Finding a way through the isolation and loneliness following the death of a child is one of the biggest challenges facing bereaved parents. Two bereaved parents relate their experiences.
We are very grateful to Diane and David, two of our befrienders, for sharing a little of their story from some of the darkest times they faced and some of the ways in which they were able to begin to navigate a way forwards.
We were very blessed to have four children, but the shape of our family changed dramatically with the loss of my two youngest in a car accident. During the initial years after their death, we missed them dreadfully. I felt keenly the loss of a busy, hectic, noisy lifestyle and yearned for a return to how it was. At times, I felt lonely because I tried to put on a brave face for family and friends. I felt there was only so much of my sadness and grief that they could face. I wasn’t honest and said I was fine, and kept myself busy with work to distract away from my grief. During this time my husband was my rock, and it was with him that I could talk about our children and our shared loss.
My marriage failed a few years later and then I experienced real loneliness and isolation. I wasn’t living in England, near the few close friends who had known my children, and my Mum had terminal cancer. I felt that I couldn’t tell her more devastating news, so I kept the separation quiet from my family. I felt a failure and didn’t want to burden my life onto relatively new friends and work colleagues. I withdrew from social media, tried to keep the news quiet when meeting with friends and kept myself distant so as not to expose myself to the inevitable questions about my family. At that point, I hit rock bottom and really felt close to a breakdown.
So what got me through this? One thing was my surviving children – I could not collapse, as they needed me. I love running and that gave me a release outdoors, which kept me fit and was good for my mental health. But, in the end, I learnt that you cannot keep grief inside. I had a chance conversation with a new neighbour: she told me her parents had lost a child and later split up and she commented on how amazing we were. I just broke down and opened up. I am sure the release I felt from sharing and being honest saved me.
I’d arrive back, having been out to the shops, visiting or at work, close the front door and cry out to God and the empty house: “How do I do this? How do I manage?”
In 1988 my wife Jill gave birth prematurely to twins, Paul and Nicholas, who died shortly afterwards. Then, in May 2010, our daughter, Marianne, died at the age of 24 from endometrial cancer. The pain and struggle of her last few months were compounded by the fact that she also had special needs linked to Prader-Willi Syndrome. Coping with her needs and trying to support her in that final period had been difficult enough; coping without her after she died was awful. Jill and I found ourselves in different places of grief, which was another complexity. When Jill died suddenly, six months and a day after my daughter, disbelief and emptiness mingled and exaggerated the pain and horror of the tragedies.
My other daughter Lizzie (28), was a teacher, and son John (20) was at university. They returned and we supported each other, but agreed that after Christmas they should both resume their normal roles. It was tough, lonely and unbelievably difficult to manage. You want to support your children in their grief, but physical distance is against you. They want to support you but we all have busy lives to lead. Your reason for living seems to have evaporated and, in my case, I buried myself in my work, on the basis that I needed to do that which I knew how to do, whilst coping with that which I didn’t know how to cope with.
Some friends were brilliant; they were just there, or cried with me. Others were scared! I could see it in their eyes as they looked at me and enquired how I was – always the most difficult question to answer. Do you let them have it ‘right between the eyes’, knowing that they would not be able to cope? Or do you mutter some trite reply to save the pain which the question could unlock?
It helped me to remember that God is a bereaved parent too. He lost His Son, He understands grief and He has promised that in heaven He will ‘wipe away the tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying or pain’.
Yes, there have been times when I have been desperately lonely; but I have found help, comfort and hope through faith and good friends.