For Grieving Moms: When Others Respond in Hurtful Ways

 

Fix-It Friends

People feel helpless in the face of your loss of a child. They have an intense need to say something to lessen your pain.   They cannot understand that this pain refuses any comfort and must be processed over time to ease. They try to help by saying things that negate your pain, such as: “He’s in a better place,” or “You can have another child.” They may also tell you they know how you feel and compare your loss to their loss of a grandparent, which just feels insulting to you.  They may tell you that you “should” not be feeling these deep grief feelings, or worse yet, blame you or your child for your loss (Klass, 1997; Riches & Dawson, 1998). These people are acting out of their own needs to distance themselves from your loss. They are incapable of helping you.

What you need is someone to validate your pain and affirm your own way of handling it.  Most people are afraid that if they acknowledge your justified sorrow, you will crumble. They try to “fix-it”.  Many mothers suffer the unhelpful advice of friends and family to “move-on”. The cultural taboo of grief in our society just fuels these misconceptions about loss in general and your loss in particular.

Messages for Grieving Moms:

  • Ignore any indications from others that you should stop missing or remembering your child, and try to forgive those who make such suggestions. They cannot begin to appreciate your world or experiences.
  • Distance yourself from unhelpful people, especially anyone who negatively impacts your self-image or your memory of your child. Some people are toxic. Avoid them.
  • Educate friends and family that everyone heals differently, and you are the best expert on what you need at this time.
  • Say your memories aloud! People will avoid the subject of your child for fear of upsetting you until they hear you talk about your child first. By sharing your happy memories of your child, you teaching others that talking about your son or daughter is a welcomed topic.
  • Remember, you are not in this world to live up to other’s expectations.

Clueless Family Members

Bereaved Moms commonly express disappointment in the lack of support and empathy from family members (Hunt & Greeff, 2011-2012; Klass, 1997).  Often the most hurtful comments come from the mothers’ siblings, in-laws, or parents who simply cannot understand.  We expect more from people close to us, so their inability to respond is more devastating.  Try to remember they are frightened, both by the intensity of your pain and the terrorizing thought that it could happen to them.  Their fear drives them away or renders them unhelpful.

Messages for Moms:

  • Try to forgive all those who make insensitive and hurtful remarks, for the stabs are unintentional. Hanging on to your resentment just adds more stress to your life. Remember they are frightened and simply limited in their ability to help and respond.
  • Try to let go of expectations. Try to expect nothing of others, and just be grateful for whatever they can give, which preserves relationships and lowers your frustration.
  • Look for support elsewhere and be grateful for the support that comes in unexpected places, a common experience for bereaved Moms.

References:

Hunt, S. & Greeff, A. (2012). Parental Bereavement: A Panoramic View. Omega, 64(1), 41-63.

doi: 10.2190/OM.64.1.d

Klass, D. (1997). The deceased child in the psychic and social worlds of bereaved parents during the resolution of grief. Death Studies, 21, 147-175.

Riches, G. & Dawson, P. (1998). Lost children, living memories: The role of photographs in processes of grief adjustment among bereaved parents. Death Studies, 22(2), 121-140.

 

The above is an excerpt from Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child, by Janice Bell Meisenhelder.  Available on Amazon, it includes a section on how friends and family can best help you

 

Janice Bell Meisenhelder

More Articles Written by Janice Bell

After the loss of her 19-year-old daughter to cancer, Dr. Janice Bell Meisenhelder turned her grief work towards helping others. She used her insight as a nurse, her experience with peer counseling of other bereaved mothers, and her knowledge of the research to compose a gentle guide with practical tips for healing: Surviving the Unthinkable: The Loss of a Child. Based on scientific evidence as well as personal experience, this book provides comforting help to all bereaved mothers in short, digestible bites in a chronological order according to need by topic. It has received rave reviews from leaders of The Compassionate Friends chapters: (https://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Unthinkable-Janice-Bell-Meisenhelder/dp/0979651123) Dr. Meisenhelder holds a Doctor of Nursing Science from Boston University. Her clinical nursing practice was at Massachusetts General Hospital in medical-surgical, intensive care and oncology. With extensive experience in nursing education, she is currently a professor of nursing at Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts, teaching at both the RN-BSN and Graduate Level nursing courses. Dr. Meisenhelder has published thirty-six articles in professional and scholarly journals, including topics on coping as well as clinical guidelines for working with bereaved parents in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Dr. Meisenhelder currently resides near Boston, MA with her husband. She has one surviving daughter.

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