People cope with the loss of a loved one in different ways. This process takes time and usually includes many different emotions and behaviors.
Grief and Bereavement
The death of a child is devastating, and the grief journey for bereaved parents is long and many times lonely. The Hummingbird Program provides grief and bereavement support to parents and families in various settings. We offer:
- Support groups twice per year (spring and fall)
- Special one-night workshops on different topics, such as Preparing for the Holiday Season (early November)
- Individual, couple and family sessions
Information for bereaved parents:
Please accept our deepest sympathy regarding the passing of your child. We understand that in many cases, this was a shock and you are just trying to wrap your head around what has happened. Few families are ever prepared for the intensity of grief and pain associated with this type of loss.
Grief is a lonely and very personal experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve- it is a very personal journey. While everyone reacts differently to grief, some reactions you can expect to occur in the early weeks are the feeling of numbness or the feeling of being “out of body” or disconnected from what is going on around you. Many parents feel overwhelmed by daily tasks as well as planning for a memorial service or funeral. Reaching out to your support system -friends, family, church, community, etc. - can be extremely helpful. You may find that other members of the family have their own way of processing and healing that may be different than what you find comforting.
While it can feel isolating, please know you are not alone. There are supports available to you throughout the state as well as through our institution including individual and couple sessions, support groups, and workshops. We can assist you in exploring counseling and group supports.
Normal Grief Reactions
After the death of your child, you may feel like you are going crazy, but you are NOT! During the coming weeks and months, you may experience waves of intense emotions or other symptoms. Below are some of the common reactions, both emotional and physical, that parents and family members go through in the weeks and months after the loss.
- Changes in sleeping and appetite (more or less)
- Tightness in the chest
- Extreme tiredness or fatigue
- Sensitivity to noise
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach upset
- Numb or feeling as if it is “unreal”
- Mood swings or waves of emotions
- Disorganization of thoughts
- Loneliness – feeling distant from others
- Playing the events from the last weeks, days, or hours over in your head, almost like a movie
- Questioning your faith
- Feeling angry at God
- Questioning your beliefs
- Re-organizing priorities– feeling as if you look at what is “important” in life differently than before the loss
- Inability to forgive
Information for those supporting a bereaved parent
Someone you love and care for is grieving. What can you do? How can you help? Witnessing the intense grief of a loved one makes us feel helpless and can frighten us with the fear of “what would I do if this happened to me?” Here are some tips to help guide your efforts.
Learning the art of being rather than doing – there is little we can say in the event of the loss of a child that brings true comfort. Your presence, sitting with a bereaved parent or family member, can be the greatest gift.
Acknowledging the obvious – grieving can be a lonely process for the family and they may feel that people avoid them. Let them know you care and that you have been thinking of them. The first time talking with the parents or family member may be awkward, as you strive to say the “right” thing. Providing a listening ear, sending them a note, or offering specific skills you could contribute, such as cleaning, babysitting, or mowing the lawn, are helpful.
Respect how another grieves - grief is an individual journey with no one “right” way. Much depends on what our personalities are like - emotional, cognitive, introvert, extrovert, etc. A person who is open with their emotions is more likely to express strong feelings, tears, and willingness to talk. Rather, a person who is closed with their feelings may process their intense emotions internally, cognitively, or in acts of “doing”. Trust in the natural grief process and reach out for support or guidance for help and direction.
Using supportive language - as said before, finding the words to use can be scary and uncomfortable. Some phrases to avoid are:
- “At Least…” he or she did not suffer, you have other children, you did not get to know your baby, etc. While meant to look at the more positive side, these are hurtful and discredit the person’s right to be sad.
- “God’s Will…” suggests that they should be comforted or relieved by this thought; instead, listen to how painful it is for them and validate their feelings. Most times, reassuring a person who is grieving is more about our own feelings of helplessness.
- “How are you?” is an intense question and very difficult for grieving people to answer. Instead, try “I’ve been thinking of you.”, “I’m here for you.”, or “I’m wishing you some peaceful moments this weekend”.
Ways to Show You’re Caring
Many times friends and family return to their typical schedules after the first 2-4 weeks. With this in mind, offer to take meals over and stay and eat with them or offer to sit with them at functions like church, programs or events. Invite them along for events and outings; allow them to turn them down - but continue to ask.
Information from: Stepping Through the Awkwardness by Marilyn Gryte
Additional support group information
Please visit our Hummingbird Program for additional Grief and Bereavement resources.