Helping a family coping with child loss.

I am publishing my response to this comment as a post in the hope that it is read by those who need it. Please feel free to ask if you wish to help someone who has lost a loved one, and are not sure what  to say. I will do my best to help.

Question: I totally understand that you now and you before will not be same. My aunt is in same situation sans she does not think that logically on the process of grieving and she is surrounded by many people who wants her to be ‘normal’ specially because she has another child to look after.

IHM: There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but having support, not being judged and not being ‘expected’ to behave in any manner can make it easier.

Crying, not crying, eating, not eating, talking, not talking, not wanting to meet anyone, wanting to be surrounded by sensitive listeners are all fine.

It’s very difficult to be logical when you are going through something as illogical as a child’s death. Many people who are asking a grieving parent to be logical might also say, ‘If this  happened to me I would go mad.’

The loss is too big for a parent to remain the same.

Question: This upsets my Aunt and she feels guilty for not being there fully for her second child. How is your son? Do you talk with each other about Tejaswee? How does he cope with the vacuum in his life?
IHM: We talk about Tejaswee and how we are dealing with our loss, in the initial months my son showed me You Tube videos on the existence of soul and trailers of movies about death of a sibling (Cloud St Peter, The Lovely Bones, others). But if one of us does not want to talk, we respect that.

We read books about grief, we maintained journals of what we were feeling, but many times we didn’t read what the other had written because even that was painful.

Children also grieve.

I realise we are not the way we were, parents change towards surviving children, we have become less hassled by things which might bother other parents, the feeling now  being that we really don’t know what  happens tomorrow. He is encouraged to do what he enjoys doing…

We have phases of being fully there, and then being overwhelmed by grief. With time, we are being there  for him more and more… but it definitely took time. I don’t think grieving can be hastened, think of it like a horrible illness, because the pain is severe and disabling. So, instead of asking the parents to ‘focus on the positive’ or to ‘focus on the surviving children’, the biggest support relatives can give is help them care for their surviving children (the way they would have if both the parents had been physically ill). This is what helped us through.

I remember telling my sister in law that our son lost his parents along with his sister. He has  changed unbelievably, he used to be the baby of the house, generally clowning and irritating her, so much that she made videos of him rapping to annoy her, while she is trying to study…

My brother in law took over his studies almost entirely; my sister in law told our cook that even if she made khichdi for us (we couldn’t eat anything, so we drank a khichdi kind of gruel in tea cups, for many months) she must make complete meals for him. We had moved close to where they live, and she sent over anything special cooked at their place, in case we’d like to have some too.

No pressure or blame, but accepting that we were in too much pain to see anything else.  The parents do realise they are not able to be the kind of parents they would like to be their other children, it’s better to realise that in time they would be able to care for them, but not like they did in the past, it would be a different normal.

In our case, it’s a more easy going parenting now, more flexibility, more acceptance… The parents would benefit from reassurance that until they feel upto it, they have support from relatives/friends (same as in case of severe physical illness).  It’s cruel to ask them to focus on their surviving children when they are in so much pain that they can’t. Like, would we ask an accident victim screaming in pain to think about the good things in his/her life? Child loss is much worse. You can’t think beyond your loss, and those who are going through it want the pain to stop. Memory might be affected, physical health problems and faster aging might happen.

We couldn’t attend weddings or functions in the family, but always, one of his cousins picked and dropped our son; my sister in law suggested we shop for him and came along to help us do that (this was many months later). The 13th day after Tejaswee’s death, was raksha bandhan, his feelings were nowhere in my mind, only the horror of Tejaswee’s death was, but Tejaswee’s friend tied him rakhee, and a cousin took him out.

Some points:

The only way to help is to be there for them, in the way they need you to be there.

Don’t ask them to focus on the positive. They will eventually, when they can, there is no other way to survive, but it can’t be hastened.

Don’t tell them they have other children to think of, they  know that anyway.

Avoid giving advice or judgement. Don’t compare them to other grieving parents you have seen.

They may talk about the death, repeating the same things.

Some parents like to talk about their child (I do) some can’t bear to talk about their child.

The one time I couldn’t bear to be alone was after my daughter died, but it’s fine if someone does want to be left alone.

Respect their wishes. Know that they have no control over how they are feeling. They are going through the worst thing that could happen to them.

Related posts:

The right way to grieve.

36 thoughts on “Helping a family coping with child loss.

  1. I loved this very candid and touching post – I don’t comment but read your blog often.

    “The only way to help is to be there for them, in the way they need you to be there” – this is so bang on. It’s extremely hard to find those few people who will be unconditionally there for you when time comes. I recently observed that when one of my friends dad passed away suddenly. The day she called was my hubby’s birthday, but we packed and left (she lives 2 hours away) to be with her until she left for India with her family. I blogged about it here: http://shachi18.blogspot.com/2011/12/being-there-for-friend.html

    I have actually found friends on blogosphere who sometimes can relate to me more than people in personal life – ironic but true.

    Much love and hugz!

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    • //I have actually found friends on blogosphere who sometimes can relate to me more than people in personal life – ironic but true. //

      I have felt this too. Why is that so? We interact with a larger number of people on the internet? More awareness? More sensitivity? Younger people here, so are the young more sensitive?

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  2. Loved your response, but a slightly different perspective. My nephew was 3 when his sister died. My SIL said she had no choice, he was too young to grasp what had happened, but realized something bad had occurred, and would not leave her alone. None of the relatives who were nomally close to him could get him away from his mom. He was quite vocal about his needs as well, so she didn’t have the option of alone time at all. About a year after the loss, she said she realized this kind of everyday demand actually helped her get back on her feet, something she feels would have taken a very different and probably much longer path, if she had had the option of private grief or grieving her own terms. In SIL’s case, both her mother and MIL are of generations where children passing away was an unfortunate but not uncommon tragedy, both mothers had lost siblings as children, and both the older ladies susbscribed to the get-back-to-normal-routine attitude. All this to say, perhaps sometimes, the push to return to usual does help?

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    • I have read posts written by other mothers with young children, many mothers find it helps them tremendously to have another child to care for. Many mothers want to have another child immediately, but many don’t. There are no rules.

      One mother felt having a job kept her sane, I found having this blog helped me, physical exercise helps many. Having a routine is helpful to many people I have met. Having something to do that you have control over is generally helpful.

      I met one father who criticized his wife for not getting over their 25 year old son’s loss, while he said he got on with life. This was around 20 years after the loss of their son. She raised two daughters and two grand sons but was criticized for not getting over her loss. I remember finding this insensitive, at the time my daughter was around four and a half. Another mother who lost her 26 year old son used to cry and say everybody at home ‘scolded her’ when she cried, again, this was more about having no patience than wanting to help her.

      You may like to read these two posts by an Indian blogger who lost a baby.

      http://starsinmeyes.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/after-11-years-ive-learned/

      http://starsinmeyes.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/a-mother-remembers/

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      • I think the ‘push’ and ‘get-back-to-normal’ attitude is cruel and a reflection o everybody else’s unwillingness to deal with something so incomprehensible and unbearable that they think pushing it away is the only way. I’ve seen this destroy people from inside out. Grief is a process that has to be allowed to go on, in a healthy way. Otherwise, it casts a shadow over everything. I grew up in the shadow of my infant brother’s death, and I have ensured that my two kids DO NOT have the shadow of THEIR brother’s death over them….they are able to talk abt it very casually and freely with their friends and family, and I feel good seeing that we are in a good place.

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    • Dear M,
      You might find this helpful,

      //Avoid Judgment. “You should …….”, “You shouldn’t ……” are not appropriate or helpful.

      Everyone grieves differently and therefore the grief process should not be rushed.

      Some parents will be “fine” and then experience deep grief a year or two later; others grieve immediately.

      There are no standard timetables for recovery.

      Encourage bereaved families to be patient with themselves.

      “Get on with your life.” “Aren’t you over it yet?” “It’s time to put it behind you and move on.” Those demands are unfair and unrealistic. //
      Read more here, http://www3.sympatico.ca/phtaylor/TCF/how_help.htm

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  3. I read this and felt it was such sound advice. I was really touched by the thoughtful care of your family members and even Tejaswee’s friend – in some ways remarkable in one so young but shows how much she loved her friend. I agree that practical help can be the most loving and sustaining act for those grieving. Never to forget about them or their loved one, even though it might seem now that there is a missing link. Thank you so much for sharing this. x

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    • This was one time when support from family and friends couldn’t be done without. The young grieve too xaspireonfirex, I think that makes them understand… many of my daughter’s friends are in touch with me and I am always amazed at their sensitivity!

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  4. Having lost my father and brother in a month’s time, I can relate to most of what you say. I was 14 then. It affects each person in the family. Each one reacts in a different way. I had some good class mates and friends who were there for me just the same way they were there, before the event. They could sense the loss in me and related themselves accordingly. The worst people to meet were the older generation whose words were just too harsh to forget and whose behaviour taught me how I should never be with a grieving family.

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    • I agree the Brown Vagabond, almost all Indian mothers I have spoken to have been hurt by harsh words spoken often by the older generation. Often mothers went into depression and were criticized for that too or compared to other mothers.
      I wish there was more understanding about how grief affects entire families, including young children. The process of grief cannot be rushed or avoided. “Grief Waits. If you put it away and try to ignore it, it will simply wait until you have no choice but to experience it.” I think it would help if we share such information with those who need it to support grieving parents.
      http://www3.sympatico.ca/phtaylor/TCF/how_help.htm

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  5. I can understand completely. Its just not about children but any person who is close to you suddenly passes away, there is no understanding of the situation.

    Take care.

    Me – Yes Kamal, death of a loved one is very difficult to understand…

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  6. Dear IHM,
    Till very recently I did not know who Tejaswee was. It came as a shock when I did. I thought the pictures were those of your’s taken out during your childhood. I can relate to the overwhelming grief and confusion you and your son feel. I lost my younger brother 25 years ago and still refuse to believe he is no more.

    Me – 25 years!!! Hugs to you and strength to your parents!

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  7. Dear IHM

    I accidentally stumbled on your blog today, read this post and the previous one about your daughter and felt tears flowing freely. I don’t know you but can feel your pain as a mother. Your daughter is very beautiful just like her name. I read her last post on the future letter and can only feel that she was a remarkable young woman and feel it is true that God takes the ‘chosen ones’ early. I admire your strength and your initiative to channel your loss in keeping your daughter’s memory alive by writing about her. God bless you and your family!
    I also have an aunt who lost her 24 year old daughter 2 years ago to an auto immune disease. The saddest part is that she was my aunt’s only child. I’m sure you can imagine the pain she feels. She has practically shut herself in a cocoon and I wish I could do something to help her feel better and carry on with her life. She lives in India and I am in the U.S. and although I cannot be by her side physically, I do talk to her every now and then but it pains me to see her suffer so much and wish there was something I could do..

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  8. You’re made of inspiring stuff, IHM. I can’t believe you were able to maintain your cool, composed, reasonable tone even in this post (you always do, but still). It’s amazing how you put your point across without EVER getting mad at people who’ve (possibly) been insensitive or not quite understanding of your needs as you were grieving. Instead, you focus on appreciating those who’ve been thoughtful and empathetic. I know that’s what we all need to do – in theory – but in practice I’m FAAAAAR from that much grace.

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  9. This post is inspiring me to post an article of “a 24 yr girl self transformed after she lost her mother at 22 after 1yr of fighting with cancer” hope i will do it soon… and the victim is me

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  10. I have been constantly on the move these past few days.) I somehow managed net access today from this Village (Tattamangalam, in Paalakkad District in Kerala)  and  read  this blog post on my Ipad. Access is slow and erratic and the connection keeps dropping. Moving and changing direction helps sometimes but not much.  I don’t know if this comment will appear, but I don’t want to wait till Monday and I am going to try posting this comment.

    Your post was moving.
    I was lost in thought for sometime and was wondering how I and my wife would cope if we were ever had to face a tragedy like this.

    You are braver and have faced this with greater courage than most people I have known. I have made a mental note of some of your observations. Those thoughts never occurred to me and I realise how true they are.

    Do continue your brave journey and you can be sure that my remote “web support” will always be with you, your husband and your son

    May Tejaswee live for ever through this blog.

    Regards
    GV

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  11. Thank you will be so less a word for you IHM.
    Yes, this is so true that just a support board is needed for a long time with no suggestion, no advice and no judgement. But it is so hard to get most of the time.

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  12. What I like best about you posts is with the ease you can take up sensitive matters. I find writing about sad/unhappy things very very difficult. In fact most times I don’t write at all.. just wait for it to blow over. I love how you say it all… simply from the heart. Many hugs IHM.

    Me – Thanks and Hugs obsessivemom!

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  13. Your “Some Points” section has some excellent suggestions. The first – “The only way to help is to be there for them, in the way they need you to be there.” – certainly encompasses a basic tenant for helping the bereaved. I might add: BE THERE for them as long as they need you; don’t disappear!

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  14. Many turn bitter after such an experience IHM.. but not you. You remind me of my dear maternal grandmother who lost her first son at a promising age.. he could be called a model son and she lost much when she lost him.. but I (all her grand children) remember her as a strong and nuturing lady.

    Even if there is much grief in you, you have chosen to help others cope up with their pain.

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  15. Pingback: Surviving Loss: Death | Grief « The Variegated Vision Digest

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