When grieving the loss of a child, 'feeling is healing'

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

“Part of your healing from grief comes with being able to mourn and to share the story," said Jeff Fleming, Rainbow Kids chaplain at the hospital. "Most of us are so uncomfortable with death and with tears that we don’t know how to approach a person whose child has died because we don’t want to upset them or make them cry.”

Fleming said that one reason support groups are important is because they offer an outlet and a non-judgmental place for people to share their feelings.

“The reasons those groups work so well is they make it clear from the onset that you are welcome, and if you want to just share your name and listen, that is perfectly fine,” Ashton said. “That invitation with obligation is extremely powerful, but it is good to get that invitation because a lot of times they surprise themselves once they begin to talk. Sometimes it just comes flooding out.”

For some, sharing is an uncomfortable and private event. For these individuals, it is necessary to offer different disciplines, said Fleming, such as meditation. It is important to honor each others’ unique grieving process.

How to help when a parent loses a child

Bills noted that in one group meeting the participants discuss hurtful things people say. Though well-meaning, friends and even family members might say things can upset those who are grieving. Some of those include, “Isn’t it time you moved on?” “Your child is in a better place.” In the case of a miscarriage, they may say things like, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t even have the baby?” All these do not make the pain any less. Parents will still feel robbed of the dreams and hopes for that child.

To help honor individual experiences, Ashton advised, “Instead of saying, ‘I know how you feel,’ the answer ought to be, ‘I have no idea how you feel. Would you like to share?’" Another thing that will help is providing service.

Havertz recalled a time actions spoke louder than words. He appreciated the Boy Scouts cleaning his yard and the people in his Mormon ward who cleaned his house after his daughter passed away. The best thing he received was a hug.

“They never said anything,” Havertz recalled. “They just hugged me. There was a spirit-to-spirit communication.”

"I always tell people it is as simple as presences,” Bills said. “Sometimes just to sit with somebody and hold their hand, sometimes that is the best thing that you can do.”

Another key thing that is helpful to some is to acknowledge the life of that child and share memories.

“One of the things that a parent who has lost a child wants is for that child not be forgotten,” explained Fleming.

Different ways to grieve

Parents who grieve together can strengthen one another, but they too grieve differently and should understand each others' response to grief. Ashton said that in general, men are more cognitive and will think of ways things could have been different where as women are quicker to emotion and feelings.

Ashton noted that in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," it states, “Fathers… are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” The father will want to protect his child who is dying or who has died. Through putting in extra hours at work, he feels he can contribute to the hospital bills or a funeral. For the mother, she might want to communicate and express what she is feeling and thinking.

“The difference doesn’t make either of them more or less valuable or more or less committed to or feeling love and hurt for that child,” Aston counseled. “The key is to get it out in the open.”

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