Here Are 4 Ways You Can Support The Grieving Parents In Your Life...
by Henry-Cameron Allen
After my beloved only son Cameron passed from brain cancer in 2008 at the tender age of 13, I had what can be best described as an existential crisis. I was lost as to who I was anymore, where I was going, how I could continue going, and how to introduce myself when new people entered my life.
In English, and in every other language, there are words that identify a husband whose partner has died (widower), a wife whose partner has died (widow), and for someone whose parents have died (orphan)... but there is no word for a parent whose child has died. Not in any language that I could find, anyway, and the ones that came kind of close were not what I would call universal or fit into the global lexicon. The most-used identifier in English is "bereaved parent," but that didn't feel quite accurate to me either. Maybe during my mourning period I could say that I was bereft, but as mourning segued into grief (they are very different), the term no longer fit.
An identifier is deeply important for parents of child loss. One's identity is forever-changed when being a parent is plucked out of the equation, even when one has multiple children. Culturally, around the globe, fathers are often invisible in their grief compared to mothers. Siblings and grandparents are also often overlooked. We need to fix that. We all need support.
Let's face it. Child loss is not comfortable to think about, let alone talk about, but families all over the world lose their children to death every day. It's nothing new. It has been so since the beginning of people. Some of us never get to see our child experience life at all. Others have children who get to thrive through some part of their childhood, adolescence, and maybe even into adulthood before they are stolen away by death... sometimes gone in an instant, others over a prolonged period. Any time a parent has to face the harsh reality of grieving the death of a child, it is devastating, no matter how old that child was, how long ago, or in what way our child died, we will always miss them desperately... It is never easy, though some of us are really good actors. I am more public than most with my grief, especially as a father. Channeling it into service has been my way of coping. In truth, my joy left with my child... but it has been replaced with the gratification and gratitude I experience daily in helping others through my charitable foundation The Lost Travelers Club, The Lost Travelers Podcast (which helps support this foundation), and also my Guy-Wire Mentorship and Counseling work. My friends and family have also helped me immeasurably on this journey, for which I am eternally grateful... and there has definitely been a learning curve, for them, as well as for me. There still is, even after 14 years. If you know a bereaved parent, please consider these support tips:
Remember the Milestones... I don't call them anniversaries... anniversaries are for celebrating. Milestones is far more accurate (i.e. birthday, due date (for pregnancy loss), wedding day, death day , etc.). Mark them in your calendar and consider how you can support parents on those days. Holidays too. If you can, make a memorial donation in the child's name to a special charity. Milestones are extra hard. Remember them with us.
Speak our child’s name, and if you have memories and/or photos, share them. Sometimes people are afraid to talk about a child who has died. They don’t want to cause any further pain or trigger anguish in the parents by stirring up feelings of grief. It's ok. The grief is always there. We never forget our child, and it really helps us when others bring them into random conversations. It lets us know that you remember them and loved them, that they mattered to you, too. It honors our child and it honors us. It keeps their name in the world, as we rarely hear our child's name spoken anymore after they have passed. Speak their names.
Check in with us. Ask how we are doing. Oh yes, life goes on... When a child dies, people come out of the woodwork with cards, flowers, baked goods and condolences. After a few short weeks or months, those messages and gestures of support reduce to a trickle, and then come to a full stop. That's hard. All too often, friends - even close friends - will ghost us after our child passes... just disappear altogether without saying a word. It's true. And the isolation is brutal and lonesome. It hurts us. It can feel like the world has forgotten our child, like they never existed. As parents, our lives beyond child loss is like living in an altered state forever. It will never go back to "normal." Life goes on, but our grief remains. And that grief can be overwhelming, especially when it feels like the rest of the world has forgotten. So don't forget. Don't ghost your friends. An occasional text message, phone chat, video chat, or in-person visit can do wonders for the soul. Just a simple “how’re you doing?” or a “I’ve been thinking of you,” or "hey, I thought of your kid today," can go a long way toward knowing that we’re not alone on this path, and that someone else remembers our child. Remembers us.
Invite us to do something fun! Please understand that for some time after our child has died, it can be really difficult for us to be around other people with children, especially kids around our child’s age. It can be hard to go out and do normal, every day things that we used to take for granted. Certain places and activities that carry happy memories we made (or planned to make) with our child become grief triggers that can last for days or weeks. Understand, too, that many grieving parents are walking around with undiagnosed PTSD. Some of us are diagnosed, so do ask us about our triggers in order to avoid them, help us avoid them, or help us through them. On milestone days, especially, we often just stay home under the blankets, paralyzed. Sometimes that can be a healthy coping mechanism, and sometimes we really need a distraction from our grief... something to remind us of the good things in life. So invite us to do a fun activity with you, a walk in nature, or even travel to someplace beautiful and fun. We might say no. We might go reluctantly then experience a trigger on the outing. It happens. But even just being asked helps us know we are considered and loved. It can be something as simple as bringing us to lunch or high tea, or taking us for a mani-pedi, or a spa day with a massage. Invite us to talk about our child, about the dreams we had for them. Share with us about your own kids and the antics they are up to. Cry with us, joke and laugh with us, and sometimes just sit with us. It is exactly what we need. It can help the milestone pass a little more quickly, and it makes us feel so loved. Do the same for the grieving siblings and grandparents you know, too. It will be deeply, deeply appreciated.
I hope this has raised a bit of awareness about the experience of bereaved and grieving parents and their families, and what you can do to help. Please share with others to raise even more awareness this month and beyond. It matters. Thank you!
Are you a bereaved parent, sibling or grandparent? Is there anything else you’d add to this list? Comment below.
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