Understanding the Unexpected Aspects of Grief
A few tips to help you through this difficult time.
By Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD
The Disorienting Sorrow of Miscarriage & Child Loss
For most people, the death of a pregnancy, baby or child is different from any other loss you might have gone through. Your reactions to this special sorrow may surprise and distress you more than any other grief you’ve known. At least 4 factors help explain what makes it so disorienting.
1. Child loss disrupts the natural order
Children are not supposed to die before their parents. When this happens, it feels like Nature has betrayed you. The disorienting reality can suddenly make everything feel untrustworthy, like you’ve lost your moorings.
2. Your hopes and dreams suffer
You get attached to visions of your children growing up and to an imagined future with them. When a child dies, the hopes and dreams you had for yourself in relation to them dies, too, and that dual suffering can be unbearable.
3. Friends stay away
After an initial acknowledgment, you might find your friends with children pulling away, just when you need them the most. It’s as if the tragic loss you are grieving hits too close to home. They don’t know how to help or what to say. They aren’t comfortable with the reminder that sometimes there’s no stopping the death of a child, so they distance themselves from you.
4. There’s ongoing identity confusion
If this child was your first, you might be confused about whether you can still call yourself a parent. If this child was not your first, you might feel odd when asked how many children do you have. Either way, the subject is perpetually painful.
Women and Men Tend to Grieve Differently
- Tend to have sadness /depression
- Process grief in conversation with friends / family
- Tend to have decreased appetite
- May sleep less than usual
- Cry easily, even at seemingly unrelated things
- Tend to be lethargic in early months after loss
- Tend to have need to understand
- Fear loss of love from spouse / family
- Focused on past: want to remember
- Tend to have denial, displaced anger behaviors
- Process grief silently and alone
- Tend to have increased appetite
- May sleep more than usual
- Can’t cry, or have difficulty allowing self to cry
- Tend to have unfocused, urgent energy in early grief
- Tend to have need to place blame
- Fear loss of a sense of personal power
- Focused on future: want to move on
- Need to fix partner’s sorrow
- Feel helpless
It Can Take at Least a Year ~ or Longer ~ to Adjust to this New Reality
Have you been pressured already by well-meaning friends or family to move on with your life? Do you feel like no one understands or wants to listen to your sorrow? If so, I want you to know something very important — the death of a loved one has likely created for you a whole new reality.
The process of grieving is not only about going through the stages of shock, anger, depression, and acceptance of your loss. It’s also a process of adjusting to their absence, and to who you are now, without them.
Part of grieving has to do with recognizing and accepting that you now are changed in a deep way. This death will always be a part of you, and because of it, you may have altered perspectives, different needs, new interests. In a way, your grief is a transformative rite of passage.
Grieving does not need to be rushed. In fact, it’s healthier for you if you take your time. When I work with clients who are grieving — whether for a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child or infant, another family member or friend — I encourage them to resist the impatient world’s advice to hurry up / get over it /move on. If you feel like you want help with understanding this loss, adjusting to your new reality, and or any other aspect of the work of grieving, I’m here to help.
Grieving is a highly individualized process.
You might feel it is something that you are going through which in time will let go of you. Or you might relate to it as something that you are actively working through. Both ways are quite natural and common.
Mental health counselors tend to discourage people from making major decisions and changes in the first year, especially if the loss was due to a traumatic incident. Each holiday and family anniversary can be a hard adjustment as the first year unfolds and sorrow is renewed at those times. But you might find it beneficial to talk with a grief specialist if — after an initial few months of bereavement — you are having difficulty:
- coping with the painful sadness
- feeling safe on your own
- sleeping or eating
- taking care of your personal health
- caring for your children
- concentrating or making decisions
- performing work tasks with proficiency
- handling financial tasks and responsibilities
- reintegrating into everyday life
About the Author:
Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County NJ. She has been providing affirmative, compassionate and individualized help to Individuals, Couples and Families since 1990.