(Editor's Note: Due to space limitations, Ian Eastman's column, which normally appears on Friday's Health & Fitness page, has been shifted to page A3 for this week only.)
This is Grief Awareness Week, a few days devoted to raising awareness throughout Warren County that grieving is a process and not just an event. For the last few years Family Services has hosted Friend to Friend, a twice monthly support group for parents who have experienced bereavement. The group is facilitated by my friend Carna Chamberlin, a licensed social worker. Carna writes about grief from the perspective of a parent in today's column:
Over the course of a lifetime, one can expect to experience multiple losses. Before we ourselves die, we will likely lose our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, a number of our friends and possibly our own spouse. Whereas, these deaths are painful and the grieving process is arduous, most of us will recover from the grief and move forward. The death of a child, on the other hand, is unnatural, out of sync with the circle of life and is most often a death from which a parent never completely recovers. When we lose our parents and grandparents, we lose our past; when our children die, we lose of future, our hope.
When a child of any age dies, the parents often feel like misfits in the world. Friends, coworkers, and even family members cannot understand the lifelong ramifications that the death holds. In an effort to comfort the grieving parents, well-meaning friends and family share cliches and platitudes that often hurt more than they help. "Don't worry-you can always have more children." "She's in a better place." "Be thankful you had him as long as you did." Phrases like these only widen the gap, confirming the alienation the grieving parents already feel.
Trina Walsh developed a Bereaved Parents Wish List in which she shares how she hopes people will respond to their loved ones who have met the reality we all fear. The complete list can be found on the Friend to Friend Grief Support Group website: friend2friendpa.blogspot.com. Here are a few ways that one can truly and effectively minister to friends facing the death of a child.
First, being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so they wish you would not shy away from them. They need you more now than ever. Second, they wish that you would not be afraid to speak their child's name. One of the greatest fears a bereaved parent experiences is that their child will be forgotten. Speaking of them and knowing their importance in your life is important to the grieving parent as well. Third, offering the advice to "take one day at a time" is excellent, but they wish you understood that, most days, just taking one hour at a time is hard enough. Fourth, they wish you could understand that a child's death changes the parent. When their child died, part of the parent died, too. The parent is not, and never will be, the same person again. Finally, they wish you could simply understand their grief and loss, their silence, their tears, their void and their pain. But again, they pray daily that you will NEVER understand.
The Friend to Friend Grief Support Group was developed to support those that have experienced the death of a child of any age. Friend to Friend has "open arms caring for empty arms." Meetings are held at Family Services of Warren County; the group is available to all parents and grandparents who have experienced the death of a child. For more information, call Carna Chamberlin at 1-716-485-8737.