I’ve heard about it before, that those suffering the loss of close family members are often isolated in their grief, ostracised by those closest to them, those who could offer the support and comfort they need. The courses and study on pastoral care for those that grieve point out the issue and stress the need for those offering such care to reach out to those who are suffering such a loss. For many, perhaps embarrassed, it is all to easy to just offer a perfunctionary ‘if you need me’ and disappear, not contacting the bereaved for weeks.
This completely ignores the fact that it is extraordinarily difficult to reach out when you are in so much pain. I know – we know – for we have just lost our child and we are experiencing the problem, to an extreme. And we have become isolated from all but a few friends, and ostracized by most (though not all) of our family.
That ostracization is known to be much worse when parents lose a child. It is as if the emotional pain is considered to be a contagious disease, that it could result in those caring losing their own children. The need to avoid the grieving in such cases – frequently hidden amidst self-justified layers of ‘let them grieve; they’ll need some time alone’ – leads to further, emotionally disabling behaviour where the grieving are not consulted on anything that concerns them: they are bypassed, sometimes decisions made on their behalf.
It’s not that those suffering such acute grief won’t have their decision-making affected by the grief: it may do. After all they have lost someone intensely precious to them, once part of them, to whom they have given and sacrificed much – and willingly. But that, in turn, doesn’t invalidate their need to be involved in such decisions as, all the time, they are still having to operate as normal human beings. Bills need paying, work pressures still exist, bins still need emptying, funeral arrangements sorted, friends and associates told, all at a time when such mundane acts can cause painful memories to surface.
Indeed, it becomes more necessary than ever to give such grieving parents back the sense of control and management over their lives. When you lose a child you feel helpless, totally out of control; doubts fester as to what could or shouldn’t have been done to prevent the death; memories constantly surface, of good and bad times; self-doubt is at an acute level, hit by the inability to prevent the loss.
Parents being powerless to prevent the death of their child: the ultimate fear, one we would never wish upon another.
So to act on behalf of someone in such grief without involving them in the decisions is not just rude or insensitive but emphasises their loss, exacerbates the sense of powerlessness that haunts them – us – every day. What’s more, it does so at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. Whilst no doubt unintended, it smacks of condemnation, it proclaims ‘you were incapable so we are treating you as incapable’. Indeed, it is such a insensitive, invalidating and exacerbating exercise that it is tantamount to emotional abuse – and yes, having worked in the death industry, I use that word deliberately.
Loss is bad; the loss of child – previously something only ever seen, infinitely more so.
Sure, this is a writing blog, and the above may seem something of a diatribe, but there are things often not said and not emphasised enough by the information in the area. From a writer’s perspective, we need to know that the issues are, the loss is, and the ostracization quickly becomes, something intensely personal, hurtful, striking directly to the core of those experiencing the pain. We need to know that the concerned family member and even friend normally only appears for moments, says their verbal support, and is then gone.
The continual support often portrayed is something we have to really demonstrate as being something special, something out of character for the majority of those associated with the bereaved. We have a few friends and two surviving children who stand beside us, who remain in touch, who ring regularly and express their concern – who check up on us. In any writing on such intimate death and loss, the scarcity of such support and the ostracization needs to be stressed. In contrast to that, an emphasis needs to be put on those who truly are the heroes: those who suppress their instinctive need to run from the loss of a child and frequently and regularly reach out to those who need their support.
It’s a learning experience, indeed. But one we would have much preferred not to have undergone. We hope you’re happy wherever you now are, Jess; you shall be always have our love and always be a part of us.