The lonely grief of bereaved parents

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel all-consuming for bereaved parents. The pain resulting from the death of a child is particularly overwhelming. For bereaved parents, this terrible experience of loss arouses all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.

Additionally, as both parents experience their suffering together they also sensate grief at a deeply person level. They are both drawn together and pulled apart in the pain of their grief. As a result relationships can be placed under intense pressure. The situation is compounded by the couple’s experiences of their external plexus of family, friends and work. These relationships may become equally fraught for the couple as the rest of the world searches for the appropriate way to respond to the death of a child.

Society generally develops a script for dealing with death as can be seen in customs and rituals. There is a language of grief which people internalise from somewhere in our shared social conscious.

In the case of the death of a child there appears to be no such script, only a blank sheet which the bereaved couple must somehow learn to express their feelings in ways they help them to negotiate their tortured emotions and feelings.

Theres no right or wrong way to grieve

Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style.

Inevitably, the grieving process surrounding the loss of a child takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried and there is no timetable just as there appears to be no familiar script.

In counselling bereaved couples, I believe the quest is to discover a unique compass which will help couples to steer their way towards some form of acceptance. As a therapist I have found that bereaved parents can co-create their own survival script based upon the resources they did have before their loss based on their existing styles of attachment. This helps them to both comprehend and access their relationship to love and loss through bereavement, and also to consider ways in which appropriate memorialisation of their child can begin the process of reconciling that which they maintain and accept of that which what is gone.

Giving yourself permission to live once again

Bereaved parents may feel change in weeks or months, but rarely call it feeling better. For others the grieving process may ultimately be measured in years. Whatever the experience is therapy can help bereaved parents to consider the possibility that grief can be relocated into acceptance through positive memorialisation of their lost child and permission to live again rather than to merely exist.

Allan Todd  is a  psychotherapist at the UK Counselling Network CIC  with experience of delivering a specialist service for bereaved parents.

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