Saturday, March 26, 2011

How To Talk To A Bereaved Parent

Society at large does not handle death well, especially the death of a child. As time passes,does ignoring what has happened....help?


In her book, Parental Loss of a Child, author Theresa Rando discusses that we are living in a death-denying society. Outliving one's child compounds the bereaved parents' loss because of the unnaturalness. The 'strange and callous' avoidance response on the part of society to the bereaved, particularly to the bereaved parent exemplifies the general societal avoidance of the subject, ie. don't know what to say, don't know what to do, so avoid the subject and avoid the person. Let somebody closer to them handle it.

The consequences of such denial for those grieving may be profound -- again, especially for the bereaved parent, of whom grief is felt very differently. At a time when bereaved parents need comfort and support, they often hear meaningless phrases such as, "Keep a stiff upper lip," "It was God's will," Thank goodness you have other children, " "You are so strong." or "You are young and you can have other children."

In order to really be of support to someone you care about who has lost a child, it is wise to read about the subject. Many who have, describe it as a 'closet cleaning' experience.

Since children represent society's hopes, dreams, and promise for the future, the death of a child is always difficult to accept. Society, significantly threatened by such a loss, may impose unrealistic expectations on grief-stricken parents.(1) For this reason, the bereaved parent may receive little support other than what occurred during the time of the funeral and a month or two following.

The support need only be a hug and a few comforting words to help the parent along. On the birthday of her 18-year old daughter, who was murdered, a mother said, "When they just hug you, that shows they care. And I know they do and I know they are sincere because I have known them for a while. A gentle approach like that helps. Most of them don't say a lot, but they don't need to. They'll kind of come up and hug ya and say, "How are you doing?" Just a brief encouragement that way to let me know they're there. That means a lot.

A bereaved parent doesn't get over their loss. They learn to live with it. Just like the parent whose child has gone off to college or just gotten married, the memories of a child are real for all parents no matter what has happened. We would not meet a friend for coffee knowing their child is newly married, and not mention anything about that child. We would not enter a person's newly purchased home and not mention anything about the new home, pretending that it didn't exist. In the same way, a kind memory of a bereaved parent's child acknowledges that you care, you remember and that it is not an 'off limits' subject. A bereaved parent carries with them not only the loss of their child, but the social challenge of accepting the 'silence' of the society. How can you help? Break the silence. Their child may be gone from this earth, but their love is not gone....just like the love you have for your child(ren).

In the same way that a parent whose newly married child would not expect the whole conversation to revolve around that child, a bereaved parent would not expect the whole conversation to revolve around their child. It is the 'acknowledgement' that means so much.

One woman wrote about the loss of her friend's daughter:
I personally grieved for her and my husband did too, very intensely. Not only because of my relationship and acquaintance with her through the years but because I identified so strongly with her. I mean, her daughter spent the night at our house, was a friend of my daughter''s. I think it's interesting, because I grieved for that mother, and for my personal loss of her daughter, and for my child's loss of her. It was on so many levels. What I also learned is that the mom needs to keep talking about her daughter. She needs support for years -- and I know that. I will be there for her because I learned I can step outside myself...even though I don't have answers. (2)

When society tells us we shouldn't speak to the parent about their child, and that we shouldn't remind them of their loss, this makes no sense. Keeping silent about it doesn't erase it. Do we think a bereaved parent doesn't think about their loss in some form every day? Why then, do we think we are doing them a favor by keeping silent?  We don't have to become armchair counselors. Just the mention of a pleasant memory, or a "I think about you a lot".....is all it takes. So simple and yet so powerful. -Marsha
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The Day The Music Died : A Discussion about trying to regain the simple pleasures we used to take for granted.


*Visit Facebook: A New Journey, for quotes, links, and articles of hope regarding the death of a child. -


(1) Kerns: grief psychologist
(2) Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare; C. Kerns

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