Helping Your Family Heal After Miscarriage

Miscarriage is a Significant Loss

It is normal and natural to hurt deeply after miscarriage.

While others may imply or outright tell you that miscarriage happens too early on for you to be attached to the baby, or that miscarriage is so common it’s nothing to get upset about, or that you should focus on getting pregnant again instead of being sad about what happened, you know that miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy often feel like profound losses.

Your grief is real. Your grief is justified. And the depth of your grief has less to do with the number of weeks that you were pregnant and more to do with the attachment you felt to this developing baby or the idea of your future with a child. The more you wanted this baby, the more invested you were in your hopes and dreams for a child, the more painful your grief journey will likely be.

Love plus loss equals grief. If you wanted and loved this baby, of course you grieve. And now you must mourn.

 

Many Share Your Pain…

As many as half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage—many before the woman has missed a period. Among women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15 percent. This makes miscarriage a remarkably common form of loss—one that affects about a million couples each year in the United States alone.

The term “miscarriage” covers a wide range of pregnancy loss experiences. Early miscarriage, by far the most common, is considered pregnancy loss before 12 weeks’ gestation, and late miscarriage covers the time period from 12 weeks to 19 and 7/8 weeks’ gestation. Beginning at 20 weeks, pregnancy loss is called stillbirth. Early pregnancy loss also includes molar pregnancy and ectopic pregnancy as well as blighted ovum.

The different types and stages of miscarriage can result in markedly different pregnancy-loss experiences for women.  Late miscarriage, for example, may end with the mother delivering a baby in the hospital, while in early miscarriage (or ectopic pregnancy) there is often no baby to see. Still, the grief journey that follows miscarriage is shaped more by the depth of the love and attachment than it is by weeks’ gestation or clinical terminology and diagnoses.

 

The Time Betwixt and Between

Early pregnancy may appear as a plus sign on a home pregnancy test, but other than that, it is often invisible. With very late miscarriage and stillbirth, a baby emerges. But with most miscarriages, there is pregnancy and then no pregnancy. Oh yes, there is still love and attachment. But there will be no baby to hold and bury, no footprints to ink onto paper, no locks of hair to save, no photos to cherish.

The mystery and invisibility of miscarriage makes it unique among significant losses. Your love for this baby—or, for some couples in early pregnancy, what may be more accurately described as your desire for a baby—was very real, but having nothing tangible to hold onto can make your loss seem that much more devastating.

What’s more, the words we use to describe miscarriage only contribute to the problem.  The term “miscarriage” can be understood as implying fault on the part of the mother, as if she didn’t carry the baby well enough. Similarly, “embryo” and “fetus” may be technically correct, but they don’t capture the love and loss you feel. The word “baby” may or may not seem right to you, either. Some families who experience early miscarriage feel that what they have lost is not so much a baby as a feeling of hope and possibility for a child.

So if you are feeling that your loss is not understood or recognized in our culture, or that you yourself feel unsure about what you have lost or how to talk about it, you are not alone.

 

Acknowledge Your Loss

Acknowledging that your heart is broken is the beginning of your healing. As you experience the pain of your loss—gently opening, acknowledging, and allowing, the suffering it will diminish. In fact, the resistance to the pain can be more painful than the pain itself. As difficult as it is, your must, slowly and in doses over time, embrace the pain of your grief. As Helen Keller said, “The only way to the other side is through.”

 

Express Your Grief

Grief is the thoughts and feelings you have on the inside about the death of your baby. When you express those feelings outside of yourself, that is called mourning. Mourning is talking about the miscarriage, crying, writing in a journal, making art, participating in a support group, or any activity that moves your grief from the inside to the outside. Mourning is how you heal your grief.

 

Be Compassionate with Yourself

The word compassion literally means “with passion.”  So, self-compassion means caring for oneself “with passion.”  While we hope you have excellent outside support, this article is intended to help you be kind to yourself as you confront and eventually embrace your grief over your pregnancy loss.

Many of us are hard on ourselves when we are grieving.  We often have inappropriate expectations of how “well” we should be doing with our grief. We are told to “carry on,” “keep your chin up,” and “keep busy.”  Actually, when we are in grief we need to slow down, turn inward, embrace our feelings of loss, and seek and accept support.

Take good care of yourself as you grieve. Nurture yourself physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

 

Help Each Other Heal

Miscarriage often affects many people. Everyone who knew about the pregnancy and had hopes and dreams for the baby’s future will grieve. Parents, grandparents, children, extended family members, friends, and coworkers may all be touched by this loss. Open and honest communication is the key to healing. Talk to one another about the miscarriage. Support each other. Try not to judge each other’s thoughts and feelings, but instead accept that each person’s grief will be unique.

 

Understand the Idea of Reconciliation

In the spiritual sense, you will not “recover” from the miscarriage. Your heart is broken and you are torn apart by this loss.  You are not the same person today as you were before the miscarriage.

But you can become reconciled to your loss. As you continue to express your grief openly and honestly, you will begin to heal. The sharp pangs of sorrow will soften, and the constant painful memories will subside.  You will become more interested in and hopeful about the future. You will experience more happy than sad in your days. You will begin to set new goals and work toward them. You will experience life fully again.

Helping a Friend or Family Member After a Cancer Diagnosis

While half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetimes, it’s different when cancer hits close to home. Only then do we become fully aware of the reality of cancer and the many losses it creates.

Yes, for your friend or family member as well as for all those who care about someone with cancer, cancer is a significant loss.

No matter your friend’s type or stage of cancer or survivorship, his life changed after his diagnosis. From the moment he first heard those three little words—“You have cancer”—he experienced losses of many kinds.

He lost his health. Even if he recovered his health in the months and years after his treatment, he knows what it means to feel healthy one moment and frighteningly unhealthy the next. He also lost his sense of normalcy and safety. He may have lost his ability to work and his financial stability. In the course of his treatment, perhaps he lost a body part or two, his hair, his appetite, his memory (thanks to chemo brain), and even some of his friends. (Not everyone is capable of the steadfastness it takes to be a companion through the cancer journey. More on that in a moment.)

You are probably all too aware that the friends and family members of the person with cancer experience myriad losses as well. Your sense of normalcy and safety has also been threatened. You begin to consider and grieve the worst-case scenarios. Depending on your relationship with the person who has cancer and the activities you share, you may have, at least temporarily, lost your golf partner, your walking buddy, or even your lover. In general, you have probably lost the easy enjoyment of spending time with this person.

So yes, in many ways, cancer is synonymous with loss. And when we lose things (or people) that we care about or that are important to our sense of self, we naturally grieve.

Grief and mourning

Grief is what we think and feel on the inside when we lose someone or something important. When someone we love is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, we experience shock, anger, guilt, sadness, and other emotions. We think many dark and difficult thoughts. All of these thoughts and feelings go into a pot called grief.

Mourning is the word for grief expressed. While grief is what’s bottled up inside you, mourning is the opening up, the letting out, and the sharing.

Without mourning, grief festers. Contrary to the cliché “time heals all wounds,” grief does not magically dissipate through the passage of time alone. If it is not expressed fully and honestly, it tends to result in ongoing problems such as depression, intimacy troubles, chronic anxiety, substance abuse, and others.

But with mourning? Oh, with mourning, what amazing rewards await us on the far side of grief! When genuinely expressed, grief has the potential to open us to a richer and deeper experience of life.

Both you and your friend or family member will naturally grieve in the weeks and months after the diagnosis. But to cope and eventually to heal, you must also mourn.

Being a cancer companion

If you are reading this article, you surely have the intention to be a good helper during the cancer journey. That’s a good start. Intention is where everything begins.

Now to your intention you must add action. You must reach out and keep reaching out to the person who has cancer. You must offer your presence and your empathy for the long haul. You must persevere long after most friends and even family members fall away.

You see, not everyone has the endurance to be a good helper for months and years, which is often how long the cancer journey takes. Yet this is exactly what the person who has cancer needs most—people she can count on, well, forever.

Good cancer companions spend time with the ppeople they care about who have cancer. They share meals and activities but they also have conversations. Importantly, they listen. They have empathy. They are sounding boards and, sometimes, whipping posts.

Cancer companions accompany people with cancer on their journeys. They do not walk in front of or behind the person with cancer. They walk alongside, arm-in-arm. And they continue to offer their presence and loving companionship as long as the journey lasts.

Yet, the more connected you feel to the person who has cancer, the more you, too, will struggle with the diagnosis and grieve throughout her cancer journey. Also, the closer you are to the person with cancer, the more help you will need for yourself in the coming weeks and months.

Because of your normal and necessary grief, you may find it impossible to be as supportive of the person who has cancer as you would like to be. That’s how grief works. But if you get good support for yourself and work on expressing all your fears, thoughts, and feelings (by sharing them with the person with cancer but also in other ways, such as journaling or attending a support group), you will be better able to help the person with cancer. You will also find hope and healing for yourself.  By Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D

Helping Your Family When a Member is Dying

You have learned that someone in your family is dying. You want to help the ill person as well as your family. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive actions.

The Shock of the News

Learning that someone in your family is dying is a blow to everyone the news touches. We sometimes think this only happens in other families, but now it is happening to yours. If the onset of the illness was sudden or unexpected, you and the rest of your family will likely feel shock and numbness at first. This is a natural and necessary response to painful news.

You can only cope with this new reality in doses. You will first come to understand it in your head, and only over the weeks and even months to come will you come to understand it with your heart.

Be Aware of Your Family’s Coping Style

How you and your family respond to this illness will have a lot to do with how you as a family have related in the past. If your family is used to openly talking about their feelings with each other, they will probably be able to communicate well about the illness and the changes it brings. Families in which people don’t talk about feelings and tend to deal with problems individually will probably have difficulty acknowledging the illness and its impact.

If you are reading this brochure, you are already taking steps to acknowledge that someone in your family is dying. You may have found some family members want to discuss the illness, while others seem to want to deny the reality and refuse to discuss it. Right now your family may feel like a pressure cooker: you all have a high need to feel understood, but little capacity to be understanding.

Adjust to Changing Roles

Families sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the changing roles the illness makes necessary. If the head of the household is dying, the other spouse may now have to find a job in addition to caring for the home and children, for example. If grandma acted as the family’s binding force before she was ill, her family may now feel confused and disjointed where they once felt strong and cohesive.

Such changes can alter the ways in which family members interact with each other. They may act short-tempered, overly dependent, stoic or any number of other difficult ways.

Consider Getting Outside Help

Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for your family during this stressful time is to reach out for help on their behalf. If someone in your family is caring for the dying person at home, consider hiring a homecare nurse instead. Have groceries delivered. Hire a housekeeper to come in twice a month. Your church or other community organization might be able to provide volunteers to help you with any number of tasks. And family counseling can be a healing, enriching experience that helps family members understand one another now and long after the illness.

Hospices are well-staffed and trained to help both the dying person and the dying person’s family. Their mission is to help the dying die with comfort, dignity and love, and to help survivors cope both before and after the death. Contact your local hospice early in the dying process. Because they don’t want to acknowledge the reality of the impending death, too often families wait until the last few days of the sick person’s life. But when they are contacted sooner, hospices can provide a great deal of compassionate support and care up to six months before the death.

Encourage Open Communication, But Do Not Force It

As caring family members, we should encourage honest communication among the dying person, caregivers, family and friends. However, we should never force it. Dying people naturally “dose” themselves as they encounter the reality of the illness in their lives. They may not be able to talk about it right away, or theey may only feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with certain family members.

What the Dying Person May be Feeling

Experiencing illness affects a person’s head, heart and spirit. While you wouldn’t want to prescribe what they might feel, do be aware that terminally ill people may experience a variety of emotions. Fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness and loneliness are just a few of the emotions they may feel-one at a time or simultaneously.

These feelings are a natural response to terminal illness. Your role as caring family member should be to listen to the sick person’s thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. If she is sad, she is sad. Don’t try to take that necessary emotion away from her. If she is angry or guilty, that’s OK too. You may be tempted to soothe or deny her painful feelings, but a more helpful response is to simply acknowledge them. Listen and understand.

Help Family Members Tend to their Own Needs

When a family member is dying, he or she becomes the focal point for the family. Suddenly everyone is concerned about that one person and her coming death. This is normal, yet it places a great physical and emotional burden on everyone involved.

Family members should not lose sight of their own needs during this difficult time. Encourage everyone to nurture themselves as well as the sick person. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten schedules as much as possible.

Though the family is experiencing a serious time, they should still give themselves permission to be happy. Plan fun events. Allow time to laugh, love and enjoy life.

Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your family’s life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Singly or together, you may find comfort and hope in reading spiritual texts, attending religious services or praying. Allow yourselves to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If some among you are angry at God because of the illness, realize that this is a normal and natural response. Try not to be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings each of you needs to explore.

Seek Hope and Healing

After the ill person dies, you and your other family members must mourn if you are to love and live wholly again. You cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Encourage your family to be patient and tolerant with themselves. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

Helping a Suicide Survivor Heal

Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, “There are always two parties to a death; the person who dies and the survivors who are bereaved.” Unfortunately, many survivors of suicide suffer alone and in silence. The silence that surrounds them often complicates the healing that comes from being encouraged to mourn.

Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, survivors feel the pain of the loss, yet may not know how, or where, or if, they should express it. Yet, the only way to heal is to mourn. Just like other bereaved persons grieving the loss of someone loved, suicide survivors need to talk, to cry, sometimes to scream, in order to heal.

As a result of fear and misunderstanding, survivors of suicide deaths are often left with a feeling of abandonment at a time when they desperately need unconditional support and understanding. Without a doubt, suicide survivors suffer in a variety of ways; one, because they need to mourn the loss of someone who has died; two, because they have experienced a sudden, typically unexpected traumatic death; and three, because they are often shunned by a society unwilling to enter into the pain of their grief.

How Can You Help?

If you want to help a friend or family member who has experienced the death of someone loved from suicide, this article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive action.

Accept the Intensity of the Grief

Grief following a suicide is always complex. Survivors don’t “get over it.” Instead, with support and understanding, they can come to reconcile themselves to its reality. Don’t be surprised by the intensity of their feelings. Sometimes, when they least suspect it, they may be overwhelmed by feelings of grief. Accept that survivors may be struggling with explosive emotions, guilt, fear and shame-all well beyond the limits experienced in other types of death. Be patient, compassionate and understanding.

Listen with Your Heart

Assisting suicide survivors means you must break down the terribly costly silence. Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Willingness to listen is the best way to offer help to someone who needs to talk.

Thoughts and feelings inside the survivor may be frightening and difficult to acknowledge. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend’s healing process. Simply listen and understand. And, remember, you don’t have to have the answers to his or her questions. Simply listening is enough.

Avoid Simplistic Explanations and Clichés

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a suicide survivor. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time will heal all wounds,” “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” or “You have to be strong for others” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult.

Be certain to avoid passing judgment or providing simplistic explanations of the suicide. Don’t make the mistake of saying the person who suicided was “out of his or her mind.” Informing a survivor that someone they loved was “crazy or insane” typically only complicates the situation. Suicide survivors need help in coming to their own search for understanding of what has happened. In the end, their personal search for meaning and understanding of the death is what is really important.

>Be Compassionate

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend. Don’t instruct or set explanations about how he or she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helping role as someone who “walks with,” not “behind” or “in front of” the one who is bereaved.

Familiarize yourself with the wide spectrum of emotions that many survivors of suicide experience. Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. And recognize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the loss.

Respect the Need to Grieve

Often ignored in their grief are the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses and children of persons who have suicided. Why? Because of the nature of the death, it is sometimes kept a secret. If the death cannot be talked about openly, the wounds of grief will go unhealed.

As a caring friend, you may be the only one willing to be with the survivors. Your physical presence and permissive listening create a foundation for the healing process. Allow the survivors to talk, but don’t push them. Sometimes, you may get a cue to back off and wait. If you get a signal that this is what is needed, let them know you are ready to listen if, and when, they want to share their thoughts and feelings.

Understand the Uniqueness of Suicide Grief

Keep in mind that the grief of suicide survivors is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by survivors, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in his or her life.

Because the grief experience is unique, be patient. The process of grief takes a long time, so allow your friend to proceed at his or her own pace. Don’t criticize what is inappropriate behavior. Remember that the death of someone to suicide is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction.

Be Aware of Holidays and Anniversaries

Survivors of suicide may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and anniversaries. These events emphasize the absence of the person who has died. Respect this pain as a natural expression of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most importantly, never try to take the hurt away.

Use the name of the person who has died when talking to survivors. Hearing the name can be comforting and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of their lives.

Be Aware of Support Groups

Support groups are one of the best ways to help survivors of suicide. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share the commonality of the experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. You may be able to help survivors locate such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Respect Faith and Spirituality

If you allow them, a survivor of suicide will “teach you” about their feelings regarding faith and spirituality. If faith is a part of their lives, let them express it in ways that seem appropriate. If they are mad at God, encourage them to talk about it.

Remember, having anger at God speaks of having a relationship with God. Don’t be a judge, be a loving friend.

Survivors may also need to explore how religion may have complicated their grief. They may have been taught that persons who take their own lives are doomed to hell. Your task is not to explain theology, but to listen and learn. Whatever the situation, your presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools.

Work Together as Helpers

Friends and family who experience the death of someone to suicide must no longer suffer alone and in silence. As helpers, you need to join with other caring persons to provide support and acceptance for survivors who need to grieve in healthy ways.

To experience grief is the result of having loved. Suicide survivors must be guaranteed this necessity. While the above guidelines will be helpful, it is important to recognize that helping a suicide survivor heal will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love than you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it.

Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace

How Can You Help?

A friend or acquaintance in your workplace has experienced the death of someone loved. You want to help, but you are not sure how to go about it. This article will help you turn your cares and concerns into positive action.

You Have An Important Role

Your support of a fellow employee can make a real difference in how he survives right now. Being present to a co-worker in grief means you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts-yourself. Do not underestimate how your efforts to help can make a real difference for him. Your supportive presence, particularly when he is just returning to work and in the weeks and months ahead, can make an important difference in how your coworker heals.

Attending the Funeral

Even if you didn’t know the person who died, if the funeral will be local and especially if the person who died was a member of your co-worker’s immediate family, it is very appropriate for you to attend the funeral. After all, funerals are for the living, and right now your co-worker needs all the support she can get. She will appreciate your presence and acknowledgment of the loss.

Understanding Your Co-Worker’s Journey

Your coworker is faced with an overwhelming journey. While the need to mourn is normal and necessary, it is often frightening, painful, and lonely. Your coworker will not function “normally” in the workplace. Be sensitive and realize that she will have difficulty with attention, concentration, memory and lack of motivation.

Try to be patient and help out whenever you can. Increasing your knowledge about the experience of grief will help you better understand what your coworker is encountering.

Make Contact

Reach out to your coworker in grief. Do not anticipate that she will be able to reach out to you. Let her know that you are aware of her loss and that you are thinking about her. It can be very appropriate to say, “I’m sorry that your mother died, and I want you to know that I’m thinking of you.” This lets your co-worker know that you are available to listen and can be sensitive to her feelings of sadness and loss. A touch of your hand, a look in your eye, or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say. If you personally don’t know the coworker very well, join with others in sending flowers or a sympathy card.

Listen With Your Heart

If your coworker wants to talk about his grief, LISTEN. While the workplace cannot become a counseling center, listening is a small but important gift you can give. Your physical presence and commitment to listen without judging are critical helping tools.

Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. Your co-worker may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen patiently. Realize that “telling the story” is how healing occurs.

Avoid Clichés

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful mourners. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Mourners are often told, “God only challenges people with what they can handle” or “Time heals all wounds” or “Think of all you still have to be thankful for.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish the very real and very painful loss of a unique person.

Realize That “Griefbursts” Will Occur

Sometimes heightened periods of sadness will overwhelm the grieving person at work. These times can come out of nowhere. Sometimes all it takes to bring on a griefburst is a familiar sound, a smell, a phrase. While you may feel helpless, allow your co-worker to feel the sorrow and hhurt. And realize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with death.

Don’t Be Judgmental

Some people return to work after the death of someone loved and act as if “everything is OK.” Don’t judge your coworker who returns to work quickly. Sometimes, the routine of the workplace provides comfort and support. However, do stay available should she want to share her grief at a later time.

Activate Support Systems

If appropriate, mention your co-worker’s loss and need for compassionate support to other coworkers who can offer help. The entire staff might benefit from an in-service that sensitizes then to the grief journey and how they can help support their coworker.

If You Are A Supervisor

Be careful about assigning new tasks or responsibilities right now. Flexible personnel policies will help the grieving worker survive during this naturally painful time. If you have an employee assistance program, be certain the employee is made aware of its availability.

Our society in general doesn’t always respond well to people in grief; the workplace can be even worse. You can help by acting as your grieving employee’s advocate if he needs extra time off or other special assistance. It’s the right thing to do. Besides, if the employee isn’t allowed to first attend to his grief, he may not be able to effectively attend to his work.

If The Person Who Died Was A Coworker

When someone you have worked with dies, you will be faced with grief yourself. You may find yourself thinking about him all the time. You may feel guilty, as if you could have prevented the death somehow. You may feel angry, especially if the death was sudden or untimely. You may feel vulnerable, frightened or depressed.

All of these grief feelings are normal and necessary. Find someone you can talk to, perhaps another co-worker who is experiencing the same feelings. Talk openly with family members and friends about your co-workers death.

Understanding The Significance Of The Loss

As a result of the death, your coworker’s like is under reconstruction. Keep in mind that grief is unique. No two people respond to death in exactly the same say. Be patient. Don’t force a specific timetable for healing. Be gentle, sensitive, and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

“Grief is a long, painful journey. As the friend of a grieving co-worker, you can choose to help make the journey more tolerable. Tell your co-worker how sorry you are and listen if she wants to talk. Be available to her in the difficult weeks and months ahead. Your support will help her more than you can imagine.”

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Helping a Grandparent Who is Grieving

A child or young adult has died. Everyone who loved the child is now faced with mourning this tragic, untimely death. The child’s parents are heartbroken. But what about the grandparents? How might they be feeling? How can you help them with their unique grief?

This article will guide you in ways to turn your concern for the grandparents into positive action.

Realize that a grandparent’s grief is unique.

When a grandchild dies, the grandparent often mourns the death on many levels. The grandparent probably loved the child dearly and may have been very close to him or her. The death has created a hole in the grandparent’s life that cannot be filled by anyone else. Grandparents who were not close to the child who died, perhaps because they lived far away, may instead mourn the loss of a relationship they never had.

Grieving grandparents are also faced with witnessing their child-the parent of the child who died-mourn the death. A parent’s love for a child is perhaps the strongest of all human bonds. For the parents of the child who died, the pain of grief may seem intolerable. For the grandparents, watching their own child suffer so and feeling powerless to take away the hurt can feel almost as intolerable.

Acknowledge the grandparent’s search for meaning.

When someone loved dies, we all ponder the meaning of life and death. When a child or young adult dies, this search for meaning can be especially painful. Young people aren’t supposed to die. The death violates the natural order of life and seems terribly unfair.

For grandparents, who may have lived long, rich lives already, the struggle to understand the death may bring about feelings of guilt. “Why didn’t God take me, instead?” the grandparent may ask himself. “Why couldn’t it have been me?”

Such feelings are both normal and necessary. You can help by encouraging the grandparent to talk about them.

Respect faith and spirituality.

Many people develop strong commitments to faith and spirituality as they get older. If you allow them, grieving grandparents will “teach you” about the role of faith and spirituality in their lives. Encourage them to express their faith if doing so helps them heal in grief.

Sometimes, however, faith can naturally complicate healing. The grandparent may feel angry at God for “taking” the grandchild. He then may feel guilty about his anger, because, he may reason, God is not to be questioned. Or the grandparent may struggle with feelings of doubt about God’s plan or the afterlife.

Talking with a pastor may help the grandparent, as long as the pastor allows the grandparent to honestly express her feelings of anger, guilt and sadness. No one should tell a grandparent that she shouldn’t grieve because the child has gone to heaven; mourning and having faith are not mutually exclusive.

Listen with your heart.

You can begin to help by simply listening. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

The grieving grandparent may want to share the same story about the death over and over again. It’s as if talking about the death makes it a little more bearable each time. Listen attentively. Realize that this repetition is part of the grandparent’s healing process. Simply listen and try to understand.

Sometimes grandparents, especially grandfathers, don’t want to talk about the death. They may have been raised to believe that talking about feelings is frivolous or selfish or unmanly. It’s OK; they don’t have to talk. Simply spending time with them demonstrates your love and concern.

Be compassionate.

Give the grandparent permission to express her feelings without fear of ccriticism. Learn from the granparent; don’t instruct or set expectations about she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helper role as someone who “walks with” not “behind” or “in front of” the grieving grandparent.

Allow the grandparent to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he is feeling at the time. Enter into his feelings, but never try to take them away. And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Avoid clichés.

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving grandparent. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Grandparents are often told, “God needed another angel in heaven” or “Don’t worry, John and Susie (can) have another child” or “You have to be strong for your child.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish the very real and very painful loss of a unique child.

Offer practical help.

Preparing food, washing clothes, and cleaning the house are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care. And, just as with your presence, this support is needed at the time of the death as well as in the weeks and months ahead.

Write a personal note.

Sympathy cards express your concern, but there is no substitute for your personal written words. What do you say? Share a favorite memory of the child who died. Relate the special qualities that you valued in him or her. These words will be a loving gift to the grandparent, words that will be reread and remembered always.

Use the name of the child who died in your personal note and in talking to the grandparent. Hearing that name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important child whom the grandparent loved and misses so much.

Be aware of holidays and other significant days.

The grandparent may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and other significant days, such as the child’s birthday and the anniversary of the child’s death. These events emphasize the child’s absence. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process.

These are appropriate times to visit the grandparents or write a note or simply give them a quick phone call. Your ongoing support will be appreciated and healing.

“When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition

Helping Yourself Heal When Someone You Care About Dies of a Drug Overdose

A friend or family member has died of a drug overdose. Death and grief are always hard, but when someone dies from drug use, understanding your feelings and knowing what to think and say about the death can be especially difficult. This article offers compassionate guidance for coping with your own grief as well as helping others affected by the loss.

Addiction and the Opioid Epidemic

People of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels are affected by addiction. Addiction is a recognized disease in which the pleasure centers of the brain get taken over by the need for the drug. Addicts cannot control their behavior.

In the United States today, the majority of drug overdose deaths involve an opioid, such as prescription painkillers or heroin. About two and a half million people are addicted to these drugs, and nearly 100 people die each day from an overdose. In fact, opioid use and overdose trends have grown so bad that the Department of Health & Human Services has labeled the problem an epidemic.

You are not alone. Millions of families and friends have lost a loved one to drug use. This doesn’t make the death of the unique person you cared about any less tragic. It does mean that there are resources to help you, and there are many people who may be able to understand and support you.

Coping with the Stigma

Even though addiction is a disease that can affect anyone, there is still a social stigma associated with drug overdose deaths. For you, a person who has lost someone special, this can seem doubly unfair. Not only has someone you cared about died, but others may avoid you or make you feel ashamed about the death.

Remind yourself that your friend or family member died of a common, deadly disease. Learn more about opioid use and how it’s affecting so many. Reach out to others impacted by overdose death. Talk openly about what happened. Shining a light of openness and empathy on overdose deaths will help you and others heal.

A Complicated Grief

Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you care about dies. Your grief will naturally be complicated by the cause of this death.

If the person who died was young and otherwise healthy, that fact will affect your grief. We typically feel a sense of injustice and a stolen future whenever a young person dies.

We also often feel anger when deaths are caused by behaviors. You might be mad at the person who overdosed, at others whom you perceive enabled the behavior (such as a drug dealer), or at medical staff or police who may have been involved.

You might also feel guilty that you weren’t able to help the person stop using drugs before it was too late—even though the behavior was outside your control.

Whatever your complicated thoughts and feelings may be, your task now is to express them in healthy ways.

Mourning the Death

While grief is what you feel on the inside, mourning is what you do when you express your grief on the outside. Crying is mourning. Attending the funeral is mourning. Talking to others about the death is mourning.

Part of your mourning will be about the cause of the death. Over time, the larger part of your mourning will be about the loss of a special, unique person who was loved by you and others.

Openly and actively discussing all your thoughts and feelings about this death will help you cope with the stigma and eventually heal.  Mourning helps you acknowledge the reality of the death, embrace the pain of the loss, remember the person who died, consider the meaning of the person’s death, and receive support from others.

Do not let the stigma of the death keep you from mourning fully. Talking about drug overdose and your particular loss will help our society grow more compassionate and work toward solutionss.

Learn About Resources

Your community may have resources for people grieving an overdose death. Call your local hospital, health department, or funeral home to find out more about support groups, counselors, and volunteer opportunities. Nothing is better than face-to-face, personal contact with others who walked the same walk.

There are also many resources online. Google “grief support overdose” and you’ll find a number of websites and forums dedicated to helping mourners like you. Reading others’ stories and sharing your own is often a great source of comfort, validation, expression, and healing.

Take Good Care of Yourself

As you grieve this death, remember to practice good self-care. Think of yourself in emotional intensive care. Just as people who are severely physically injured need around-the-clock attention, you need and deserve excellent care for your psychic injury.

Rest often. Eat healthy foods. Drink ample water. De-stress your life as much as possible. Exercise gently but regularly. Spend time with people who care about you. Express your grief whenever you’re feeling it.

Meet Your Spiritual Needs

Most of all, grief is a spiritual journey. You will naturally have questions about why this death had to happen now and in this way, and you might find yourself wondering about the purpose and meaning of life in general. If you believe in God, you may find solace in your faith, or you may be angry at a God who could let this happen.

All of these spiritual responses are normal. Making time each day to feed your spirit will help. Pray, meditate, visit a place of worship, go for a walk in the woods, journal about your spiritual struggle, or speak with a spiritual leader. All of these practices are forms of mourning, and all will help you experience your natural grief and move toward healing.

 

SIDEBAR:

Explaining This Death to Children

Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve and mourn. Children affected by an overdose death deserve our compassion, our presence, and our honesty. Never lie to kids or keep difficult truths from them in an effort to protect them.

Start from the child’s place of understanding. Listen to and answer questions with words and ideas that are appropriate to the child’s age and unique development.

If the child was unaware of the person’s habit, you will probably first need to explain drug use and the disease of addiction.

Remember that young children, especially, are literal thinkers. If you tell them only that medicine killed the person, for example, they might end up being afraid to take their own medicine the next time they’re sick.

Young children are also prone to magical thinking. For instance, they sometimes think that something they thought or did may have caused the death. Reassure them that it wasn’t their fault.

Children, too, often sense the stigma of an overdose death. You can help by explaining that addiction is an illness and talking about thoughts and feelings openly and without judgment. Also, it’s never too early to start teaching children about the dangers of drug use.

Children typically grieve in small doses. They may be upset one moment and playing the next. This is normal. Give them brief, frequent opportunities to ask questions or play out concerns (such as drawing or role playing). Be present and ready to talk and offer support. Express your own grief when it arises.

 

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Helping a Friend in Grief

A friend has experienced the death of someone loved. You want to help, but you are not sure how to go about it. This article will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive actions.

Listen with your heart.

Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you.

Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend’s healing process. Simply listen and understand.

Be compassionate.

Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend; don’t instruct or set expectations about how he or she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helper role as someone who “walks with,” not “behind” or “in front of” the one who is mourning.

Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. Enter into your friend’s feelings, but never try to take them away. And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Avoid clichés.

Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving friend. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, “You are holding up so well,” “Time heals all wounds,” “Think of all you still have to be thankful for” or “Just be happy that he’s out of his pain” are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend’s journey through grief more difficult.

Understand the uniqueness of grief.

Keep in mind that your friend’s grief is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by grieving people, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in their own unique lives.

Because the grief experience is also unique, be patient. The process of grief takes a long time, so allow your friend to proceed at his or her own pace. Don’t force your own timetable for healing. Don’t criticize what you believe is inappropriate behavior. And while you should create opportunities for personal interaction, don’t force the situation if your grieving friend resists.

Offer practical help.

Preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the house or answering the telephone are just a few of the practical ways of showing you care. And, just as with your presence, this support is needed at the time of the death and in the weeks and months ahead.

Make contact.

Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an opportunity for you to express your love and concern at this time of need. As you pay tribute to a life that is now passed, you have a chance to support grieving friends and family. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say.

Don’t just attend the funeral then disappear, however. Remain available in the weeks and months to come, as well. Remember that your grieving friend may need you more later on than at the time of the funeral. A brief visit or a telephone call in the days that follow are usually appreciated.

Write a personal note.

Sympathy cards express your concern, but there is no substitute for your personal written words. What do you say? Share a favorite memory of the person who died. Relate the special qualities that you valued in him or her. These words will often be a loving gift to your grieving friend, words that will be reread and remembered for years.

Use the name of the person who has died either in your personal note or when you talk to your friend. Hearing that name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of your friend’s life.

Be aware of holidays and anniversaries.

Your friend may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and anniversaries. These events emphasize the absence of the person who has died. Respect this pain as a natural extension of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most importantly, never try to take away the hurt.

Your friend and the family of the person who died sometimes create special traditions surrounding these events. Your role? Perhaps you can help organize such a remembrance or attend one if you are invited.

Understanding the importance of the loss.

Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

While the above guidelines will be helpful, it is important to recognize that helping a grieving friend will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love that you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it. By ‘walking with’ your friend in grief, you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts–yourself.

 

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.