My name is Maria and I am Noah’s mother. I wrote this paper while going to school for psychology and hope it can be beneficial in the understanding of grief and how parents cope with the death of a child.
The goal is to unravel the grief process and the transformation occurring after a child crosses to the other side. The fundamental questions that will guide the research are: how do parents recover from a child’s loss because of cancer? What is the most significant change that occurs in the life of a parent after their child dies? Is there a healthier way to grieve the death of a child? The goal is to gather enough data from parents that have gone through this hardship to find out what has worked for them, which will inform the tools to cope and how to find a purpose to continue living, even when the emotional pain is extreme.
In the Maternal study Grief: A Qualitative Investigation of Mothers’ Responses to the Death of a Child From Cancer, the researcher conducted a survey to learn about the different coping styles among mothers that lost their child to cancer. All parents shared in common the feeling of loss and restoration-oriented coping and believed that they would spend the rest of their lives shifting from both types of grief.
Regardless of what time had passed since the death, they all experienced times when they felt their sorrow and times when they focused on completing tasks associated with moving on with their lives in the absence of their child “(Björk, M., Sundler, A. J., Hallström, I., & Hammarlund, K. 2016). In the article Like Being Covered in a Wet and Dark Blanket, the author points out that some parents do not recover from their loss and fall into a deep depression for years after their child’s passing. However, most parents will find meaning in their child’s death, which will lead to a transformation in their view of life.
After learning about the positive changes that can occur in the way parents view life instead of before their child’s crossing, the next question that came up in the research was: What’s the most significant
change in parents’ lives after the child dies? The question led to many parents’ answers; however, they all shared one thing in common: a reexamination of their self-identity and life values. A study with 13 mothers that lost their children “led them to reexamine their self-identity in the wake of their child’s death, with most reporting changes in their perceptions of self, other people, and in their assumption about the world” (Björk, M., Sundler, A. J., Hallström, I., & Hammarlund, K. 2016). Parent’s forever changed the priorities, and they reframed the socalled problems and became more present in the now because they understood the future was too uncertain. An appreciation for every moment and every breath emerged, the parents became more consciously awaken to life. As one mother stated; “the life and death
stuff makes you focus on what’s important in life, what are the priorities, and I guess that’s probably the fundamental change” (Björk, M., Sundler, A. J., Hallström, I., & Hammarlund, K. 2016).
Despite the acceptance of the child’s death, the parents interviewed explained in Palliative & Supportive Care that the feeling of sadness and longing for the child’s touch will forever remain despite the passing of time. This finding confirms that there is no such thing as overcoming a child’s death entirely but learning how to live and make peace with the grief. The grieving parents seeking to cope with the sadness find that there is increased compassion that overwhelms their hearts because of their loss. The parents become more empathetic toward the suffering of others. As one mother expressed: “I’ve always been strongly empathic, but it’s like the flavor of it has changed somehow [since the death]. See
before I imagined where they [people] were…in terms of grief. I always knew [grief] as a concept. But knowing a thing, you know there’s head knowledge, and there’s heart knowledge—this is where you’ve lived it “(Björk, M., Sundler, A. J., Hallström, I., & Hammarlund, K. 2016). The research in Like Being Covered in a Wet and Dark Blanket pointed out that the parents who allowed themselves to feel the waves of emotions emerging after their loss ended up cultivating a healthier relationship with their grief. Parents who repressed the feeling by containing them instead resulted in feeling more depression and despair. One subject explained grief is “like being held underwater and when you are getting dumped, you must relax and wait for it to pass. You’ve got to be present, but you’ve got to; you mustn’t struggle with it. [It’s at these moments] that I can see [her son]; it’s like he’s here. I can feel him, I can hear his
jokes, and then suddenly it has gone, it has moved on, and I’m consumed with something that’s a bit of forwarding planning “(Björk, M., Sundler, A. J., Hallström, I., & Hammarlund, K. 2016).
Over time, all parents showed evidence of either adaptive or complicated grief responses to their child’s death. One way that allowed them to accept the death was to develop ways to continue the relationship in a more mystical manner. In the article Having Therapeutic Conversations With Fathers Grieving the Death of a Child, the author reveals that fathers who developed ways to continue the relationship in a mystical sense developed even more compassion for others’ suffering and allowed them to ease their grief. Another critical concept to point out from the same article is the importance of faith and spirituality in coping with a child’s loss. Fathers who faced the death of a child reported that “their faith and spirituality was a source of comfort to them and helped them cope” (Martinez, A.-M., Castiglione, S., Dupuis, F., Legault, A., Proulx, M.-C., & Carnevale, F. 2021). Parents who nurtured a relationship with the deceased child through writing letters or speaking to them have improved the way they cope with the loss and that society needs to “change in the way bereavement is understood” (Martinez, A.- M., Castiglione, S., Dupuis, F., Legault, A., Proulx, M.-C., & Carnevale, F. 2021).
Based on the research findings, grief can positively affect the parents’ lives, bringing about a transformation in self-identity, life’s priorities, and an awakening to the meaning of life. Different coping styles vary from loss and restoration-oriented coping, and most parents will fluctuate between the two. To support the thesis, here’s a metaphor explained by a parent grieving that describes grief as “like being covered in a dark and wet blanket, which suggests a way of handling the grief to live in the moment since the future is too uncertain. As the years’ pass, the blanket became drier, and life became brighter and less oppressed, but it would always be present” (Björk, M., Sundler, A. J., Hallström, I., & Hammarlund, K. 2016). The assumption drawn from the research states that compassion increases in the parent’s lives towards others’ suffering because of the grief. Also, many parents noted the importance of faith and spirituality in coping with loss—parents who continued the relationship mystically with their loved ones who crossed helped ease the sadness.
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