Saturday, February 5, 2011

Surviving the Death of a Child - Part 2 of 2

Thank you again to Gayle Stewart from Florida for sharing this with us... she said she reads the entire article almost daily since the death of her 8 year son last fall... it reminds her that she is "normal" as she continues on her journey from mourning to joy...

~ 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
It is often thought that the death of a child is a death knell for the marriage. This is not true. If a marital relationship was struggling prior to the child’s death, the death will add another dimension to the struggle. If the marriage was strong, however, the relationship often ends up stronger than it was before. Communication concerning what each needs and expects from the other is critical, balanced by an awareness that the partner may not be able to provide the support that is requested; other family members or friends may be needed for support. Most importantly, partners must realize that any distance they feel in their relationship during the grief process is not necessarily a true reflection of real feelings for each other.

 What may be seen as complicated grief responses in individuals, who have experienced the death of someone other than a child, may be seen as normal in parental grief. As long as the behavior is not physically, emotionally or psychosocially dysfunctional for too long, it can be viewed as normal parental grief. As painful as the grief process will be, it is important that parents allow themselves to feel the pain of separation from their child so that they can, in the future, live a life that is not governed by intense pain. If attended to, the pain of parental grief does diminish, and a new life, which incorporates a spiritual and psychological relationship with the child, will unfold.

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