When Your Family's Lost a Loved One
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
As a parent, you may be agonizing over the loss of your dreams for your child—what your child might have experienced and accomplished. You may be struggling with guilt over lost opportunities, missed cues, harsh words. While your spouse grieves, too, you may wonder why he or she seems so much sadder than you do—or doesn’t seem sad at all. You may feel frustrated by his or her unwillingness to talk about your child—or to stop talking about your child. You may find yourself gripped by fear over losing another child, and tending to overprotect your other children.
Those surviving children, meanwhile, may feel lost—unsure of where they fit into your family structure without that brother or sister. They may suffer “survivor guilt” and feel compelled to please you. They could fear the future as they see their parents, who used to be in control, struggle to cope with everyday matters. They might even fear that they will die themselves.
Grandparents are sometimes the forgotten mourners. Our society underestimates the impact of the death of a grandchild. But grandparents not only lose a beloved grandchild; they also experience the pain of watching their child grieve the loss. And parents never stop wanting to protect their child from pain.
Loss of a Spouse
If you’re the husband or wife who’s lost your mate, you may be feeling a sense of desperation about the future—wondering how you’ll get a meal on the table, pay the bills, make decisions on your own, endure the loneliness. You may have mixed feelings about whether or not you’ll marry again; perhaps you can’t stand the idea of spending the rest of your life alone, but it seems so hard to think about someone taking the place of your late spouse. You may find yourself leaning on one of your children for support, trying to turn him or her into a confidant. Perhaps you feel angry at your spouse for not seeking medical care earlier, angry with a doctor who misdiagnosed or mistreated, or angry with God.
Your children may be afraid of losing you, too. They may wonder who’s going to teach them how to throw a ball, how to bake a cake, or what it means to be a man or woman. They may feel frustrated over being different from those at school who have a mom and dad, desperate to be “normal” like everybody else. They may long for “how it used to be” in the daily routines of your family.
As the parent of a child who has lost his or her spouse, you may find yourself feeling the load of increased responsibility for your grandchildren or the surviving spouse. Perhaps you want to help, but fear interfering. You may want to make everything better, and are frustrated that you can’t. You may hurt over the pain you see in your grandchildren’s eyes, and fear the long-term effects of this loss.
Loss of Your Parent
As an adult child, you may be surprised by the intensity of your grief over losing your parent, not having anticipated what it would feel like for mom or dad to be there no longer as a resource. It may make you far more aware of your own mortality, an uncomfortable reality. You may face conflict with your siblings over an inheritance, or conflicting emotions if your relationship with your parent was strained or unresolved.
You may also be hurting for your children, who no longer have the unconditional love of a grandparent.
Perhaps you feel resentment that your spouse doesn’t seem to get how much this loss hurts—or who seems unwilling to help you care for the widow or widower who’s now alone and needy.
As we articulate our understanding of how a loss has affected other family members, without evaluating or criticizing or ridiculing, we love each other well. Identifying our issues, feelings, and thinking patterns provides the foundation for addressing them.
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