Friday, November 26, 2010

You Can Always Learn

I decided to write an academic paper on the death of a child, more specifically on the death of a baby.  I wanted to have a better understanding of how people in a supportive role may view the experience of parental grief based on the academic theory that is out there.  While some journal articles and texts were excellent in accurately describing what I knew to be my experience, other papers described grief in terms of coming to an end or unhealthy if not drawn to a conclusive close.  While interpretation is subjective and even the topic of grief is an individual experience, it was concerning to think that a support system might put expectations on grievers that were neither empathetic or helpful in their approach.
Another interesting theme in the literature was the differential between death of a baby and death of a child. It was because of the distinction that I had to pick a focus for my paper that I originally intended to be generally on the death of a child.  I was not surprised by the separation of death experiences, I have witnessed that need for distinction in my work offering support to bereaved parents and it both fascinates and concerns me that a differential is made.  The importance of the age of the child at the time of death plays into the societal ambivalence surrounding perinatal death, stillbirth, and infant death as well as impacting bereaved parents of older adult children.  The more specific the death "credentials" to the legitimacy of the experience the more difficult it may be for parents to find support through common losses.  For instance a support worker may feel challenged to find peer support for a bereaved parent who wants to meet with a parent who has experienced the death of a 16 year old to a car accident where there was no illegal activity involved in the death.  This may seem like a specific and unlikely scenario but I have seen the affects of differentiating and how it can lead to more and more distinctions, which ultimately have the ability to isolate and alienate the parents who seek the inclusiveness and the parents who are excluded.
I have even read in a text for clinicians on how to support a bereaved parent, that parents who have experienced the death of a baby "have a briefer period of grief than parents of an older child."  I would counter this literature and say that parents of a child of any age have their own unique experience with grief.  The death of a child, no matter the circumstances of the death or the age of the deceased presents parents with the unimaginable task of continuing their life with the knowledge that your child will never meet the milestones, have the experiences, create the memories that the parent themselves have experienced.  To challenge how long it takes for a parent to learn to cope with grief based on the amount of time that the parent interacted with the child (how long the child was alive) assumes that a parent's love and value for the child begins at a time distinguished by society. What about the parent who dreamed of having children since they were young, in the delivery room with a list of names they started in their early teens, shocked by the stillbirth of their baby?  Is the death of that new life less valid because the parents did not hear them cry?
Here is what I know.  I loved my son from the time I was a young girl playing with dolls, imagining my future family.  I sat with doctors and nurses as they explained that he would have a fraction of a chance at a life that was sustainable and that we, as his parents, would need to make decisions to use extraordinary measures to keep him alive or to discontinue care so that he would die.  I held his tiny, warm body, just seconds after going through the physical experience of his delivery, seeing how perfect his fingers and toes were, how his face looked just like that of his older brother and watched as nurses put a stethoscope to his chest to confirm a heartbeat.  I heard the paediatrician tell me that there was nothing more that they could do for him and that we could hold him as he painlessly succumbed to his tiny body, lungs that could not breathe, his brain deprived of oxygen would stop sending messages for his heart to continue.
I sat with a funeral director and discussed burial versus cremation, picked out flowers, wrote a service, created a headstone and picked out a spot in a cemetery.  I watched the tiny white casket carried from the funeral car by my husband, sit above the small rectangular hole dug into the ground while we described his short life to friends and family who never had the opportunity to see or hold him.
I know what day I found out I was pregnant, the day that I found out things would forever change, the day he was due and the day he was born.  I knew the year that he should have started kindergarten and I will know when it is the year that he should be graduating.
I am not stuck in my grief, but his little life rides side care to mine.  I am constantly reminded where he is not.  He was my child, dreamt years before his conception, grown in my womb, born into my arms and taken from my heart.  His age only matters to the theorists and studies that believe that impact is measurable through technology and science, to me a future without him start at his birth and will last my lifetime.

1 comment:

  1. Of all the boxes we do not fit into throughout the journey of this life...I do believe our loss is the most unfolding and unyielding of them all. Its impact is also among the most painful. The death of a dream and hopes, coupled with realizations of things that will never be, can be extremely devastating. The level however, is based on the individual...on the individual involved and not on the observer. No one can tell you how much you loved or how deeply your heart misses all that you cannot have. Everyday brings a new reminder of a parallel universe where your heart got exactly what it wanted. Glimpses of that universe will shine on brighter at times more than others, and yes I agree with you, as I do believe it will be that way for this lifetime.