Check out our latest guest post!
Dave Roberts, LMSW is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor of psychology at Utica College and a HuffPost contributor. He has been a keynote speaker and workshop presenter on grief and loss both locally and nationally. For more information, please go to Dave’s website: www.bootsyandangel.com. Also check out www.tcfmohawkvalley.org for more information on getting support after the death of a child.
My life until 2002, was fairly routine, predictable and orderly. At age 47, I had been married for twenty years, helped raise three beautiful children, and was employed as an addiction counselor and clinical supervisor for the State of New York. I completed the requirements for my Masters in Social Work(MSW) degree during May of 2002. With my MSW and Credential as an Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC), my goals were to continue to work full time, teach and do private practice part-time. However, life changed dramatically due to circumstances that were beyond my control. My eighteen –year-old daughter Jeannine was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer in May of 2002 and died on March 1,2003 at home, with Hospice Services.
After Jeannine’s death, I needed to learn to live in a world that was uncertain and terrifying to me. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. Jeannine’s death forced me to re-examine my personal and professional values and modify them so that I could learn to live differently, without the physical presence of my daughter. As a result of the challenges that I faced, I became a more well-rounded and service oriented individual, and a better therapist. Today, I am mostly at peace with Jeannine’s death. I still experience some moments of profound sadness, but know how to manage and integrate them into my daily life.
Based on my personal experience, I would like to offer some suggestions to parents and caregivers to navigate and understand grief after the death of a child:
- Be gentle with yourselves. The grief journey after the death of our children is a marathon and not a sprint. It will take as long as it takes to move from the raw pain of grief to a point where you will find joy, meaning and renewed purpose.
- In the early phase of grief, holidays, birthdays and death anniversaries are most challenging. Expect that grief may intensify in the days leading up to those dates. It is a normal part of the path that we walk.
- Find a support group of parents who have experienced the death of child. It is in this setting that your grief will be fully understood and validated. If you can’t physically make a meeting, The Compassionate Friends (https://www.compassionatefriends.org/) has several online support groups for parents, siblings and grandparents who have experienced the death of a son/daughter, brother/sister and grandson/granddaughter. Locally, The Compassionate Friends Chapter of The Mohawk Valley(www.tcfmohawkvalley.org) has twice monthly support group meetings for parents, siblings and grandparents.
- Don’t take the comments of others personally. Many people don’t know what to say to parents who have lost a child. As a result, they may make statements, that though well intentioned, undermine a parent’s grief.
- Read books, and/or articles authored by other parents who have experienced the death of a child. During early grief, I found some great tools and renewed hope that I would be able to do more than survive after Jeannine’s death.
- Avoid statements like “Things will get better” or “You will be ok” Though well-meaning, they imply that there is a solution to a parent’s grief. Grief is circular and not linear. The raw pain of loss can be experienced at any time, regardless of how long it has been since their child’s death.
- Focus on being a companion on the journey. Your presence and willingness to create a space for parents to talk about their children, is more powerful than words.
- In many instances, parents who are in the throes of deep grief don’t know what they need. They may be too fatigued or distracted to verbalize them. Caregivers can be most helpful in early grief by being directive. For example, if you are going to the store to pick up groceries you might want to say: “I am going to the store to get a few things, what can I get for you?”
- Don’t be so focused on how the parents are holding up, that siblings become forgotten grievers. Make sure that you consistently honor surviving siblings’ grief as well.
Dave Roberts, LMSW is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor of psychology at Utica College and a HuffPost contributor. He has been a keynote speaker and workshop presenter on grief and loss both locally and nationally. For more information, please go to Dave’s website: www.bootsyandangel.com