SECRETS’ CORNER: Nothing like losing a child
A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But . . . there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that’s how awful the loss is! – Jay Neugeboren.
PARENTS EXPECT their children will bury them as this is usually the natural course of life. But sometimes it doesn’t happen this way. A serious illness or tragic accident snatches a child away at a tender age.
A friend of a woman who experienced such loss asked us: “How would you comfort a woman in her 40s who has lost her only child to a rare disease?” She explained that her friend, who was always energetic and happy, now seems not to care about anything. It’s as if she is in a constant daze.
Each of those who responded by text, email and phone empathized with this mum. One comment texted to us best summed up the feelings of respondents The individual said: “I don’t think any amount of comforting would help in such a case. A woman is inconsolable after losing one of several children – never mind an only child. That would be devastating. She may even need counselling. I don’t think she would get over it in a hurry.”
The reality is that the grief of parents over the loss of a child is probably the most intense. This is so because to them their present and future have been stolen from them. And when the child is the only offspring, it is the ultimate loss as it not only means no grandchildren or anyone to continue the family line, but it also means growing old alone.
The most painful part of their loss is the emptiness they feel inside. When they see other children around their child’s age with their parents and recognize that they would never again be able to hug and kiss their own, it hurts. They have, too, to deal with the guilt of needing to get over the death to get on with their lives, yet still needing to remember that child and the hopes and dreams they had for him/her.
In cases of such intense grief, sessions with a trained bereavement counsellor are a must. Such counselling would provide the mother with an opportunity to let her feelings out while coming to grips with her loss. This process would be instrumental in helping her cope. The presence of family and well-wishers also helps the healing process as they provide solidarity at this trying time.
The following are edited versions of some of the responses.
•I have been through grief, and nothing anyone tells you at that time comforts you. Only the Lord gives you comfort and brings you through these trying times.”
•“To lose any child is a hard thing to deal with, let alone losing your only child. I guess that having friends and family gather round and give you strength would have to be enough to help get a woman through such a difficult time.”
•“There is no comfort for a mum who has lost a child, whether it is her only one or not. Assuming that the child was in severe pain or discomfort, the thought of the child no longer suffering may give the mother comfort . . . . In the end it will be her faith that pulls her through. Every life has a purpose and though short, that child’s life served its purpose.”
•“Keep reminding her to take comfort in her child [being relieved from] suffering and that he/she is with God. That’s all you can say because only time eventually will make her pain more bearable.”
• “A few years ago my cousin lost her only child to a heart attack. A young man in his prime, he collapsed while playing football. She is also in her late 40s . . . . ”
• “I am no authority, but have found that helping others takes one’s mind off of personal grief. If she could help others with the same disease or set up a foundation or do something in memory of her child, that may help in easing her pain.
•“Grief is personal and she’ll work through it in her own way. You can let her know your shoulder is always available, but you should see to her physical well-being as she would be unlikely to take care of herself properly.”
• “How can you comfort a woman in what is considered a mother’s worst nightmare that became a reality? First, comforting the broken-hearted and grieving mum does not mean you have to run off your mouth by telling her that she is still young and can “go again”.
“Second, do not take your beautiful and healthy child or children along with when you go to comfort her.
“Third, don’t dare tell her that it was for the best because the child was sickly and is now out of its suffering.
“The only comfort you can give this poor mother is to be there to cry with her. To hug her close in complete silence. To make her a cup of tea, a sandwich or a pot of soup. Between tears, she may keep repeating the words, ‘Why, dear God, why?’ Just continue to hug her close, rock her gently and say, ‘It is going to be okay. I am here for you and WE will get through this together’. No other words are necessary.”