~ by Donna Lamb, LSCSW ~ Senior Social Worker, The Menninger Hope Adult Program
Each parent had a unique relationship with the child and this uniqueness will be reflected in the grief process. Each parent’s characterological differences will make their external and internal experiences of grief different: one may need to talk about the child constantly, while the other may find mention of the child too difficult; one may seek out friends for support, while the other may withdraw; one may want to allow surviving children to witness his/her grief responses, while the other may want to protect the children from the parent’s pain; one may want to resume sexual intimacy, while the other may feel that enjoying any aspect of life is a betrayal of the child; one may find comfort in returning to work quickly, while the other may be unable to function.
It is not unusual for grief responses such as despair, anger, guilt and feelings of loss of control to increase in mothers for several years after the death. Fathers, on the other hand, typically experience a decrease in symptoms after the second year (Fish, 1986). Therefore, as the mother’s grief is intensifying, the father’s is decreasing, which further contributes to the isolation each parent feels in the marital relationship.
Especially problematic in parental grief is guilt, resulting from the parents’ deep sense of responsibility for and helplessness after a child’s death. Miles and Demi (1986) identify the following sources of parental guilt.
- Death causation guilt: resulting from parent’s perceived contribution to or failure to protect the child from death
- Illness-related guilt: resulting from perceived deficiencies in the parental role during the child’s illness or at the time of death
- Parental role guilt: the belief that the parent failed to live up to self- or societal expectations in the overall parental role
- Moral guilt: resulting from the belief that the child’s death was punishment or retribution for something the parent did or failed to do
- Survival guilt: the belief that children should outlive their parents
- Grief guilt: resulting from the parent’s behavioral or emotional reactions of grief at the time of or following the child’s death