Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guest post: Mary Jane Cronin

The Unthinkable has happened; you have just been told your child is dead.

For a mother, the emotions surrounding the loss of a child is like a child’s first day at a new school. Although people who may be nice and want to help you get through the experience surround you, you feel alone and isolated. I lost Jeremy two years ago, and yet it feels like it was just yesterday. During those first few weeks I must have heard from friends and family, “ How you are getting through such a horrible situation? I do not know if I could do it if I were you”. Comments such as this made me wonder how other mothers have learned to deal with the loss, and if they had experienced the sense of helplessness surrounding their lives that I had following the death of my son.

Grief is traditionally defined as the thoughts, feelings and outward actions of someone who is experiencing a loss in their lives. The loss can be anything from the loss of a friendship, parent, or even a divorced spouse, but nothing can surpass the emotions that engulf you following the loss of a child.

The natural order of life for most people begins when a man and woman meet, marry and begin raising a family. The children grow from infancy through the school years to begin dating themselves, and one day they meet someone and they, too, marry and begin to raise their own family. During the child-raising years a parent watches over the infant as they sleep, and learns the child’s patterns for sleeping and eating. Tasks for a parent include encouraging their school-aged child to learn, participate with others and grow as the beginning stages of separateness emerge, and parents begin to see that the child who will forever be emotionally and physiologically connected to them will one day unfold their wings and fly.

Fears for the parent regarding their child, that they might get hurt, kidnapped, or killed, begin immediately upon the arrival of the child and go on forever as the powerlessness of parenthood begins to emerge. No matter how much we love our children, nurture them, guide, support and believe in them, we must live with the powerlessness that we cannot protect them from the harms of the world, including death.

Parents are given the opportunity to administer direction and advice to their child, but even when this conversation takes place, it still leaves the parent powerless that their child will follow the warnings and instead use their own judgment. For, as every veteran parent knows, no matter what you say to a teenager, they still have their own judgment to counter and question what you say, and using that sixteen-year-old judgment is why my son is in heaven today.

Grief over the loss of a child, like any loss, is a personal expression in that it is a process of learning to live without, to live with the emptiness and deprivation, and to rejoin the world and go on differently. Searching for meaning in what has happened to them, parents often wish they could undo this, that “for what might have been”. Regardless of our religious and cultural beliefs - - a life has been taken, and cannot be returned. People around the grieving parent cannot comprehend the intensity of such a loss, for it is as if the parent has died as well. In a sense, the parent has died with the child, for the hopes and dreams of both the parent and child are gone forever; the loss of the future and the re-creation of themselves through the next generation is now gone.

Grieving family members are expected to mourn the loss, but are to do it appropriately and within a certain length of time. It is acceptable to cry, to sulk and withdraw from others, even to be angry…but only for an expected length of time. The mourning parent is then supposed to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and move on. Following this expected time frame they are to live again, return to work, tuck their pain and agony away and dry their tears – for it is too painful for others to see. But, as mentioned, for many parents the loss of a child means a part of themselves has died as well and no other person has a right to require recovery by their own agenda.

Grief is not a disease, a disorder, or an illness, but an indication of your connectedness to another person. Grief can make you feel like you are going crazy or losing control. One minute you are fine, and the next minute you are sobbing uncontrollably with no explanation as to why. Loss of sleep, loss of appetite, reoccurring painful thoughts and crying are outward expressions of the inward pain grief is causing you. Being forewarned by others who have been through such an ordeal that these feelings and emotions will come in waves, and that you will fine for a while and then “crash” into a sad episode, cannot prepare one for the experience when it truly does happen. In the following days you will have feelings that you are back in control of yourself, only to fall into a deep depressive crying stage, which gives one the feeling that they may not have accomplished much at all in those few good days.

Counselors, friends, and family members are all anxious to see you feeling better and not hurting, so they may additionally tell you that it will get easier with time. True - - the waves of sadness and helplessness become less intense, less frequent, and begin to not last so long, but to the question of “Does it get easier in time”? I would have to say No! Grief does not have a timetable that you can say, on a given day such as March 12th, you will begin to feel better and no longer grieve, for everyone suffers differently. Grieving for some parents is a way to stay connected to their child, for it keeps memories alive and retains a place in the family for the child. A parent’s grief is endless, but the intensity does diminish in time - - for the body could not endure the monumental emotions a parent feels immediately following the death of a child. It is during this time that a parent begins the journey of understanding and accepting the loss in a place with no rhyme or reason and many unanswered questions.

About Mary Jane Cronin
I am a bereaved mother, a licensed mental health counselor, writer, consultant, and public speaker. I have been specializing in the area of grief and loss for over ten years. Counseling in the Tampa Bay area of Florida since 2000, I have extensive experience in bereavement counseling of individuals and groups. I’ve lectured on grief and taught bereavement support skills to teenagers, incarcerated women, hospice patients and their families, hospice volunteers, and fellow health care professionals. Being employed by Suncoast Hospice as a bereavement counselor for the past six years has given me the opportunity to learn skills that allow me to continue to help others following a loss. I have presented at The Bereaved Parents of the USA conference in 2009 and The American Business Woman’s dinner earlier this year. Following the death of my son Jeremy, I wrote and published my first book, "November Mourning." November Mourning includes letters to my son in Heaven, my journey to find acceptance following his death, and stories about others faced with the loss of a child. Seeing there was a need to help others learn the benefits of journal writing I published my second book, "Writing Through Your Grief," earlier this year. You can view
my video and visit my website. My website is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss. (Ordering information for both books may be found on the website as well.)

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