July is bereaved parents month – Did you know that? Many do not as the death of a child still remains a taboo subject into the 21st century. The avoidance of this topic often delays and sometimes totally stifles the grieving process for many of the bereaved. With so many tragic shootings, illnesses, and the opioid crisis, you would think that we could talk about grief in an open way, as it touches all of us, no matter what walk of life we’re on.
Grief is as unique as the individual that has passed. As a bereaved mother, I can tell you that my experience after my daughters death clearly showed me that our society’s models of the grieving process are broken. In fact, the lack of support in this area is why so many bereaved parents rarely recover or are just existing after this kind of tragedy and heartbreak. For the grieving to heal, they require support, understanding and a safe space to talk about their loved one, among many other things.
Here are 7 things that I learned on my own journey through grief that can help you support a bereaved parent.
- Silence can be grief’s greatest tormentor. Allowing us the space to talk about our child or loved one that has passed, is one of the greatest gifts you can give the bereaved. Please acknowledge this tragedy, say the name of the person we love that is suddenly gone. Yes, this might feel uncomfortable at first, but imagine if when you die, that no one speaks your name or talks about the amazing person you were, because it is too uncomfortable for others.
- Grief does not know time. In my experience, time does not heal the wound of losing a child. It’s what you do with that time, whether it’s support, therapy or just talking about it and moving through healing processes. There is no one right way through the journey of grief, and no time line that the bereaved should have to meet.
- Hope. This is one of the single greatest gifts you can give another in the face of tragedy – Hope that they will not be alone, hope that their loved one is around them in Spirit, hope that they can and will get through this and hope that one day they will be able to smile again. If you give but one thing, let it be hope.
- You don’t get over it – You get through it. When others tell us to get over it when 6 months has passed, or a year or 5 years – Please know that we don’t get over burying or cremating our child, they were the love of our life, an inherent part of us in many ways. Moving through grief is really the only way to heal it. Getting over this kind of loss is simply impossible as it infers that our child is dispensable.
- Grieving encompasses the body, mind and spirit. The trauma of grief in the the face of tragedy hits on all fronts, affects every part of the bereaved’s life, including physical health, mental health, beliefs and faith, as well as family, friends & colleagues. There is nothing that grief does not touch in our lives. Please be gentle and considerate of all the facets of grief that we go through.
- Talking about our loved one will not make us sad. This is a myth. Our sorrow and grief exists whether you talk about it or not. We want to talk about our children, we want to smile with you through our tears at a funny memory. Sometimes we need our friends and family to talk about them so that we can release some of the sorrow and tears instead of holding it in and suffering alone with it. Most of all, we want to know that our child touched your life too.
- The concept of the afterlife is now of keen interest to us. When tragedy happens, it forces us to look at our belief and understanding of death. If a bereaved parent tells you they received a sign from their child, or the widow who told you they just knew that their husband was around, know that for some, this is an integral part of grief and healing. We are now seeing life and death in a whole new light and indeed know when our loved one is around us. Please support this part of their healing, it brings comfort and strength to continue living and moving through grief.
Talking about the person we’ve lost is one of the most healing things we can do. Simply allowing a bereaved individual the space to talk about them or their feelings is a gift. This feels uncomfortable at first, as often we think we need to fix it or say just right thing or somehow say something that makes it better for the bereaved as sorrow can be uncomfortable to face and feel and hear. Yet, their is just one thing we need – Someone to listen with their ears and their heart wide open, without judgement or opinion. The simple gift of listening in ones darkest hour of sorrow is priceless to the bereaved. You will never regret showing kindness, giving comfort or talking about the person who has passed away – In fact, you will gain much from listening to them – Empathy, compassion and a greater understanding of your own ideas and views on grief and death.
Anything is possible when we are willing to face the uncomfortableness of grief.