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Presenting simple yet highly effective methods for coping and healing, this book provides answers and relief to parents trying to deal with the loss of a child. It offers 100 practical, action-oriented tips for embracing grief, such as writing a letter to the child who has died; spending time with others who will listen to stories of grief; creating a memory book, box, or Web site; and remembering others who may still be struggling with the death. The guide also addresses common problems for grieving parents, including dealing with marital stress, helping surviving siblings, dealing with hurtful advice, and exploring feelings of guilt. This compassionate resource will aid parents who have been through the death of a childwhether the passing happened recently or many years ago, whether the child was young or an adult.
About the Author
Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, is an internationally known teacher, a grief counselor, and the author of The Journey Through Grief and The Understanding Your Grief Journal. He is director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and faculty member at the University of Colorado Medical School’s department of family medicine. He is the “Children and Grief” columnist for Bereavement magazine and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and NBC’s Today. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart
100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies
By Alan D. Wolfelt
Center for Loss and Life TransitionCopyright © 2002 Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
KNOW THAT YOU WILL SURVIVE.
All the veteran grieving parents I have ever had the privilege of meeting and learning from would want me to tell you this first: You will survive.
If your loss was recent, you may think you cannot get through this. You can and you will. It will be excruciatingly difficult, yes, but over time and with the love and support of others, your grief will soften and you will find ways to be happy again. There will come a day when the death is not the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.
Many newly bereaved parents also struggle with feeling they don't want to survive. Again, those who have gone before you want you to know that while this feeling is normal, it willpass. One day in the not-too-distant future you will feel that life is worth living again. For now, think of how important you are to your remaining children, your partner, your own parents and siblings, your friends.
As time passes, you may also choose not simply to survive, but to truly live. The remainder of your life can be full and rich and satisfying if you choose life over mere existence.
If you're feeling you won't make it through the next few weeks or months, talk to someone about your feelings of panic and despair. The simple act of expressing these feelings may render them a little less powerful.
KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You are not alone. In the United States alone, more than 100,000 children die each year. (In other, less fortunate countries, of course, this number is staggeringly higher.) This number does not include miscarriages and stillbirths. Countless more adult children die; consider that most people who die in their fifties or younger leave behind a surviving parent. If you add up these numbers and consider all the children who have died in the last two decades, this means that literally millions of other parents are grieving the death of a child.
I do not mean to diminish your unique pain. What matters to you, perhaps, is not that thousands of other children die every year but that your precious child has died. It is not the same. It is never the same.
Still, even though your grief is indeed your grief and no one else was quite like your child, many other grieving parents have walked this lonely road. Reaching out to them, listening to them, and embracing their support and their messages of hope and healing will probably help make your grief journey more tolerable.
The Compassionate Friends is the largest organization of grieving parents and its chapters hold support groups in hundreds of communities across the United States. Visit them on the web at www.compassionatefriends.org. Bereaved Parents of the U.S.A. (www.bereavedparentsusa.org) is another growing and reputable organization. For parents who have no surviving children, a group called Alive Alone (www.alivealone.org) may offer valuable assistance.
If you are ready and it feels right for you, look into support groups for grieving parents in your area.
ALLOW FOR NUMBNESS.
Feelings of shock, numbness and disbelief are nature's way of temporarily protecting us from the full reality of the death of someone loved. Like anesthesia, they help us survive the pain of our early grief. Be thankful for numbness.
We often think, "I will wake up and this will not have happened." Early mourning can feel like being in a dream. Your emotions will need time to catch up with what your mind has been told.
For grieving parents, feelings of passivity often go hand-in-hand with numbness. You may feel a child-like need to be fed, dressed, and led through the day. You may need others to make even simple decisions for you.
Even after you have moved beyond these initial feelings, don't be surprised if they reemerge. Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries often trigger these normal and necessary feelings. Or sometimes feelings of shock and numbness will surface for no apparent reason.
If you're feeling numb, cancel any commitments that require concentration and decision-making. Allow yourself time to regroup. Find a "safe haven" that you might be able to retreat to for a few days.
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRIEF AND MOURNING.
Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone loved dies. Grief is the weight in the chest, the churning in the gut, the unspeakable thoughts and feelings.
Mourning is the outward expression of grief. Mourning is crying, journaling, creating artwork, talking to others about the death, telling the story, speaking the unspeakable.
Everyone grieves when someone loved dies, but if we are to heal, we must also mourn.
Many of the ideas in this book are intended to help you mourn the death of your child, to express your grief outside of yourself. Over time, and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal.
Ask yourself this: Have I truly been mourning the death of my child or have I restricted myself to grieving?
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF.
The journey through grief is a long and difficult one, especially for parents whose child has died. This death is wrong — it is unnatural, it is out of order, it is unfair, it is unfathomable.
Be compassionate with yourself as you encounter painful thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to think and do whatever you need to think and do to survive.
Don't judge yourself or try to set a particular course for healing. There is no single, right way to grieve and there is no timetable.
Let your journey be what it is. And let yourself — your new, grieving self — be who you are.
If others judge you or try to direct your grief in ways that seem hurtful or inappropriate, ignore them. You are the only expert of your grief. Usually such people are well-intentioned but they lack insight. See if you can muster some compassion for them, too.
What are you beating yourself up about these days? If you have the energy (and you won't always), address the problem head-on. If you can do something about it, do it. If you can't, try to be self-forgiving.
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOUR SPOUSE.
Someone else is grieving this death as deeply as you are. Unless you are widowed or a single parent, the child's other parent is also mired in grief. Be as compassionate and nonjudgmental as you can be about your partner's reactions to the death. Give each other permission to mourn differently.
Grieving parents are often not able to support one another well in the early weeks and months of their grief. They are simply too overcome with their own thoughts and feelings to be truly helpful to someone else. This is normal and not a marital failure.
Mothers sometimes feel that they are more affected by the death of a child. In fact, some research has shown that a mother's grief is more disabling and longer-lasting. Yet the intensity of feeling often depends most on the parent's closeness to the child, not on gender. Fathers often feel the same depths of grief when a child dies, though these feelings are sometimes not expressed.
Largely due to societal norms and expectations, fathers and mothers tend to mourn differently. Men often appear to be more stoic, and they may want to return to work faster. Women are typically more outwardly emotional and slower to return to daily routines. Yet in some marriages, these roles seem to be reversed. All these responses are normal and are not a gauge of the parent's love for the child who died.
Today, plan a time to talk to your partner about your child and any unreconciled feelings you have toward him or her regarding the death, even if the death was long ago. Your goal is not to accuse or judge but rather to listen and to love.
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOUR SURVIVING CHILDREN.
Grieving siblings are often "forgotten mourners." This means that their parents and family as well as friends and society tend to overlook their ongoing grief or attempt to soothe it away.
What grieving siblings really need is for adults to be open and honest with them about the death. And they need to know that their grief is important, too, and that their unique thoughts and feelings are acknowledged.
Share your grief with your surviving children and make time to understand theirs. They must be your priority. If you just can't make yourself emotionally available right now, gently explain this to the child and appoint another adult as grief helper for the time-being.
Don't put your surviving children in the position of having to parent you. Be honest with them about your grief but do not expect them to be your main source of comfort.
On the other hand, try not to let your grief consume your household day in and day out. Your surviving children have many daily needs — school, activities, nutrition, hygiene, birthdays and other special occasions. Your home should still be a sanctuary for your surviving children. If you simply cannot attend to your children's needs right now, appoint other family members and friends to help.
Hold a family meeting and talk to your children about their feelings since the death. Even if the death wasn't recent, you may uncover lingering resentments, fears and regrets. Expressing these feelings may help bring your family closer together.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #1: Acknowledge the reality of the death.
Your child has died. This is probably the most difficult reality in the world to accept. Yet gently, slowly and patiently you must embrace this reality, bit by bit, day by day.
Whether your child's death was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may occur over weeks, months, even years.
You will first acknowledge the reality of the loss with your head. Only over time will you come to acknowledge it with your heart.
At times you may push away the reality of the death. This is normal and necessary for your survival. You will come to integrate the reality in doses as you are ready.
Tell someone about your child today. Talking about both the life and the death will help you work on this important need.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #2: Embrace the pain of the loss.
This need requires mourners to embrace the pain of their loss — something we naturally don't want to do. It is easier to avoid, repress or push away the pain of grief than it is to confront it.
It is in embracing your grief, however, that you will learn to reconcile yourself to it.
In the early days after the death of your child, your pain may seem ever-present. Your every thought and feeling, every moment of every day, may seem painful. During this time, you will probably need to seek refuge from your pain. Go for a walk, read a book, watch TV, talk to supportive friends and family about the normal things of everyday life.
While you do need to embrace the pain of your loss, you must do it in doses, over time. You simply cannot take in the enormity of your loss all at once. It's healthy to seek distractions and allow yourself bits of pleasure each day.
If you feel up to it, allow yourself a time for embracing pain today. Dedicate 15 minutes to thinking about and feeling the loss. Reach out to someone who doesn't try to take your pain away and spend some time with him.
UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING
Need #3: Remember the person who died.
When someone loved dies, they live on in us through memory.
To heal, parents need to actively remember the child who died and commemorate the life that was lived.
Never let anyone take your memories away in a misguided attempt to save you from pain. It's good for you to continue to display photos of your child. It's good to talk about memories, both happy and sad. It's good to cherish clothing and other items that belonged to your child.
In the early weeks and months of your grief, you may fear that you will forget your child — the details of her face, the tone of his voice, the special lilt in her walk. Rest assured that while time may blur some of your memories, as you slowly shift your relationship from one of presence to one of memory, you will indeed remember.
Remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.
Excerpted from Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart by Alan D. Wolfelt. Copyright © 2002 Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsAlso by Alan Wolfelt:,
1. - KNOW THAT YOU WILL SURVIVE.,
2. - KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE.,
3. - ALLOW FOR NUMBNESS.,
4. - UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRIEF AND MOURNING.,
5. - BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF.,
6. - BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOUR SPOUSE.,
7. - BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOUR SURVIVING CHILDREN.,
8. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
9. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
10. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
11. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
12. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
13. - UNDERSTAND THE SIX NEEDS OF MOURNING,
14. - KNOW THAT GRIEF DOES NOT PROCEED IN ORDERLY, PREDICTABLE "STAGES.",
15. - CRY.,
16. - BE AWARE THAT YOUR GRIEF AFFECTS YOUR BODY, HEART, SOCIAL SELF AND SPIRIT.,
17. - EXPECT TO HAVE A MULTITUDE OF FEELINGS.,
18. - KNOW THAT IT'S OK TO FEEL ANGRY.,
19. - FIND WAYS TO UNDERSTAND AND COME TO THE LIMITS OF YOUR GUILT.,
20. - MOVE TOWARD YOUR GRIEF, NOT AWAY FROM IT.,
21. - PREPARE TO ANSWER "THE QUESTION.",
22. - COMMUNICATE OPENLY WITH YOUR FAMILY.,
23. - USE THE NAME OF YOUR CHILD.,
24. - TELL THE STORY, OVER AND OVER AGAIN IF YOU FEEL THE NEED.,
25. - REACH OUT AND TOUCH.,
26. - TREASURE YOUR CONCEPT OF WHO YOUR CHILD WAS.,
27. - KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOVED.,
28. - WORK ON YOUR MARRIAGE.,
29. - COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PARTNER ABOUT YOUR SEX LIFE.,
30. - ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL SELFISH OR RESENTFUL.,
31. - GET AWAY FROM IT ALL.,
32. - SAY NO.,
33. - PRACTICE BREATHING IN AND OUT.,
34. - RESET YOUR CLOCK.,
35. - TAKE SOME TIME OFF WORK.,
36. - GO EASY ON PEOPLE WHO SAY STUPID THINGS.,
37. - BE COMPASSIONATE IN JUDGING OTHER PARENTS.,
38. - UNDERSTAND THE UNIQUE NEEDS OF GRIEVING FATHERS.,
39. - UNDERSTAND THE UNIQUE NEEDS OF GRIEVING MOTHERS.,
40. - UNDERSTAND THE UNIQUE NEEDS OF GRIEVING GRANDPARENTS.,
41. - WEAR A SYMBOL OF MOURNING.,
42. - VISIT THE CEMETERY.,
43. - FIND WAYS TO CONTINUE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CHILD WHO DIED.,
44. - UNDERSTAND THE ROLE OF "LINKING OBJECTS.",
45. - DO WHAT FEELS RIGHT WITH YOUR CHILD'S ROOM AND BELONGINGS.,
46. - LET GO OF DESTRUCTIVE MYTHS ABOUT GRIEF AND MOURNING.,
47. - LIVE FOR YOUR CHILD.,
48. - KNOW THAT IT'S NORMAL TO RETHINK DEATH.,
49. - WRITE A LETTER.,
50. - DON'T EXPECT YOURSELF TO MOURN OR HEAL IN A CERTAIN WAY OR IN A CERTAIN TIME.,
51. - BE MINDFUL OF ANNIVERSARIES.,
52. - TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF.,
53. - KEEP A JOURNAL.,
54. - ACKNOWLEDGE ALL THE LOSSES THIS DEATH HAS WROUGHT.,
55. - ORGANIZE A TREE PLANTING.,
56. - PLAN A CEREMONY.,
57. - ORGANIZE A MEMORY BOOK.,
58. - SUBSCRIBE TO HEALING.,
59. - DON'T BE ALARMED BY "GRIEFBURSTS.",
60. - THINK YOUNG.,
61. - FOLLOW YOUR NOSE.,
62. - LISTEN TO THE MUSIC.,
63. - PRAY.,
64. - LEARN SOMETHING NEW.,
65. - TAKE A RISK.,
66. - PICTURE THIS.,
67. - HELP OTHERS.,
68. - VOLUNTEER.,
69. - LAUGH.,
70. - VISIT THE GREAT OUTDOORS.,
71. - BRIGHTEN UP YOUR ENVIRONMENT.,
72. - SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE.,
73. - ESTABLISH A MEMORIAL FUND IN THE NAME OF YOUR CHILD.,
74. - TALK TO A COUNSELOR.,
75. - WATCH FOR WARNING SIGNS.,
76. - LOOK INTO SUPPORT GROUPS.,
77. - PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE HOLIDAYS.,
78. - FIND A GRIEF "BUDDY.",
79. - DO SOMETHING YOU'RE GOOD AT.,
80. - REACH OUT TO OTHERS FOR HELP.,
81. - SPEND TIME ALONE.,
82. - TALK OUT LOUD TO THE CHILD WHO DIED.,
83. - KNOW THAT IT'S NORMAL TO FEEL THE PRESENCE OF YOUR CHILD.,
84. - SET ASIDE THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH AS A HOLIDAY.,
85. - CELEBRATE THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHILD WHO DIED.,
86. - TAKE A MINI-VACATION.,
87. - RECONNECT WITH SOMEONE SPECIAL.,
88. - RELEASE ANY BAD FEELINGS OR REGRETS YOU MAY HAVE ABOUT THE FUNERAL AND BURIAL.,
89. - REMEMBER OTHERS WHO HAD A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILD.,
90. - ALLOW FOR FEELINGS OF UNFINISHED BUSINESS.,
91. - SCHEDULE SOMETHING THAT GIVES YOU PLEASURE EACH AND EVERY DAY.,
92. - JOIN THE CLUB.,
93. - TEACH OTHERS ABOUT GRIEF AND MOURNING.,
94. - EXPRESS YOUR FAITH.,
95. - IDENTIFY THREE PEOPLE YOU CAN TURN TO ANYTIME YOU NEED A FRIEND.,
96. - GET A NEW HAIRCUT, HIGHLIGHT OR COLOR.,
97. - REASSESS YOUR PRIORITIES.,
98. - MAKE A LIST OF GOALS.,
99. - UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF "RECONCILIATION.",
100. - EMBRACE THE WAYS IN WHICH YOU ARE GROWING THROUGH GRIEF.,
A FINAL WORD,
THE MOURNER'S CODE - Ten Self-Compassionate Principles,
SEND US YOUR IDEAS FOR HEALING A PARENT'S GRIEVING HEART!,
ALSO BY ALAN WOLFELT,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
i read this book and it is wonderful..i just recently lost my 2 year old to a drowning while i was at work..her older sister was there and she is having nightmares..the book has helped me cope with how to sleep and how to remember her like she was (which i will always remember her like she was) she was my angel and i will never forget her...i tell you read the book it helps