) and being directly responsible for making the arrangements for my daughter and mom was difficult. Horrifying for my daughter actually, who died by suicide. Stressful and somber for my mom who died naturally, but also unexpectedly.
Funeral homes seem to be the only place it feels acceptable for us to talk about death outside of initial condolences. At this recent funeral, I was reminded how freely we can talk about where one may have gone in death. How comforting it is remembering the deceased loved one’s life with both sorrow and levity. How natural it is to contemplate (if only briefly) what life now means for loved ones left behind and the strength it takes to physically let go of our deceased.
How well we handle difficult and sudden loss and do or don’t recover from it – especially the death of a child – may depend on the early attachment style or relationship we formed to our primary caregiver(s) from infancy through childhood. If this was not a secure attachment, which is the optimal environment in which to be raised, we learned the same defensive patterns our parents or other caregivers used to defend against their negative experiences or trauma, and relied on these throughout our adulthood to protect ourselves against any negative affects we may have encountered along the way.