Although each person’s journey after a child-loss is unique, I hope to make yours a little less painful by sharing the following suggestions that helped me in those early devastating years as I was healing a broken heart.
Don’t be hesitant or embarrassed to pursue a professional counselor. Seeing a good therapist can be helpful for the entire family. I encourage any bereaved parent or sibling to consider this.
My medical doctor diagnosed me with “complicated grief disorder.” This means that the painful emotions after a loss are so severe that the patient has difficulty resuming normal life activities.
Be sure to find the right professional, preferably one who specializes in grief. Unfortunately, some of the psychiatrists I visited only wanted to prescribe anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications. This was not helpful in my case since I suffered severe side effects from each one.
I believe in the truth of this Swedish proverb: “Grief shared is halved but joy shared is doubled.” Grief groups aren’t for everyone, but my husband and I found The Compassionate Friends to be a lifesaver, especially in the beginning.
At first, I was frightened and barely able to share my story. As each person in the group shared his or her story, we began to feel connected and not as lost or alone in our grief. We learned that anger, memory loss, excessive crying, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and the inability to make simple decisions, were all “normal” after losing a child.
My husband and I gained hope from these meetings, hope that we could not only survive but, given time, could develop a new normal – and even laugh again. We learned this from other parents who were farther along in their grief. The Compassionate Friends has over 600 chapters around the country, one near you can be found on TCF National’s website.
I recommend scrutinizing everything you watch on television. The news contains so many negative stories about death and violence; a fragile heart may find it difficult to take. I avoided shows or movies that contained violence or death.
My heavy heart couldn’t bear to watch anything that wasn’t uplifting or heart-warming. If something you’re watching makes you feel worse, change the channel or turn it off completely.
Instead of watching TV or listening to music, try reading. It can be a source of relaxation and learning. I loved to read about near-death experiences, after-death communications and psychic mediums. I felt compelled to know what happened after death, where my son was and what he was experiencing.
Meditation can be extremely helpful on many levels: reducing anxiety, allowing a respite from the pain, helping to manage the responsibilities of daily life, etc.
Meditation, although sounding simple, can be a challenge. Since I am a type “A” personality, sitting quietly while pushing a myriad of thoughts out of my head seemed impossible. Most techniques involve sitting in a comfortable chair, away from noise and distractions.
Breath control is usually involved, with slow and controlled breathing techniques. The objective is to clear your mind of any and all thoughts. There are many techniques. Personally, I had the most success when listening to guided imagery.
Grieving people need exercise, even if you need to push yourself in the beginning. Change your surroundings and get your circulation flowing. It’s well worth the effort to aid in healing a broken heart.
Again, each person’s approach will vary. Some will do a simple walk; others will want something more vigorous, such as running or kick-boxing. I would use a brisk walk in a park with trails and hills in order to decrease my anxiety.
Yoga was my other favorite form of exercise. I worked on multiple things at once; stretching, balance, core strengthening, energy flow, breath control, and meditation. Other people prefer swimming, running, sports, or salsa dancing. Of course, you can always modify or change your choice of exercise as you figure out what helps you the most.
The Healing Benefits of Pets
As Bernard Williams once said, “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” There are great healing benefits from a pet’s unconditional love. Whether it is a cat, dog, or even a horse, a beloved pet can go a long way to fill the hole in a broken heart.
Read another article by Linda Zelik here.
Linda Zelik lost her 24-year-old son in 2010. She had been facilitator of the South Bay/LA chapter of TCF for seven years. The above article was adapted from her recently published book, From Despair to Hope, Survival Guide for Bereaved Parents, which can be found through this website, amazon.com. or Barnes&Noble.com.