Monday, January 24, 2011

When The Unfathomable Loss Occurs-The Death of a Child

You can never really compare losses. You can't say losing a spouse is "worse" than losing a parent.  Every situation of loss is unique and every one's grief is unique.  The factors that influence the grief process are many, but include such things as the circumstances of the death, the unique relationship shared with the person who died, one's own unique personality, previous loss history or complications due to pre-existing health issues--just to name a few.  Yet certainly most of us would agree that the death of a child is almost unfathomable and must rank high on the list of the most difficult types of losses.

In my work from time to time I have the opportunity to become acquainted with women who have suffered this most unimaginable loss. They have taught me some important things:
  • We never "get over" the death of a love done.  We learn to go on without the person we loved.  This is rarely truer than in the case of miscarriage, still birth or death of a child.  No matter how many children you may bear following the loss of a child your arms are forever empty because you are unable to hold that One.
  • Rituals of remembrance are vital.  It is so important to create rituals and traditions within the family that provide means to continue to acknowledge the life that was lost.  One family donates gifts to a needy boy each year at Christmas in honor of the infant son that died.  Another hangs a special ornament on the Christmas Tree each year.  Still others create a memory box that includes mementos such as footprints, hand prints, bits of blanket or a birth certificate.  The act of re-membering, gathering together the story of the child who has died is a healing activity for many families.
  • The gift of perspective is a treasure.  Women who are decades past the death of their son or daughter may have just as much need to tell their story as ones who have suffered a more recent loss.  The older women can benefit from being reminded of how far they have come and taking on the role of a "wise survivor".  Younger women are encouraged to be hopeful that life can become more normal again for them as their pain softens and new beginnings are experienced.  
  • Sadly, women of all generations have taught me that we have not come as far as we would hope in providing compassionate care and attention, particularly at the hospital bedside of the mother who has lost or is losing her child.  Insensitive and hurtful remarks are still made by medical staff who want to be part of bringing healthy, vital babies into the world but are ill at ease or overtly uncomfortable providing care for the mother who is saying, "Hello" and "Good-bye" to her child on the same day.  Clergy also are frequently cited for their insensitive and inappropriate remarks.  Any professional providing direct care to a family in this situation needs to do some serious soul searching and ensure than they are up to the responsibility they have accepted.  It is simply the right thing to do. 
There are no easy fixes or rescues for families enduring the death of a child, but I believe that the families I know would say that integrating the loss into the fabric of family life with story and  unique family traditions or rituals that honor that child's memory have helped them to find healing and hope after devastating loss.

Grace and Peace,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A personal message of welcome

Dear Reader, 

I Thessalonians 4:13 says,  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope."  (New International Version)  This message is central to the purpose of this blog.  It is my hope that all who are facing loss and grief might have people in their lives who help them find the hope and peace that will sustain them through such a difficult time.  It is right and appropriate that we should mourn.  The Apostle Paul did not write "do not grieve".  He wrote, "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope."  Tears, pain, loneliness, confusion...these things are all a natural part of the experience of loss and grief.  However, there is hope.  This hope is based in the promise of resurrection and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.  

I have rarely experienced this hope in such a moving way as I did this week reading the book, Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo.   I highly commend this book to anyone who needs to be lifted up by the hope and promise of eternal life, who wonders about their loved ones who have gone before them or is struggling with their own mortality.  

Blessings for the journey to each of you.  Check back often.  I look forward to hearing from you.