One of the most devastating experiences parents will ever face is the death of their child (or children). The anxiety of possibly losing a child is something with which most parents are familiar. However, when this nightmare becomes a reality, and parents realize they are in the midst of the worst experience and darkest moment of their lives, how do they deal with it?
In the following article we examine general and specific grief reactions of parents who undergo this unwanted experience, how they cope with their grief, rebuild their lives, and find new purpose and meaning beyond their loss.
A general definition of grief
It is important, first of all, to understand grief. What is grief? Grief is a normal human reaction to any type of loss, separation or trauma. Throughout the course of our lives we experience many losses. For example, individuals might lose their home, business, vehicles, personal possessions, equipment, employment, financial security, livestock, pets, relationships, innocence, reputation, aspirations, and parts of their bodies due to surgery or accident. As persons grow older they incur losses that occur as a result of the aging process: loss of youth, youthful body, hair, eyesight, ability to do certain things, sharp memory, powers of deductive reasoning, ability to “bounce back” as they did when they were younger, and physical health. Divorce is a traumatic loss for many persons, especially children who are involved. For some persons, divorce is more traumatic than loss due to death
Some of our greatest and most upsetting losses occur when our loved ones die. This might involve a spouse, children, parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, teachers, colleagues, employers or employees.
Some deaths take place gradually, as in the case of a prolonged terminal illness, while other deaths occur suddenly and without warning, as in the case of a heart attack or vehicular accident.
Grief is no respecter of persons. It occurs in all of our lives, regardless of our race, gender, level of education, vocation, religious beliefs or philosophy of life.
Although some losses are minor, other losses are major and have a traumatic effect. Ironically, the so-called “minor” losses sometimes prove to be not-so-insignificant after all. What appears to the outside observer to be only a “minor” loss in another person’s life could, in fact, be very significant, especially when that “minor” loss is understood in the context of the accumulated losses in that person’s life and the way in which that individual processes that particular loss. The separate losses in our lives tend to flow into the larger accumulation of losses so that, when a particular loss occurs in the present, it causes us to remember the pain we have associated with all the other previous losses that have occurred throughout our lives. This can be explained in terms of a stimulus-response that occurs spontaneously. This can present a problem to the bereaved individual, especially if there are unresolved grief issues in his/her past history.
Thus grief is that normal human reaction we experience when loss occurs, and it is important for us to understand grief in order to be healed (physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually) from its traumatic effects and also avoid some of the possible devastating effects of unresolved grief. Grief has been described by one of the leading experts in the field of grief work as the “number one killer.” We know that there is a definite relationship between grief, illness, and death. .