Dr. Wendy Lichtenthal is a researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and many of her interests focus on grieving. She spoke with Dr. Gloria Horsley during the Association for Death Education and Counseling 2015 conference about how parents can heal after losing a child. “We are doing an intervention development study… focusing on finding meaning after the loss of a child,” she explains. An almost impossible task is finding meaning in your own life as well as the life of your child, she says. Meaning Center Grief Therapy is currently being tested with feedback from bereaved parents.
Dr. Horsley points out that in American cultures, and many others, parents are encouraged to “move on.” However, that’s often not the best approach. Dr. Lichtenthals’ research helps parents hold on and continue making connections even after a child’s death. There’s a Living Legacy Project connected to the program that nurtures that link between child and parent. Many people may think too much connecting isn’t a good thing, but that connection is healthy and essential. Mindfulness exercises are one of the many approaches being tested in the research.
Connecting after Death
What helps is whatever’s meaningful to the parent. So far, the sessions have been largely split between men and women. Parents are welcomed into research sessions and are welcome to bring their partners (whether a co-parent or not). This is where healthy means of grieving and conversing are discussed. Men and women grieve differently, but Dr. Lichtenthal says that understanding how one another communicates is key to marriages surviving the loss of a child.
Regarding divorce after the loss of a child, Dr. Lichtenthal says it’s a myth. There certainly are challenges, but never think you’re at a high risk of a divorce due to death of a child. However, caring for relationships—especially after a tragedy—is paramount.