You Are Not Alone
A wife who loses a husband is called a widow.
A husband who loses a wife is called a widower.
A child who loses his parents is called an orphan.
But...there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that's how awful the
- Neugeboren 1976, 154
"The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced.
Every other wound we seek to heal, every other affliction to forget; but
this wound we consider it a duty to keep open; this affliction we cherish
and brood over in solitude." - Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, 1992
"When are you ready to live again? There is no list of events or anniversaries
to check off. In fact, you are likely to begin living again before you realize
you are doing it. You may catch yourself laughing. You may pick up a book
for recreational reading again. You may start playing lighter, happier music.
When you do make these steps toward living again, you are likely to feel
guilty at first. 'What right have I, you may ask yourself, to be happy when
my child is dead?' And yet something inside feels as though you are being
nudged in this positive direction. You may even have the sense that this
nudge is from your child, or at least a feeling that your child approves
of it." - Horchler and Morris, 1994
Source - http://www.geocities.com/heartland/ranch/8207/marsvenus.html
Remember the best selling book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?"
Well, the same is true for grief. Most men grieve in Mars and most women
in Venus. The statistics are grim. More than half the couples experience
some degree of stress, leading to the consideration of divorce or separation.
Why? There is a delicate balance that must be maintained in a relationship
during the grief process. Life does go on, but normalcy is a tough task after
the death of your baby. How does a couple grieve differently? How do they
renew their communication?
To understand how, we must first understand why. Most men and women do grieve
in different ways. As men and women, the basic components of our psyche are
so different. It makes sense that in stressful situations, we may not all
react in the same manner. Most men see the "big picture" while most women
are detail oriented. He thinks and she feels. He is logical and realistic
while she may be more intuitive and idealistic. He copes with stress and
grief internally and she copes externally.
In many, but certainly not all, support group situations, women attend for
longer periods of time and are generally more communicative and verbal. While
both will handle the grief intrinsically unique from the other, both need
the opportunity to express their feelings. The love of both parents should
transcend any gender differences. When it comes to the grieving process,
many fathers express a "making of peace" within 3-9 months. Most mothers,
however, do not report that feeling of acceptance until 9-24 months or even
How can you help a grieving mother, if she is your wife or partner? Remember
that she may need to talk about the event a great deal. She is in the process
of gathering every possible detail about your baby's death. It is as if she
is playing the tape in her mind and rewinding it over and over again. She
will ask questions that may be unanswerable, such as how or why? Be patient
with her and listen. If you find yourself becoming frustrated with her, attend
a support group meeting with her. It is a safe place for mom to review details
of the event unconditionally. The mother may want to visit the grave very
frequently. She feels that this is her way to "take care" of her child. At
the grave, she can care for and be close to the only physical part of your
child she has left. Allow her to visit as often as she needs to. You do not
have to go with her, however, don't discourage her or tell her it is unhealthy.
This may be detrimental to the lines of communication.
Many mothers benefit from reading books on grief. Buy her a few books to
share together. She knows in her heart that her life and the life of her
family will never be the same. Acknowledge her pain, respect her feelings
of deep loss and try not to rush her healing or offer a quick fix it for
her grief. She will accept the tragedy over time, in her own time. Don't
insinuate that she needs professional intervention because she has a desire
to talk about your child. Talking about your child keeps his memory alive
and helps her along the grief journey.
What about dealing with a father's grief? Many men, unlike women, feel
uncomfortable discussing the death of his child. It is too deep and too
emotional. Dad is the culturally recognized "Protector" and "Stronghold"
of the family. It is his duty to remain strong and unyielding. Even if his
heart is breaking, he may have difficulty expressing it openly. Do not push
him to verbalize his feelings, but rather, encourage him by simply listening
when he does choose to talk. If you attempt to comfort him while he is grieving,
he may feel guilty for making you bear the burden of the "Protector" and
quickly clean up his tears and move on to busy work. Remember that just listening
is an effective way to support a grieving father.
While some mothers take comfort in their faith in God, some fathers have
overwhelming feelings of anger toward God. He may express that the death
of your child invalidates his faith and religion. Feelings of anger are a
normal and healthy constituent of grief. Do not discredit his feelings. Remember
that feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. He will work out the
feelings of anger if he is doing his "grief work." Some fathers may not want
to visit the cemetery as frequently as mom. Some may even have an aversion
Mutual respect for each other is the best remedy in this situation. Be honest
with each other about your needs and respect what the others desire is. Do
not force him to accompany you on visits if he doesn't want to. He may resent
you for it. Mothers may bury themselves in books about grief, while fathers
generally indulge in hobbies, work or other activities that take his mind
off the pain. He needs space to grieve in his own way, so try to avoid imposing
alternate feelings of "what should be" on him. Often, a father expresses
the desire to put things back to the way they were before and for mom to
become the person she was before the baby's death. This may lead to conflict
because mom realizes that things will never be the same. Again, honest
communication of emotions and feelings will alleviate resentment and hostility.
After the death of a child, both parents will encounter the most difficult
human experience. Here is an exercise that may assist a mom and dad during
the process of grief:
1. Write down the emotions and elements that are unique in the mother's grief
versus the elements that are unique to the father's grief. Then, take it
one step further, and write down the elements of grief you have in common.
2. Establish three-one hour periods per week. Dedicate one hour to express
and share the common elements of grief you shared the week prior. Dedicate
the next hour to share one hour of intimacy where the death of your child
is not discussed. Finally an hour dedicated to sharing with family members
and other children the feelings of loss you have.
With honesty, respect, communication, compassion and love families can remain
together, united and strong. Remember to give each other permission to grieve
in your own way, and in your own time. Honor the differences and embrace
the similarities. If you feel your marriage is in trouble, don't wait to
get help. Seek counseling from a pastor, therapist or family counselor who
is trained in marital issues. But it is also imperative that they are trained
in grief support. While it may seem that months or years later, many of the
family arguments involve issues not directly inclusive of your deceased child,
some of the bitterness and anger may be a product of protracted and unresolved
grief. It is impossible to discount the depth and devastation even years
after the death of a child