When child loss occurs, there is often chaos within the family unit. Nobody knows what to do or say. Everybody knows that each person is suffering. But, no words are spoken. Why? How do you even begin to communicate within a family when everybody is in shock and grief? This radical miscommunication often leads to the breakdown of a family and that’s just what we want to guard against.
“As we know, the death of a child doesn’t just affect the heart of a mother.” — This is a direct quote from the book Child Loss; The Heartbreak and the Hope. The entire family is reeling in heartache and pain yet nobody knows how to deal with this. And, it is complicated. Very, very complicated.
When my sister Carmella died at age thirteen from an asthma attack, I can still remember the deafening silence in our home. I remember seeing my mother laying in bed sobbing day after day — alone. My father began staying out later and later at night with each passing week. I was fifteen at the time Carmella died, and neither my mother or my father sat me down to talk with me about her death. I was confused. I was scared out of my mind. I missed my sister and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I was having nightmares. I had visions where I thought I saw my sister standing in groups of kids on the playground at school. I was afraid my parents would die leaving me all alone.
All of this pain, and nobody within our family communicated with each other! We were lost in a sea of grief and we didn’t know where to find a life jacket.
Sadly, my parents became a statistic. My mom began drinking to numb her pain. She also became addicted to nerve pills. During that time in history, we didn’t have written books on child loss. We didn’t have online support groups. We didn’t even use the word grief! My mom was left alone to grieve, and she needed so much help!
My dad wasn’t much of a talker before my sister died and after her death it became worse. He withdrew from everyone. He couldn’t deal with the woman my mother had become, so within a year he packed his bags and left. I can still remember what it looked like the day he drove away in his old black car. It took me years to accept the fact that our family had experienced another loss. We no longer had a husband and a father in our home and I wept for years because I wanted us — I needed us — to be a family!
I turned sixteen less than a month after my sister died. There was no joy in our home. How could there be? I remember thinking that somehow I shouldn’t be alive. I thought it was terrible that I was healthy. Why wasn’t I the one that had asthma? I punished myself by not allowing myself the freedom to smile. I became wrapped up in a world of pain and confusion and it was years until I began to sort through some of my grief.
Miscommunication within the family unit is devastating! When we don’t talk to each other we have no idea what the other person’s grief feels like and we begin drifting apart and isolating ourselves. This behavior adds to the grief of child loss making our pain much more complex and difficult to understand.
So, how can we survive within a family where a child has died?
- Talk with each other. Talk! Talk! Talk! Talk! Talk!
- Give each other permission to grieve always remembering that each person will express his/her grief in a different way.
- Do something once a week together as a family. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to learn how to function as a family minus the child that has died. Everything is different, and painful, and sad for a long, long time.
- Remember that this is new for each of you and there is a lot of fear involved. You can’t fix each other’s pain, but you can hold each other close and say, “I love you.”
- As hard as it is, try to find your new normal together. If you allow even one day to go by without talking together, you’re opening up room for drifting apart and getting lost in your valley of grief. You must work on this together!
If you find that you can’t do this alone as a family, it’s time to seek some therapy. Remember, the key word is “talk.” If you do not talk about what has happened, you will never be able to help each other on this journey of loss.
A family that cries together, laughs together, prays together, and talks together, stays together!
I’d love it if you would share how you’ve overcome some of the obstacles of communication shut-down within your family following the loss of a child. When we share, we can be a strong support for each other.
Chapter 6 in the book Child Loss: The Heartbreak and the Hope is devoted entirely to helping you through communication problems within the family. Read this chapter over and over again. And, then practice what it says. There is a lot of give and take within the family until following the loss of a child!
In the book, you will also be given access to some helpful information on grief yoga. I have personally been practicing yoga since the death of my son Mike. I find this to be a time of relaxation and release for me. Perhaps this is something you would find useful, too! The daily tension and stress that I feel from grief is at time overwhelming. There are days when I have such shallow breathing, and it’s difficult for me to turn my head to the side because I’m so swallowed up in grief. The yoga helps immensely with this!
It is my hope and my prayer that families of child loss stay together. I know first-hand how hard it is to see parents and children drift apart because of lack of communication. Please work hard to keep your precious family together!
My love to you always,
PS As many of you may know, I am a very active participant in the fight against child abuse. I have partnered with Church Protect, Inc., a non-profit, that is working hard to educate families, churches, and communities on how to keep our precious children safe. As part of their “healing package” they have made available home made soaps. I have personally tried several of the soaps and love them! Why not give yourself some pampering, too, while also helping a very worthwhile cause?