Grief and The Newly Bereaved

The news that our child is dead thrusts us into an experience that is horrendous beyond our wildest imagination. Our child, literally a physical part of our bodies at one time, is torn from us by death. We are left with the seemingly impossible task of learning to live without him or her and absolutely no one is ever prepared for it. Few bereaved persons are ever prepared for the experience of grief – certainly bereaved parents are not. One learns to cope with grief and eventually return to some normalcy. This takes much time and considerable grief work that we must learn how to do, but it might be helpful to discuss some aspects of grief that are special problems for the newly bereaved.

The most common phrase heard from the newly bereaved is, “I feel like I’m going crazy. ” The pain and the accompanying emotions are so intense that it doesn’t seem possible that a normal human being can experience them and still live. You may believe that you are going insane, or at least on the verge of it, but you are not. You are experiencing the normal physical and psychological reaction to a deep loss. With your child’s death you have experienced the ultimate loss, therefore you will experience the ultimate grief which is deeply, deeply painful, and all the emotions will be in the extreme.

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Another surprise in early grief, (by early grief I mean any time up to approximately the first anniversary of your child’s death), is that you may not experience the most painful part of your grief in the beginning. Many parents have said, “I thought if was bad in the first few months, but it got worse around three to six months. ” In the first few days most of us are in deep shock that prevents us from facing reality all at once. This protects us for a short time, but then that begins to wear off slowly and the pain begins. Oh yes, we know in our heads very soon that our child is dead, but at a deeper level we are still expecting him/her to come home or that this is all a nightmare that we will soon wake from. The full reality sets in some months later. It is then that the real pain of grief begins As a matter of fact, grief that heals CANNOT begin until we know at a deep level that our child is dead. It isn’t for a few months that that happens, therefore the deepest pain comes later.

Another aspect of grief that is a surprise to the newly bereaved is the intensity of the emotions felt. Grief consumes us. It takes us over so completely that we feel we are the epitomy of pain and anguish. We radiate pain from within and without. We feel we are a totally different self. Nothing is familiar. It is as if the ME I HAVE BEEN ALL MY LIFE NO LONGER EXISTS and that someone else has taken over my body. It is as if I am standing alone, vulnerable and defenseless. It is as though only I exist and all the world is looking at me. This feeling has been described by bereaved parents as having “an aura around me” or “as having the words ‘bereaved parent’ tattooed on my forehead.” We are `different’ and exposed, and alone.

Another unimaginable experience follows from this feeling of aloneness and vulnerability—that of amazement that others are so insensitive to your feelings or to your needs. You will be amazed that the world keeps turning and that people continue to go about their everyday lives as if nothing had happened. There is a “centeredness on self” in grief that few of us have ever experienced in our lives before. You may be shocked and angered over and over again by the comments and innuendoes made by others. They will expect you to function as if nothing was different. It is likely that others will be uncomfortable around you and it will be the rare person who will speak your child’s name or allow you to do so. Generally people see you as “sick” or abnormal, and you may be amazed that those from whom you expect some understanding and empathy will be unable to give it to you. People will tell you what you should and should not do to make your hurt go away, and when their advice doesn’t work (and I can guarantee you it won’t) they will tell you that you are not trying hard enough.

Unfortunately, you will be expected to be the one to understand, ignore, and/or forgive them. The result of this insensitivity will add considerably to the normal anger and hurt of your grief, because, try as you may, you will not be able to understand, ignore or forgive them for a long time.

No one gets “used” to grief, but as a newly bereaved parent you have been thrust into an experience that is different beyond your wildest expectations. From a comparatively comfortable existence you are thrown into a pit of the most devastating and debilitating pain that anyone will ever know. Those of us who have been bereaved for a year or longer have experienced these ‘surprises’ and have found ways to protect themselves and to survive.

There is only one thing worse than the grief we experience after our child(ren) dies, and that is to experience it in ignorance of what is normal and what is likely to be experienced. No one can grieve for us. We must do it ourselves, but we can eliminate the added anxiety that this ignorance can create. Information on the process of grief and suggestions for making the daily living of grief survivable abounds in TCF newsletters and in the many books on grief that are available. Take advantage of them. Even if you never attend a TCF meeting, you still have information available to you that will help you not only to survive your grief, but to allow this unchosen and terrible experience to be cause for the development of greater strength and growth.

If advice to the newly bereaved can be summed up in a few words it is this:

Learn about the grief process.
Read, read, read.

Get a support system. Attend TCF meetings, or at least, find one friend who will let you talk about your child and your pain.

Know that what you are experiencing is normal. Know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The only “wrong” thing
is NOT to grieve.

author – Margaret Gerner

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