Friday, November 23, 2007

Handling grief

Tertia asked a few bloggers to do a blog post on how to help others to deal with their grief. Someone asked her what was the best way to help a friend deal with it. Everyone deals with grief differently and that is why she has asked some others to also give their point of view. The following people have also participated:

Cecily - lost babies
Snikolett - lost her husband to cancer
Alida - recently got diagnosed with cancer
Billie - micropreemie twins with some serious health issues

To help me get started I asked my friend who recently lost twins at 26 weeks for her thoughts. This is what she replied:
Q1: Did you find the way I interacted with you about your losses was ok for you or do you feel I could have done or said more or less?
A: Yes it was perfect. Also found it quite useful to chat to you because you could empathise as you have been through similar loss before whereas others who have not been through this don't know how to react or how we are feeling.
Q2: Are there things that other people did that you feel they should have done differently?
A: At no point did anyone offend or upset me so I can't think of anything that anyone did that they should have done differently. I found that some people only contacted us much later as they didn't know what to say or how to approach us at 1st, but I think this is normal as I've experienced and probably done the same with others in their time of loss. Now that I think about it - how do you feel about this question? When you lost Kendra I had no experience on loss so I probably wasn't as supportive to you as I could or should have been. I think that in most cases one would relate better and get better support from those who have been in the same boat before - but that's just my opinion.
Q3: It is hard when people seem to start forgetting after a while and everyone's life carries on as normal.
A: Agreed, and on this point I seem to also have got into this rut and it's quick to get busy and 'forget' about what's happened, although this will always be a part of our lives. It seems I may be dealing with this too well - which sometimes brings a sense of guilt to the table! This brings a question on... so how long should one grieve for? I know there is no right or wrong answer to this but the question is still there and the answer probably has an effect on whether one feels guilty or not.
Some general points / my opinions...
(1) One thing I have thought about the other day when I was writing some overseas Xmas cards, I signed them Love M, L & J with no mention of the Twins. I didn't know what was the right way - do you add the Twins names in or don't you... adding them in would acknowledge them but maybe make others feel uncomfortable or pity for us? ... not adding their names in makes it look like we have 'forgotten' them and not acknowledged them... I haven't read about this on any blogs - would be interesting to hear what others think on this point?
(2) One cannot say that getting over one type of loss is worse than another but I suspect that if you lose someone that you have 'had' in your life for a long time is much worse than to lose someone that you have only known for a short time i.e. the longer you have shared with someone the more memories you have of the person so you will be constantly reminded of that person.
(3) I found this on and thought it was quite good so you might want to use 1 or 2 ideas in your post.

A Loss For Words - Helping Parents Who Have Lost a Multiple by Amy E. Tracy
If you work with preemie families or belong to a multiples support group, chances are you’ll someday encounter parents who have lost a twin, triplet or other multiple. As someone who understands the crisis of premature birth, or the magic of multiple babies, you’ll want to help. But you may not know how. Based on suggestions from grieving parents and experts in parental grief, here are some suggestions:

  • Acknowledge the parents’ loss. When a multiple dies, parents not only lose a child, but the unique opportunity to raise twins, triplets or more. Recognize this loss. Some good things to say: "I’m sorry," or "I’m here and I want to listen." If parents named the baby, use the name. Even though one child is missing, parents often consider themselves fathers or mothers of the original set; refer to the survivors as the original number ("triplets," even if two survived).

  • Find helpful resources. Locate bereavement support groups and literature for parents who probably don’t have the energy to seek help.

  • Give a gift. When giving a new-baby present, take along a gift that acknowledges the loss. Thoughtful ideas include a figurine of animals or children that affirms parenthood of all the babies, a memorial tree for planting, or a donation to a bereaved parents’ group.

  • Think before you speak. Though perhaps well intentioned, avoid making comments that could cause painful feelings, such as: "At least you have another baby," or "It would have been too hard to raise quadruplets anyway."

  • Remember the baby. Send a card, small gift or call on holidays and anniversaries of the baby’s birth and death.

My response:

Q1 and Q2 - by including this in this post I am not trying to blow my own horn or anything I just thought it would help me to think about what I did and if it was deemed appropriate. My thoughts on this were that it IS difficult to know how to support someone when they are grieving. I know my friend is a very private person and will not show everyone how she feels so my approach was to let her know that I am here for her if she needs to chat about it and to offer my help in practical ways. To talk about how it was for me and to encourage her to talk about it and not bottle it all in. Sometimes I feel that I could have done more and maybe would have if it had been someone else - a different type of person.

I try and think back to how various people reacted to me and what worked and what didn't. Some friends phoned me up a few times to see how I was doing, some friends left comments on my blog, some sent emails and others never really talked about it. As the article above says, you need to acknowledge a person's grief and the child/person that has been lost. Yes, you don't necessarily want to talk to them in the middle of a party when they are obviously in a happier space, you have to pick your moments which can be quite difficult if you only see them in that sort of environment. So generally most of my friends and family handled it well although you will always get a few thoughtless comments especially after a while and you just have to think that not everyone is absorbed so totally in your loss. Recently some friends decided that instead of buying gifts for each other we would each buy a gift for underpriviledged children in an initiative called the Shoebox project. We were each given the name of child to buy for. My child was a 2,5 year old girl - exactly the age Kendra would have been now. A bit thoughtless? Maybe but I realised that they just took 2 lists of names and matched them together without looking at who was matched to who. Last year this would have been incredibly painful but now it is a bit easier to deal with. I suppose I could have swapped with somebody but I bought the gift and survived.

Which brings me neatly to Q3. There is no end to grieving. It will never end. But it does change in nature. It gradually moves from being a sharp constant pain to a dull throb, many times suppressed to the point of not knowing that it is there but always under the surface, popping up at the oddest times. I did a post a while back where I talk about the nature of grief and refer to another blog where she expresses it really well. Check it out. I think the thing to remember is that you should not feel guilty about how you feel. You go through different stages of grief, sometimes it is raw and in your face and other times far away. You are dealing with enough without feeling guilty about it.

Ok, I think I am rambling a bit here and going off the topic. Going into talking about grief instead of advising people on how to help others with their grief. The points above by Amy Tracy are right on the money. Snickollet has raised some very good points on helping your friend in a practical way. I suppose it depends on the individual circumstances but I think this practical advice will be helpful no matter what type of a person you are.

When Kendra died we had people in the house all day the day after she died. Some people made us breakfast, some cleaned our pool. Some brought food, some brought drinks. I appreciated that people came around to just say sorry, even though they never normally visited us. The trick is to determine if your friend wants to talk about her/his loss or would rather be distracted. Sometimes you have to ask them outright.

As Tertia says in her blog, she sent a letter out to her colleagues (one of whom was me) after she lost Ben. To tell you the truth before she sent out the letter I was terrified of seeing her for the first time. I did not know what to say to her and thought that I might cry if I said more than 2 words to her. I bumped into her in the kitchen, just said I am very sorry and that was it. Thinking back on it I feel I should have said more but I just did not know what to say. I think that letter which she sent out actually made my return to work after Kendra died easier and for this I thank you T. There were a few people who seemed to be avoiding me and some who to this day have not mentioned Kendra, but generally people came up to me and said they were sorry, some just gave me a hug, some even sent cards or emails. That acknowledgement of the loss is a biggie.

Don't ever say 'it was for the best' or 'everything happens for a reason' or that kind of thing. I got quite a few of those and I really did and do not appreciate them. People say that especially when they hear she had a syndrome. Which is also something, by the way, which causes it's own grief. When Kendra was diagnosed I grieved for the little girl that I thought I had, the normal little girl. Any mother of a disabled child grieves for the child they have 'lost'.

Throughout this post I have talked in the feminine and only referred to mothers, but all of it applies to fathers as well. I only talk about the moms because I am a mom and most of the blogs I read are written by moms. Fathers grieve differently to mothers and are often left out of the 'consoling' process but don't forget the dads, they are just as heartbroken.

In conclusion please go here and read some more helpful tips on dealing with grieving friends. This is also a good site if you have lost a baby. I am sorry this was so longwinded. This is what happens when one doesn't post for quite a while!

Oh, one last thing, in response to point 1 above about sending out greeting cards. I have the same dilemma. Should I put Kendra's name on a birthday or Christmas card? Sometimes I do and sometimes not. Sometimes I think people will think it strange if I put her name on, maybe they will think I am in denial or something. But the more I think about it the more I think so what! Who cares what anyone else thinks? If I want to put her name on a card I will. She is still my daughter even if she is not physically here. And that is my last word for now. Please go read the other blogs mentioned above.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks V (& L), that was a much needed post. I never know entirely what to say when someone has experienced a loss, but always feel the need to, and afterwards wonder if I've said or done the right thing. I will refer back to this specific post in future as one tends to forget what the 'right' thing to do is. I don't think any of us will ever forget Kendra. She was such a precious little girl. I know that I will always have a sacred place in my heart especially reserved for her...along with the children of friends who have experienced similar losses. Please know that I'm always here for you - all of you.
Much love, c xxx

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