2011-07-07 / Worship

There is no greater pain than the loss of a child

By REV. GLEN KO HLHAGEN

If there is one thing that just does not feel natural it is when a child dies before his or her parent. It does not matter if the child is a baby or seventy years old, it just does not feel like it is the way it ought to be.

Annabella Fantasma wrote in “ Searching for God When You Lose Someone Close” that there is no greater or more painful loss than the one you feel when you have lost a child. And there is no way to adequately prepare for the losses in our lives. But there are ways to grief them well and to grow through them.

The tender love of a parent for a child, regardless of age, may be the purest and most sacrificial kind of devotion that human beings can know, and it is precisely because of the intensity of this bond that parents grieve so deeply when their child dies, regardless of circumstances and age.

If you have experienced the death of a daughter or a son, words cannot begin to heal your broken heart or take away your pain, but with time I hope the insights I present here may be of value.

First off, a grieving parent needs to let the shock do its work. In the early days of loss your mind and emotions are shielded by shock, and there may be an almost calm feeling of unreal proportions. This numbness permits you to make decisions and choices in an almost robot-like state.

This time of insulation is important to you as you grieve. No one can absorb the entire reality of loss all at once. The pain needs to be allowed to creep in, a little at a time, according to your individual timetable of acceptance.

Next, we all have to recognize the uniqueness of each parent’s grief. There are as many different responses to the pain of grief as there are different tolerances to physical pain. Some people mourn with visible suffering, while others internalize their sorrow. The outward indications of sadness do not always reflect the inner intensity of the person’s grief.

Men in particular have a hard time with expressing their grief. While a man may cry to start out with, they soon become stoic. Why? Because society expects it of men. Society expects men to be brave and strong for those around them. He has to swallow his pain and try to be what he thinks is expected of him. Though a man’s outward tears may dry up, a man’s intense pain is still there, buried deep inside him.

Single or separated parents may experience a special burden of isolation at this time of loss. But even for those who are married, it is difficult for parents whose agony seems to be squeezing the breath out of them to be very compassionate, thoughtful, and supportive of anyone else, including each other!

Married couples often fail to realize that early in grief is not a time when you can lean on your spouse for much support. In spite of how hard it is, spouses need to give each other space to individualize their grief and sorrow as no two people grieve the same, even if they have experienced the same loss.

(If you have any questions about this article or about resources in the local community you can contact the author, Rev. Glen Kohlhagen, at the Washington Presbyterian Church at 706-678-7511. Rev. Kohlhagen facilitates a bereavement group sponsored by Wills Memorial Hospital on the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. in the hospital library/conference room.)

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