When there is a family or peer death it is often hard to find the words, to know how to offer encouragement to the family, friend, or workplace. Emotions can over-whelm all of us in the first hours and days. It is at these times so many of us ask questions, search for answers in the midst of sadness. What we do know is our world has forever changed.
The question of “Why” a grief, loss, and trauma center serving the Panhandle is an easy answer. Here is what we know about unaddressed or unresolved grief:
- Our youth detention centers and state prisons have large percentage of men and women whose lives were changed through a childhood death of a parent, sibling, or grandparent.
- Workplaces that do not plan for re-entry of a valued employee following a family death or for an employee death within their workplace family may well lose both the employee and the trust of other employees.
- School test scores and class room behavior are more disruptive with lower test scores as children and teens attempt to recover from a recent death and go to school at the same time.
- The pain of an infant or child death places tremendous stress on marriage or parent-adult child relationships.
- The community or employer cost for depression and physical illness due to unaddressed grief continues to grow.
- Our spiritual lives are shaken at the sudden death of a child, teen, or parent.
Improved family communications, higher test scores and improved classroom behavior, increased employee productivity and workplace satisfaction, are all outcomes of the hard work of the grief journey by children, teens, families, and individuals. These are the answer to the “Why” question.
Each type of death is unique to the person or family.
At Hope & Healing Place our supportive grief services include miscarriage, stillbirth, infant, teen, parent, spouse, and grandparent deaths. Those first hours and days can be so different if the death was traumatic such as auto accident or suicide or if the death ended a long-term illness as with hospice care.
With all the fast pace of today’s family and workplace a death can be a call to slow down, pay attention to life around us, hug our kids, tell our spouse about our love. For some a death is more of a speed bump to get over and keep going, never looking back. So many of us live hours and states apart so travel and calendars are a part of the recovery path to healthy grieving.
When there is a school shooting or other public death such as Sandy Hook Elementary or the Boston Marathon there are trauma teams to do the special work of being on scene with victims and their families and friends.
This work, however important, is not about the grief work that is so important to the adjustments to sudden loss for the next 3 months, one year, and years to come.
Three years following the sudden death, a support group member spoke for many, “The first year I was numb. I don’t know what I ate, how I got to work, what I did. The second year, when I thought his death would be easier, is when the pain of missing, of yearning for his presence came to me. This is now the 3nd year of his death and I am ready to do the work of healing.”
The grief following a death can bring a family together for the important ritual of telling stories, of remembering, of giving forgiveness for past hurts. A death within the family can also be one more part of the family’s breaking apart or dysfunction.
In the same way faith can add to the resiliency of the family and the inclusion of this death as one more part of the life of the family, whether living close by or extended across the country. We at Hope & Healing often hear the anger of a sibling, peer, or parent resulting from a child death. These can be times in the lives of young person where their faith becomes stronger and more personal ways than ever imagined.
Family and peers who want to be helpful can at the same time be hurtful. Often heard well meaning “helps” include:
- “I know you how you feel.”
- “This was God’s plan for your baby.”
- "You had 35 yrs of marriage so be grateful.”
- “You are young, you can have another baby.”
- “Your daughter is in a better place now.”
- “It has been 3 months, aren’t you over this yet?”
The impact of grief is unlike any other life experience.
Grief is a journey toward healing and regaining a sense of stability within the family or workplace. Healthy grieving is hard work and takes time. Any one of us can be making progress in our grief journey one day and then tomorrow be back in sadness or despair. Grief is not a lingual process.
At Hope & Healing individuals and families show courage by making that first call, enrolling in age or death appropriate support groups, and for telling their story as well as listening to the stories of others. I am often asked what is secret to “get past all this.” There are two over-all responses. First, you have to work through the pain, which is best accomplished with others who share this journey no one asked for. With pain, we can’t go around it, over it, or under it. We have to go through it. Secondly, you have to show up. With school, work, and daily life, there will always be a reason not to do the work of grief.
Calendars dates and clocks can throw us all off the path of healing from a death. These dates just keep coming, anniversary after birthday after annual death date, and more. With an infant death the mother can tell you their baby lived 28 minutes and 34 seconds or 3 months and 14 days. The first anniversary death date approaches for months and then when on that day the world just continues, not slowly down at all to pause in recognition of a child or parent death. The same is true for long-term marriages and the grandfather who took the grandkids to the opening day of the state fair.
As I said, grief is complicated. There are principles of healing that seem to be helpful and supportive to children and individuals from all family types, culture, faith, and language.
- Telling Your Story: So often we hear “My family, work, or friends don’t want to hear it anymore. I want to talk about my son. At Hope & Healing I can do so.”
- Remembering: Photos, a favorite food, fragrance, and more. All these fulfill that human need to be connected.
- Those Who “Get It:” No teen, surviving spouse or parent wants to be pointed out at school or office as “that person.” Being with others promotes that sense of normalcy so important to a continued and fulfilling life.
- HOPE: There is no healing from loss without a sustaining sense of Hope. Learning coping and listening skills can add to a child’s or parent’s sense of hope, resiliency, and healing.
- Family: We live as a family. Since death impacts the whole family, at Hope & Healing the whole family attends. Through age-based activities the family can grieve, find new ways of understanding the loss, express their grief, and heal from that loss as a family.
- Expressive Activities: Children and teens are more comfortable with expressive arts to express their grief, feelings, and where they fit in moving forward from a death. Masks, memory boxes, iTunes, birdhouses, and paints and brushes come together in the grief journey to healing.
- New Normal: Individuals and families all wish to continue their lives in the best way. Establishing a New Normal will involve consistent calendars, roles, and behaviors within the family. Families can both survive and thrive even in the difficult months or years following a significant death.
Every family and most workplaces across the Panhandle will experience a death at some point in time. Workplaces that plan in advance do best in supporting the employee family and staff. The family who can come together to support each other, tell stories, and remember will best find their new normal for everyone. The individual who now faces each day and meal without the long married spouse lives a fuller life by being connected to others and find new ways to celebrate life and faith.
No other travels this grief journey alone.
We live, grieve, cry, laugh, and heal together.
If Hope & Healing Place can assist the Accent West reader in finding the best resource for their family or workplace, contact in the way best for you.