This was a phrase I read in a Sydney paper to describe one man’s experience of describing his grief following the death of his wife.
Such an interpersonal gulf also applies to many of you as you re-enter your various worlds following the death of your child.
I would argue that is is probably true for families attempting to explain a cancer diagnosis and the treatment experience to their wider world.
In my conversations with palliative and bereaved families, one of the issues that surface frequently is how difficult it can sometimes be to adequately communicate what it is like to be a grieving parent to others. This is equally true for surviving siblings.
Grief is, for many an overwhelmingly gut-wrenching experience at times…a bit like a being swamped by an emotional tsunami. When as humans we experience such heartache, we need that heartache to be heard and understood…or at the very least tolerated for what it is. What we don’t need is silence, irritation, discomfit or mindless platitudes.
Many of you will find yourselves in the position of trying to communicate to extended family or friends what it is like to be heartbroken and to be faced with the challenges of rebuilding our lives.
I was reminded of a piece sent to me a while ago from a mother who had had this type of experience and what she met was advice that she “not do this to her self”, that she should “get on with her life” and to “focus on the surviving children”.
Needless to say, this was not helpful at the time and only served to add to her already existing distress by making her feel even lonelier and more cut off from the rest of the world. That sense of being ‘different’, of feeling disconnected from the ease of mutual understanding and communication is an experience that many can identify with.
In her distress, she spent time on the internet, exploring some grief websites and found the following lines which gave her comfort at that time. She thought it might strike the right chord with others and so suggested that it be included. I know many will resonate with the words.
- Please don’t ask me if I am over it yet.
- I will never get over it.
- Please don’t tell me she (he) is in a better place.
- She’s (he’s) not here with me.
- Please don’t say she (he) isn’t suffering any more.
- I haven’t come to terms with why she (he) had to suffer at all.
- Please don’t tell me how you feel.
- Unless you have lost a child the same way.
- Please don’t ask me if I feel better.
- Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.
- Please don’t tell me at least you had her (him) for so many years.
- What year would you like your loved one to die.
- Please don’t tell me God never gives more than we can bear.
- Please just say you are sorry.
- Please just say you remember my loved one if you do.
- Please mention my loved one’s name.
- Please be patient with me when I am sad.
- Please just let me cry.
Many of us could add many more to the list of do’s and don’ts.
These words, I think, illustrate three very important features of bereavement.
First, that it is not something that people recover from.
Grieving for someone we love ends when we too finally die.
It is a sorrow that is carried as part of oneself, a sorrow that underscores the fragility and preciousness of life and frequently influences in a myriad of ways, the way bereaved people continue into their tomorrows.
It is a process of becoming more familiar with a world that is profoundly changed and moving to a place where, hopefully, the heartache is carried more easily and in a way that permits enjoyment of life again.
Secondly, it describes the fact that while people die…our relationship with them does not. Children who have died continue to be a part of you and to be part of your lives and remain, someone that you will want to talk about, whose story you will continue to want to share with others.
And thirdly, that communication with the broader social world in which you live can be very challenging at times (the galactic gulf), that language can be limited and that the receptivity and capacity to appropriately respond to another’s pain varies greatly.
Bridging the divide between the world that was and the world that will be, requires the bereaved to re-enter their social worlds – reconnecting with family and friends, developing new relationships perhaps, sometimes distancing or severing some social connections.
Supportive social networks are important to us all. They are associated with positive mental health and a capacity to manage life crises. Social support has been defined as feedback from others that one is loved and cared for, esteemed and valued and part of a network of satisfying communications. Basically, we cope more effectively if we find the social support we need.
For bereaved parents, this will require amongst other things, being able to truthfully acknowledge thoughts and feelings , opportunities to have their changed selves acknowledged and accepted and the freedom to speak freely about ALL their children, both living and deceased.
The death of a child is an unusual event in the society in which we now live and communities are not always familiar with how to respond to the bereaved.
The culture of response tends still to lean towards notions of recovery and closure and a return to normal. Nothing could be further from the truth, as is so beautifully expressed above.
Bridging the gulf may be difficult but necessary as you re-enter your social worlds, reweaving the web of your daily lives and reestablishing interdependent connections. This can be comforting and reassuring as it may relieve the isolation of grief…but as observed in the poem, we cannot predict the responses of others and their responses are not within our control and can add to distress.
However, as humans, we jointly weave our social webs. By challenging or simply not accepting the platitudes or misguided utterances and providing cues as to “how it really is” we play a role in improving conversations and interactions about love and loss and life after.
with thanks to Vera Russell Palliative Care/Bereavement Counsellor, a treasured colleague and friend.
This piece of writing about grief that circulates from time to time is worth repeating if only for those who have not seen it, or who have found their circumstances irrevocably changed.
Please don’t ask me if I am over it yet.
I’ll never get over it.
Please don’t tell me she (he) is in a better place.
She’s (He’s) not here with me.
Please don’t say she (he) isn’t suffering anymore.
I haven’t come to terms with why she (he) had to suffer at all.
Please don’t tell me how you feel.
Unless you’ve lost someone in the same way.
Please don’t ask me if I feel better.
Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.
Please don’t tell me at least you had her (him) for so many years.
What year would you like your loved one to die?
Please don’t tell me God never gives us more than we can bear.
Please just say you are sorry.
Please just say you remember my loved one if you do.
Please mention my loved one’s name.
Please be patient with me when I am sad.
Please just let me be free to be my changing self.
Please just let me cry.
These words, I think, illustrate two very important features of bereavement.
First, that it is not something that people recover from. Rather it is a process of becoming. Becoming more familiar with a world that has profoundly changed and my moving to a place where the heart-ache is carried more easily and in a way that permits enjoyment of life again.
Secondly, it describes the fact that while people die and are physically absent…our relationship to them does not die. Children who have died continue to be a part of their families in ways that continue to evolve over our lifetime. They remain loved ones that families want to talk about, whose stories they will continue to want to share with others and with whom they will maintain a deep and abiding eternal connection.
Many bereaved families may have surviving adolescent children who are mourning the loss of their brother or sister.
This is often new territory both for the teenager and also for the parents trying to work out our best to care for them especially when they are feeling so emotionally depleted.
Some things to think about:
1. Grief is not always visible
Grief is not just the outward display of emotion. It is also the thoughts and behaviours that we experience in response to the death of someone we love.
As adolescents are in the process of becoming more independent of their parents and other important adults, they may at times feel reluctant to show feelings or talk about their thoughts as it can reinforce a sense of dependence and vulnerability. They may also choose to inhibit some of their thoughts and feelings out of a desire to protect their families. They may also prefer to share their experiences with their peer group.
Strategy: Be available
It is when we are listened to and heard is when we feel most understood. Create a home environment where open communication is encouraged. Convey to them that it is okay to have the thoughts and feelings that they may have and that you will be available should they decide to let you know what is going on with them.
As with adults, at the beginning of grief, it is sometimes very difficult to communicate what we are thinking and feeling…it is no less difficult for adolescents who have less life experience than adults and who, when they are feeling vulnerable may find it difficult to put things into words.
2. Don’t try to “fix” the pain associated with grief
It is difficult and uncomfortable for parents to witness the pain of their children. They usually want life to be okay for their children and are pained by what they see and uncomfortable about the helplessness it can create in them. This means that we may want to take away or fix the pain of those we love. This may take the form of avoiding conversation about the person who has died or distracting them from thinking or feeling their pain. While this may be momentarily effective, it can result in the adolescent hiding their grief or withdrawing or expressing their grief in destructive ways.
Strategy: Talk about the loss
Invite the adolescent to talk about the person who died. Encourage questions. Should the teenager not want to talk, respect this. Offer others that they may speak with about their feelings.
Always answer questions honestly and clearly. If you do not know the answer to something, say so. Share your memories, thoughts, beliefs and don’t expect that your teenager will always see things as you do.
3) Understand that grief does not proceed in orderly predictable stages.
Young people grieve in doses. Like with adults, their grief is more likely to go in waves. Sometimes adolescents may have outbursts of grief after a period when they have seemed perfectly okay. Know that this is normal. Their grief like yours, may at times seem unpredictable. They are no better at grieving or making sense of the world than adults. The difference is that they may seem unaffected for periods of time and a burst of emotion can catch parents unawares.
Strategy: Allow for adjustment
Because grief does not proceed in an orderly fashion, teenagers need to be allowed leeway as they adjust to a life forever changed. Providing a secure, consistent environment with predictable routines is important. This helps to generate a renewed feeling of safety and security. Be aware of any danger signs such as violence, drug and alcohol abuse, risk-taking behaviour or dramatic changes in personality. Seek help when necessary.
4) Model Healthy Grief
Like all of us, adolescents learn from those around them. They will pick up implicit and explicit messages from those around them on how to grieve. This is how they think they should behave or are expected to behave. They take their cues from important grown-ups in their lives (even if they do not look like they are paying attention).
Strategy: Mourn together
Be aware of the messages that they may be receiving from those around them about how to grieve and offer alternatives when appropriate.
The more adolescents observe healthy communication and the appropriate expression of the many feelings associated with loss, the more likely they may understand, accept and manage the breadth of emotions and thoughts they may have.
Try as much as possible to consider what things might look like from their perspective. Give thought to the closeness of the relationship your teenager shared with their brother or sister. Acknowledge the deep loss it is for them too.
When you can, in the midst of your grief, set aside time, attention and availability for the adolescent. That does not necessarily mean talking about the death but maybe just time spent together doing something that is fun and thereby communicating that they matter and they too are important.
Finally, remember that this is new for all of you and that there will be some trial and error as families become better able to take care of each other.
The below writing is a heartfelt story from a mother who has buried her child; I include her story in its entirety simply because her message is so very important. Apart from some grammatical errors, nothing has been changed.
A Story from Elise and her beloved son Luke who now resides in the realm of spirit.
I wrote the following FB post a few months after two incredible experiences that shifted my grief journey into a much lighter, grateful, and peaceful place. Last August I did a type of grief therapy called Repair & Reattachment Grief Therapy with Rochelle Wright, she wrote a book about it with Craig Hogan. (I know, without a doubt. I was lead to her by my Luke, but that is a whole other story); it re-framed all of the terrible memories of my son’s last hours on earth. The bad memories are completely gone and replaced with amazing new memories of me with my boy.
Then only a month later, I attended the Afterlife Research and Education Symposium (again, a ton of signs lead me there including Rochelle asking to talk about Luke and me in her presentation at the conference). Both the therapy and the conference were the first time I had travelled anywhere since Luke passed. I had a ton of anxiety about travelling and leaving my young son and while it had been over 2.5 years and I almost cancelled both trips right before, but I was completely pushed to go by Luke/Spirit.
It turned out to be completely life-changing for me. I think learning all we can about the afterlife and becoming truly grateful for our earth experiences can shift us into a life filled with supernatural miracles instead of just human suffering. May you find comfort if you choose to read further. I am so thankful for my sweet, beautiful boy who was my teacher then and continues to be now. ❤️
I have been mulling some things over the past couple months and thought I would write it out hoping it may help someone else. I have had quite an intense shift in my perspective which has made my life and my grief journey so much better. In mid-September, I attended the Afterlife Research and Education Symposium in Scottsdale, Arizona.
For the first time, I was surrounded by people (a lot of them…over 500) who believe that our deceased loved ones still exist and are interacting with us with signs and messages of love. Yes, they have shed their physical bodies, but their Spirits are alive and well on “the other side.” Spiritual signs are not new to me. I experience so many spiritual communications between myself with my boy Luke in my daily life.
I kind of feel like a “weirdo” for thinking this which is quite odd to me because many people and most religions do believe in life after death but seem not to have much to say about the people who have transitioned over. It was very comforting for me to be in a place where I felt like I belonged and where the atmosphere radiated loving energy.
Most of the people at this conference had lost someone incredibly important to them which lead them to seek out learning more about the afterlife, and I met several sweet grieving mothers while there. One conversation, in particular, did get me thinking because I was a bit surprised at what I said. I sat down about 10 minutes early before the presentations on Saturday afternoon began. Another young woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. She asked me what brought me to the conference and I told her that my oldest son was in Spirit and of course her immediate reaction was sadness and response of “I am so sorry.”
I nodded and said thank you and then shocked myself by saying “Actually I am not sorry and let me explain why.” This writing may come out clumsy, so I apologize in advance but know it is all from my heart. I will no longer say I am sorry about my beautiful boy Luke anymore and I will not let the moment of his physical death overshadow the amazing 5+ years he had on earth and the beautiful eternity he is experiencing now.
He was, and still is, my biggest blessing and I am not sorry about that at all. His life and “death” catapulted me into intense learning, growth, and transformation and I am not sorry about that. I had learned so much and am still learning and, even more important, yearn to learn which wasn’t even a concept in my life when Luke was still here physically.
The millions of beautiful moments I had with him while he was here on earth and the connection we continue to have completely trumped the moment of his physical death.
Yes, I still feel intense sadness that I do not get to talk with him and hold him and watch him grow up here on earth. I will never deny my longing to have him physically here, but my gratitude that he was mine in the first place and is mine forever makes it all worthwhile. I have realized that I never fully comprehended what being thankful meant before.
I am so incredibly thankful for my beautiful sweet boy and all that he has taught me and continued to teach me. I am so thankful he chose me to be his Mama, and he gave me the gift of telling me that fact a week before his unexpected passing. I am so blessed with such a special little boy with a supernatural understanding of Heaven, to the point where I know for a fact he came from Heaven and then went back again.
He was pure love and joy in human form, and his amazing soul still can shine his light down on me which gives me the energy to keep going. Yes, he left his earthly life earlier than what I would have liked, but I know God called him Home because his work here completed and that it is only because of him (in both physical presence and his spirit presence) that I am growing into the person I am now.
I may not yet know what I am here to accomplish, but I do know that it will be revealed in time and that Luke is with me every step of the way. I still feel his incredible love and am surrounded by it and reminded of it daily. His signs of love reaffirm his existence, and I am so lucky that I know without a doubt that I will be with my boy again one day.
I used to wish for that day to come soon but I no longer do. I used to think that there was absolutely no way I could survive “x” number of years without my Luke but now know after surviving almost three years now and learning all that I have, that I can survive and WILL SURVIVE because my soul knows I still have work to do and lessons to learn.
I am letting my life unfold instead of trying to control everything as I did in the past. I know I will be lead to the places I need to go and to the people I need to meet for my continued healing and the healing of others. I am keeping myself open to whatever crosses my path and know that even when “bad” things happen, blessings can still abound.
I will always try to find the bit of good in what seems bad and to see the potential for growth in everything that occurs. Everyone has their journey and lessons to learn, and I am grateful to be able to share with you all that I have learned so far.
Sending blessings and love out to Facebook land today!
Photo by Lora Denton Photography ~ Sept. 2017
Australia and New Zealand Parents
Helping Parents Heal Inaugural Online Meeting for Parents
Helping Parents Heal is a wonderful organisation designed to allow parents whose children have transitioned to support each other. Unlike many bereavement support organisations, members share knowledge about signs, after death contacts, mediums and other methods of direct communication with their children. HPH meetings are uplifting, inspiring and enlightening.
When: 19th December
Where: Online Zoom – by putting this link into your browser Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/6123708172
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
6.00 pm Darwin
6.30 pm Brisbane
7.00 pm Adelaide
7.30 pm Hobart
7.30 pm Melbourne
7.30 pm Sydney
9.30 pm Christchurch
9.30 pm Wellington