Page 9 - 2017 Autumn-Winter Issue
P. 9

responsibilities of one’s “previous” life. Perhaps one has       In addition to the professional help that my husband
other children to care for, a job pressing one to return,        and I received, we experienced invaluable support and
or bills on the table daring one to take a needed grief          comfort from several other sources. These included: 1)
break. Other issues may haunt you as well. For example,          Active support from family and friends through consistent
it’s not unusual for a bereaved parent to become obsessed        on-going contact. For example, at first we were invited to
with finding concrete answers to one question: How did           brief, simple activities such as going out for coffee or tea.
this happen? It takes time and energy to try to gather           Later invitations to a concert or a regularly designated
information surrounding a child’s death. It’s also not           dinner date were offered. 2) Attending a series of grief
unusual for parents to blame themselves. There seems to          groups. These groups provided a weekly structure that
be a place inside most parents that always wants to protect      was very valuable during the first several months of grief.
their child, regardless of age, especially when their child has  Interacting with other bereaved parents allowed us to take
a problem or vulnerability. We may blame ourselves for not       off our social masks for an hour and a half and be open
seeing the signs of impending doom and then conclude that        about our misery with others who understood. 3) Engaging
our child’s death could have been prevented−by us. This          in activities that were distracting and preoccupying thus
self-blame extends the grief process, intensifies it and may     temporarily relieving stress. Early on I volunteered at The
result in becoming immobilized and overwhelmed by guilt          Nature Conservancy doing simple tasks for goals I believed
and shame.                                                       in. Also, doing things like jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles,
                                                                 and Sudoku gave my emotional brain a much needed break.
Complicated grief can also result in an emotionally              4) Doing activities that helped to temporarily transcend (rise
vulnerable and/or dangerous state of mind. Some                  above) my loss. The source(s) of transcendence are unique
parents may even become traumatized depending on the             to each person. I felt transcendence whenever I explored
circumstances surrounding their child’s death and their own      prairie lands with big blue skies, waving grasses and native
life experiences. On the British website, www.suddendeath.       wildflowers or while photographing almost anything that, a list of common traumatic symptoms, as well as         was part of the natural world. 5) Engaging in activities that
other related information, can be found. The symptoms            began a process of transforming our past relationship with
include, among others, feelings of irritability, insomnia,       our daughter to a new one. As a family, we established a
nightmares, feelings of personal responsibility for the death,   scholarship in our daughter’s name and held fundraisers
a belief that the world no longer makes sense, hopelessness      to support it. My husband, who loves tulips, expanded his
regarding the future, isolation from others, and a decreased     tulip garden and transformed it into a memorial garden for
level of functioning in general. Whether or not the bereaved     Melissa. The possibilities for people to process their sorrow
parent actually meets the criteria for a Post-Traumatic Stress   and honor their deceased loved one are endless.
Disorder diagnosis by a mental health professional, it is
clear that any combination of those symptoms could easily        The rich mixture of all these sources of support---from short
interfere with one’s ability to cope. Although some of these     simple conversations over coffee with a friend to sessions
symptoms are experienced in most significant losses, when        with our psychologist to whom we brought the most serious
the symptoms are intense, last longer than what is typical,      issues---helped us survive and eventually thrive again. Grief
and interfere with daily functioning it is important for the     work is the most demanding work that I have ever done;
bereaved to be assessed by a professional. If they are having    and, as anyone knows who has loved a child and lost them
persistent thoughts about not wanting to live, feeling hopeless  forever, this work will go on as long as we live.
about the future, and not seeking help on their own, it is very
important that loving supporters respectfully encourage them     Judith Sullivan, Retired LP, MA in Counseling Psychology. She lives in St.
to meet with a professional for at least an assessment.
                                                                 Paul, MN and is retired as a Group and Family Therapist in the Adult
It is crucial for the grieving parents and their supporters
to know that professional help may be needed, is available,      Partial Hospital Program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis,
and can help in ways that other resources are unable to. My
husband and I saw a psychologist for quite a long period of      Minnesota. In December of 2001, her 25-year-old daughter, Melissa,
time. She helped guide us through the most difficult aspects
of our grief process and it made all the difference.             suffered a cardiac arrest and died 12 days later. As a result of the sudden

                                                                 and complicated nature of her death, Judith wrote extensively about the

                                                                 experience, her grief as it evolved over almost a decade, and specifically the

                                                                 invaluable support that her husband and she received from other people.

                                                                 The culmination of this endeavor resulted in a self-published book entitled,

                                                                 The Terrifying Wind: Seeking Shelter Following the Death of a Child, in

                                                                 January 2014.

                                                                 We Need Not Walk Alone|9
   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14