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Tips to parents and the nation on coping with the loss of our children

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Fri, Jan 16, 2015

by Tyrone and Joann Jack

It is pointless to compare suffering; when pain becomes unbearable, there is no longer a way to measure it. Yet, there is a loss, a pain — a death — that is like no other. The death of our child is so unique, so unthinkable, that everything in us cries out that it cannot be true; yet it is. This loss involves a relationship so strong that it cannot end; a love so intense that it argues that it should have been sufficient to protect the one who has died.{{more}}

Whether our child is still in our arms or a mature companion, we grieve deeply a sudden death that feels absurdly out of place and out of sync with the order of our lives.

The deep bonding between parent and child blends with all of our expectations and assumptions about life and so compound the pain of losing a child.

It is natural and normal to die when one is old. That, we tell ourselves, is the way it is supposed to be. “When our children are old, they, too, will die.”

Therefore, this is why the death of a child becomes unnatural, hateful, and even obscene, because it is out of the order of what we perceive as normal.

Everybody grieves the loss of a child; it is easy for parents to forget that everyone grieves. That is the way it is when your own pain is so intense. A mother may not be aware of her own child’s father’s pain or may even believe he is not grieving because his responses are unlike her own. They may mourn differently, but they will mourn. Moreover, they each suffer even more because the person to whom each would most naturally turn for comfort and support is in no condition to help. Though it may be comforting to mourn together, grief is rarely so well synchronized and often taking care of others becomes a way of avoiding the sense of powerlessness that one’s own grief brings. It is helpful when it works for moms and dads to “take turns” supporting one another through the tough times. If they can do this, their relationship often becomes stronger. Please do mourn, do cry, do talk, and talking about feelings (including memories, good or bad) is an excellent way of mourning. Do accept help; when you try to be stoic and do everything yourself, you get exhausted and those offering help feel useless and frustrated.

It has been observed that the social support we receive during our bereavement is the most important fact to help us cope with our loss. We generally receive this support from our natural environment that is our friends, family, fellow church members, co-workers, clergy and others who occupy a place in our world. Many parents perceive their support system as strong, loving, and gracious in the beginning. Yet, society is so threatened by the death of a young person that it moves quickly to protect itself. Parents often feel isolated or abandoned by those who could provide solace and comfort. Many parents express the need to “be understood,” yet this understanding is usually unavailable. Instead, people sometimes respond from their own anxieties and their own needs, admonishing parents to “be brave,” “get on with your life,” “have another child,” or “try not to think of it.” In effect, do anything except remind us that this wretched thing can happen.

The unrealistic expectations of society and these insensitive comments made to bereaved parents can further complicate the process of mourning the loss of a child. People do not mean to be cruel; they are speaking from their own fears. Society’s expectation that grief following the loss of a child will follow the pattern of other losses is another folly. As bereaved parents, our grief is unique. The intensity and duration is different. Even if our support system does not recognize these realities, bereaved mothers and fathers must.

What helps:

o Be aware that mothers, fathers and each family member will grieve differently. Treasure the moments of sharing that do come, but understand that each must also grieve alone and in their own way and at their own pace. Now is the time for love, understanding and patience; and part of that understanding must extend to other members of the family as well.

o Accept the reality that your child has died, which is an essential part of the process.

o Develop a clear understanding that the intense emotional pain you are feeling is normal. We often need assurance that what we are feeling is not indicative of mental illness.

o Obtain as much explanation and understanding of the death as possible.

o Remember that good communication and mutual support between the parents is essential. Good communication means listening and talking.

o Recognize that few people will comprehend or understand the depth of your sorrow. No amount of explaining will help. You cannot explain parental loss to someone. That does not mean that they do not care. It means that the pain is such that it can be experienced, but never fully explained.

o Understand that if some of your friends stay away, it may be because they feel awkward. You may have to reach out to them.

o Draw on your religious faith. Even if it seems fragile for the moment, understand that faith is often stronger after a deep struggle.

o Hold onto the thought that while you will never forget, while there will always be an emptiness, the pain will dim with time. While you will never say ‘goodbye’ to your child, you will be able to say ‘goodbye ‘to the worst of the pain.

o Join a support group where grief can be shared with other bereaved parents. Give the group experience a fair chance by attending at least three meetings.

o Memorialize the life of your child in a way that will be meaningful to you and your family.

Our condolences go out to the parents of the children who died in that tragic accident. Trust in the Lord and his grace will be sufficient to see you through the rough path. Take comfort in knowing that for those who love God, all things work together for good. Romans 8:28

Daron, the 23-year-old son of Tyrone and Joann Jack, was killed in the USA in October 2010.

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