The Princes' Top 10 TRUTHS
about Child-Loss Grief
Truth #8) In Child-Loss Grief, there is no such thing as Closure
Truth #8) Child-Loss Grief will last forever, this side of Heaven. There is no such thing as Closure.
When a child dies, the very ground on which we depend for stability heaves and quakes and the rightness and orderliness of our existence are destroyed. Nothing in life prepares us; no coping skills were learned. Parents who lose children are thrown into chaos. The loss of a child is shattering, unique among losses.
...Our attitudes toward life change dramatically following a trauma. We don't get over a trauma; we adapt our way of thinking and feeling as a consequence...
Along with "overcome," the word "recovery" is often seen in association with grief...
(G)rief, or any major trauma for that matter, is never overcome nor does recovery take place. The course of healing involves integrating that trauma, not overcoming it.
There is a significant difference. To overcome suggests that you get past or get over the trauma and go on from where you left off. But that is not what happens. No one goes on from any major event in their lives without having that event change them psychologically in some way.
The process of integration involves changes in the person's view of the world, in the way they relate to others, in their values, in spiritual feelings, and so forth. It's the difference between stepping over an obstacle and being rerouted by it.
...But if we think recovery means return to normal, can we use the word to apply to conditions like drug addiction, like having been raped or abused, like losing your child? In order to lead a productive, drug-free life after a period of drug abuse, the last thing in the world the individual needs is to return to what was his version of normal. He needs a whole new way of looking at himself, of dealing with frustration, of relating to people, he needs new values, new attitudes. He should not be said to recover, but to undergo a metamorphosis, perhaps like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. That person needs to change, to find a way of sculpting the former life into a new lifestyle.
We cannot be said to recover, in the sense of returning to a former self, from any major trauma. Trauma as shattering and cataclysmic as losing a child, as rape or abuse, as addiction, as natural disaster, and so forth, leaves indelible imprints on our lives. We are not the same having traveled that road as we would have been had we been spared that journey.
Events of bone-crunching intensity inevitably leave us different. The emotional journey people take to regain equilibrium, to be able once again to feel good and value life, to reform themselves so that their loss is somehow integrated into the fiber of their existence--that is the process of mourning.
But if they are expected to recover by friends, family, experts, and ultimately by themselves, and they cannot do so, they wind up with additional self-doubt or worse.
(Recovery) is a misnomer and creates a fictitious mind-set: that major loss is ultimately wrapped in a neat package and segregated from the rest of the experience until it goes away. This, we know, does not happen without serious psychological consequences.
Major loss needs not to be overcome but rather to be put into context. People don't recover; they adapt. They alter their values, attitudes, perceptions, relationships, and beliefs, with the result that they are substantially different from the people they once were.
Mourning, integration, adaptation. These are learning processes...
The bereaved parent has to come to terms with a world in which it is possible for children to die, a world of different hopes and dreams, a world of muted sunsets.
The victim never sees life through the same lens again.
If you look at it that way,
it becomes foolish to ask when victims of trauma should be over it.
If we are to help and understand trauma victims, should we not ask instead where they are in the process of learning to live with what has happened? Where is that process in five, ten, thirty years?
~quotes from the first several pages of When the Bough Breaks -- Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter (1997) ~Judith R. Bernstein, Ph.D.
Dr. Bernstein also quotes Dr. Catherine M. Sanders:
Catherine M. Sanders, a noted researcher and author in the field of bereavement, wrote in her book Grief: The Mourning After,
"Our culture has not been educated to acknowledge the length of time necessary to overcome a major loss. This lag of information adds to the burden on the bereaved because they themselves feel that they should have been 'back to normal' long before this."
As time goes by, social supports diminish because
"family and friends expect the bereaved to be over the grief in six months to a year rather than the... years that is generally required,"
Sanders continues. Even researchers who are working in the arena of bereavement put time limits such as three or four years for grief to be overcome.
Tommy and I were in a Child-Loss / Bereaved Parents' Seminar led for professionals in the counseling field in working with child-loss, led by a premier expert in the field, Dr. Therese A. Rando.
Rando said wherever she goes to be interviewed, the interviewer always asks,
"How long does it take to get through child-loss?"
and Rando refuses to give them a direct answer. She tries to explain the lengthy process through which a bereaved parent must go, but she said the interviewer always follows up with the dismissive question,
"Yeah, but how long does it take to get over it?"
...and then they start tossing out numbers like it is now a guessing game, and she just needs to give the "answer"...
Wisely, Rando knows, there is no answer, for in Child-Loss Grief,
There is no such thing as Closure.