Monday, September 28, 2009

Bereaved Parent Bond

It's no longer a surprise to feel a connection with someone I've just met. A connection that feels like I've met another member of my family. I'm speaking of course of the moment when two parents come to understand that they are both bereaved. When, someone says, "I've lost a child." And the individual's response isn't "I'm sorry," followed by helplessness, or that scary silence or "God's plan," or "Well at least it wasn't" or some other response that is many times comforting, and sometimes not. Rather, the response are those knowing tears behind the eyes that accompany the "I'm sorry" and a "I also had a child die."

"Then you know," frequently accompanies my sigh of relief. I'm relieved not because they suffer the same never-ending missing and the intense overpowering sorrow. We feel relieved, I think, because we are released from worrying about what they will say to us next. We are released from protecting them from how sad we still are. We are released from modifying the horrible, sometimes graphic, stories of how our children died. And we don't feel obligated (though, I understand it's usually a self-imposed feeling of obligation) to put on a strong face so they don't worry about us.

I met Kyle's father this weekend. He asked about my work, and to explain some of my challenges I included the tragedy of our daughter's death. And Kyle's dad responded without a flinch, and understanding eyes. "I'm so sorry," he replied, "we lost our son." Then he put his head in his hands and the tears escaped. "And you try to *move on, but it's so hard." We had a brief exchange about our children, but then back to work.

[I don't much care for the words, "move on," but the longer I live this bereaved existence, I find that several bereaved fathers, including Caitlin's sometimes use this phrase. Caitlin's dad says, it's not meant to be "getting over our daughter," but meant to say "continuing to live." And although DH doesn't use this when talking to me about Caitlin anymore, I'm trying to be more sensitive to how men process grief; and if a dad needs to use that phrase in his grief, then I try to respect that.]


  1. I've found that this is very true early on. Its just so much easier talking to another bereved parent verses those who havent experienced our loss. I sometimes feel that this blogland is my outlet and I am so thankful and saddend by everyones presence here.

  2. I think it is the ease of having to say nothing. No explanation of what makes all this so hard after six months, a year, or more...we are just all surviving and learning to live this new life. Sometimes I think it is like we all are veterans of the same war. We don't have to talk about the landscape everyday, but when we do, the strange juxtaposition of trauma, pride, love and sadness can all co-exist with just the phrase, "It's so hard."

  3. I get what you mean about the 'moving on' bit. You have to be really careful about what you mean if you say it. He's right, I take it as being about living again and not about 'getting over it'. When people use it in the latter context I get really, really mad. :(

  4. I am so grateful for the other bereaved mothers I have met in the blog world. They understand. Your words are always so helpful.

  5. Thank you for the comments about how men process grief. I'm having a tough time with that difference right now and I appreciate your insight.

  6. Today my cousin called to tell me that someone at her work lost a 30 year old son. Her son was stabbed to death because he got into a minor arguement. I cried as I heard about this 50 year old mom who I was told was barely able to contain herself. I told my cousin to be there for her, to support her and remember if she does not do that because she is faint hearted, this mom will remember her lack of support for life. My heart cried for this mom and I just wanted to go and hug her. This empathy is Akul's gift to me.

  7. I think there's also a larger community of grief and loss that, though I hate I'm here, I'm so thankful people recognize each other with sheer honesty.

    YES, I thought, when I read this in Elizabeth Strout's book _Olive Kitteredge_ for its matter-of-fact truth:

    "My wife died in December," he said.
    Olive watched the river. "Then you're in hell," she said.
    "Then, I'm in hell."

  8. That makes me long to have such a conversation. Not that I wish any person in this world could relate. But I imagine it must be "nice", in a twisted and painful way, to see the understanding in another person's eyes.

    And wonderful observation about how men process grief.

  9. Hubby says that he doesn't want to "move on," he just wants to be able to "move forward..." I like the idea of moving forward...