When a sailing ship is caught in a storm on the ocean it is subject to many forces from the strong winds and waves tugging at it. The crew must work together to keep the sails and masts from being torn away. They have to prevent the ship from taking on too much water. They must secure the contents of the ship so the least damage is done to the contents or to the ship itself. When the storm subsides the ship is either completely destroyed, moderately damaged or it continues its journey unscathed. The crew who worked so hard together is often bonded closer than ever before -- if they survive -- as the result of their efforts. In the event of damage however the crew may not be so bonded but rather blame and fight among themselves.
Similarly the marriage that struggles with the terrible grief of the death of a child must wrestle with many enormous forces to survive. If the marriage is a strong one and if the partners work together they may survive and prosper, even stronger in their commitment to one another. If their marriage is not so strong they will have a great deal of work to do to repair the damage. If their marriage is in trouble from the start much of their effort will be wasted, though it is not impossible that strength will be gathered to repair the marriage.
It has been said that 75% of marriages where a death of a child has occurred terminate or at least have a period of separation as a result of the loss (*see author's note on statistics). It is hard to verify this particular statistic however, it can be said with some assurance that such marriages do have some serious and stormy weather ahead. In the next several articles we will look at the stresses the marriages face and discuss some ways that bereaved parents can work together to steer their marriage through the terrible forces that will be exerted on them.
The four areas that we will examine are:
a. Grief's individual and collective effect.
b. Communication between partners.
c. Disruption of the family system.
d. Death's uncovering of other serious problems.
AN IMPORTANT RULE
Before examining each of these areas it is important to say that the stresses on a marriage can be so great that I categorically recommend to each and every grieving family that they seek counseling for the twofold purpose of learning exactly how difficult things may be and to learn how to begin coping. Such counseling should be done by a trained person who understands loss in general and specifically how the death of a child can affect the marriage. We will develop this theme throughout this series.
* Author's Note: I would like to thank Glen Lord for his comment (see the comments section) which provides links to reputable studies with updated and far less dismal numbers.
Maybe... Maybe not! Everyone grieves in their own way and it is most unfair to decide how another should or will grieve.
While psychologists do feel that many people who have had a long time to prepare for a loss may have an easier psychological adjustment than those dealing with a sudden loss.
But we are told also that people who have been through a long illness with a loved one are frequently physically and emotionally drained. They may even be more susceptible to illness themselves. Having been through weeks or months of stress they may have eaten and slept poorly. They may feel guilty for feeling relief from their heavy burden. Those desirous of helping the grieving in these circumstances should be willing to assist with feelings. They also could help the bereaved to reorganize their life without the deceased, to get needed rest and, when necessary, to become active again.
However, it is important not to push the bereaved to "get back to normal" too quickly. The death of someone we love can change our lives drastically. There are often major decisions to be made following a death. The house may be too large, we may have a sudden loss of income, we may have to raise the children alone. Adjustment to these changes may force us to make major decisions at a time when we are already distressed emotionally and least able to make good decisions. We may feel rushed to make decisions simply to avoid memories.
Good decision making requires that you take time, have all the facts before you and be rational not emotional. Anyone who is faced with major decisions because of a death in the family should take time, get rest and get good information and wait until your emotions have subsided.
Be sure to ask for help from qualified professionals before making any major decisions, especially while you are grieving. Your lawyer, accountant and therapist can all help you make good decisions, while you work towards "normal".
Some people think grief ought to be over quickly. They'll tell you to get on with your life. Others say it's over after the funeral. Many psychologists and sociologists say that acute grief can last for a year or more, maybe even two years.
It takes time to put one's life back together again. There are feelings of anger, depression or loneliness. There are new tasks to be mastered. Cooking for one less, raising the children alone, cutting the lawn, managing finances, probating the estate -all can be difficult tasks. Death of a loved one is usually a major life change. Reorganizing life, managing our feelings and finding ourselves does not happen immediately. You may need support of friends and others who understand. If you feel overwhelmed do not hesitate to ask for competent help.
Where can you get help with your grief?
Sometimes grief does not go away in a reasonable period of time. When that is the case the bereaved should contact a social worker, counselor or clergy person. In addition on the resources page of this blog you will find several books and pamphlets that may be helpful to read.
There are many people willing to help and no good reason that anyone should be without help. Still, psychologists have noted that some people are depressed and simply do not have the get up and go to seek help. Others may feel embarrassment.
If you or a friend needs assistance make an extra effort, pick up the phone and call your clergy or mental health center. The extra effort will be a good beginning to help you help yourself!