The Journey Through Grief

Part Nine

Home | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten | Examination

This is "Part Nine" of the required text for this course. After reading this section proceed to "Part Ten".

Extending Care


There are a few ways which we as professional caregivers can offer support in these complex arenas surrounding the out-of-order death of a child. One key way is to verbally rehearse to them that you not only understand the natural sequence of life and death, but that you as a caring professional also recognize that the circumstances surrounding the death of a child (of any age) is completely out of that natural order of life and death. Many times people can gain comfort from simply hearing an audible confirmation of what their minds are telling them is not right about a particular event or circumstance. Your voice reciting these facts may be the initial start of their healthy grieving process.

You may also give them permission to experience a more intense form of their grief because of this abnormal order of events. You may do this in a very subtle way. A sentence worded like this may be very appropriate. “It is only natural (or normal) for you to feel this amount (or intensity) of pain and grief in these circumstances.” You are not using the actual phrase “I give you permission” but the strong implication is there, and generally understood by even the most distraught victim of such a loss.

In some cases, the caregiver may need to focus on the grieving parent by asking them to literally look at them as they make such statements. Another therapeutic method is to enable the parent to verbally tell themselves that what they are experiencing is a common reaction to this particular type of situation.

Both of these first two care giving techniques are part of the normalization process of the griever. The more normal the grief and mourning experience can be portrayed to the person living through it, the more likely they will experience their grief and accept their loss in an emotionally and spiritually healthy manner. Presenting the plain truth to them couched in love and compassion, will help them come to an understanding of how normal their personal grief actually is.   

One other thing a care giver should always do is assure these parents of their continued support and care as they grant them this permission to grieve this loss in a more intense way. Without that care and support, giving them “permission to grieve” is hollow and empty. One of the best ways to issue care and support for them is to dedicate time to spend with them and ears to listen to them with. Time does two things for the person in severe grief situations. It helps in the healing processes involved in the grief phases by distancing them from the actual point of the initiation of their loss. That point of initiation is the most painful part of any death or loss, simply because that is where the loss is first introduced as a definite reality instead of a possibility.

Time is also the component of the compassion that the caregiver can and should give as freely as possible in the act of listening and encouraging the grieving parent through the journey of grief.    

And finally the care giver may want to offer to “assist” the grieving parent(s) with many of the tasks they need to accomplish to step back into their normal circles and patterns of their life. It is better to ask them how you can “assist” them rather than what you can “do” for them. “Assisting” them makes them part of the “doing” of those things, rather than simply being the beneficiary and/or observer of those things to be done for them. Many caregivers create an unhealthy dependency by doing much or everything for the “griever” while they (the parents) are engaged in the initial experience of their loss. When you do those necessary things together, their thoughts should slowly start to re-focus on the realities of their life left for them to live. In affect this starts the process of teaching them how to re-learn their life and the world around them without their child’s presence. This process of “assisting” them is a healthy process and helps them once again establish a purpose for their own continued life.


Complicated Relationships

Through all of this desire to render care to the parents who have experienced this death out of the normal order of human life sequence, we must not forget the siblings, grandparents and other closely connected family members also experiencing the same situation of loss. This means that we should also include the actual children of the deceased in the formulation of our care giving plan. These children are actually experiencing the loss in the normal sequence of life and death, but because of the influence of their grandparent’s expressions of grief, or maybe even the lack of such expressions, the progress towards resolution and/or acceptance may be somewhat hindered or impaired.    

It is not uncommon for grandparents or even siblings to raise, or have raised, or acted as a primary caregiver or “parent figure” for many years to the child who has died. In these situations a grandmother or an aunt or an uncle or a grandfather may be experiencing the same intensity of grief that a birth-mother or natural father could or would be experiencing in the same situation. The circumstances surrounding such a death may also produce a father and/or mother that minimally participated in, or maybe never participated in the child’s life at all. In our society, this could be for any number of reasons. Yet, in all of these previously mentioned people, there may be the same or similar attitudes of grief being expressed as there would be in the traditional mother and/or father figures who have experienced the loss of their child in death.

Obviously, this could breed a variety of complicated scenarios and relational problems. Often these younger parent figures will react with a volatile anger if they are crossed or ignored.  Sometimes lesser important family members will try to express their anger and frustration, apply excessive pressure so as to inflict guilt into the family environment because they do not think that their family is responding adequately or in a socially acceptable manner to the loss.

Other family members may completely ignore key family members or close friends of the deceased because they personally perceive that there is no value in those people participating in the grieving or mourning process with them. This form of ignorance is actually an attitude of condemnation. When we condemn someone, we in theory are saying that they hold absolutely no value to us or our current situations and circumstances.

Some family members may even inflict guilt on others to enhance or promote their own image in the psychological family portrait. Often people will perceive other family member’s responses and expressions of grief based on their own expectations in these situations. When these situations don’t meet up to expectations of such people, they may attempt to intervene by issuing some form of illegitimate control or instruction on how others should act or respond to their grief.  These types of emotions and expressions can often be a double edged sword. When we as caregivers can practice good and accurate discernment of these matters and complicated relationships, we will be able to help the various grieving family members find a measure of harmony needed to initiate the beginnings of a compatible journey through grief and loss.

Family dynamics in the post modern society are constantly evolving under the public media’s influence. Several sources of these influences are the ill fated portrayals of family and public social life on popular confrontational television shows and the vast array of opinions and questionable information available on the internet. Because of these sources the average family is constantly exposed to a virtual blizzard of destabilizing psychological and emotional threats that challenge the traditional cohesiveness and the common value systems of such a family experiencing grief in the loss of a child. The post modern culture enables most people to generally live more individualistic lives because they are capable of doing more on their own with the technology provided for them by computers and the internet. Most people’s abilities are no longer confined to their own skill sets and personal knowledge parameters. Information regarding family relationship management and even grief and loss issues are readily available to them at the click of a mouse. Some of that information is reliable and some is rather questionable in its motive. 

All of these things can be potential problematic issues that confront the person genuinely wanting to care for and support parents and nuclear family members in these situations of grief and loss. Only those who are extremely genuine in their intentions and are able to discern, understand and practice the facilitation of proven helpful and healing techniques in these specialized grief environments should become pivotally active in the care of such grieving parents and family members.

These grieving parents are usually very sensitive to the various details and relationships surrounding the loss of their child, and yet can be somewhat insensitive to the circumstances of the environment of mourning taking place around them. A discerning and compassionate caregiver will recognize both the positive and the troubled relational issues in the griever’s life and help them move towards healthy and active expressions of grief that will assist them back into a posture where they can relearn their lives in the absence of their deceased child.      




Even though the death of a child is an event that is contrary to the normal sequence of life and death, we as caregivers can be effective agents for compassion, support and change in the grieving parent’s life. Realizing that death often occurs at unexpected times and seasons of our lives can be a dynamic reason for us to live our lives of service and care in a posture ready to help others and ourselves understand the sequence and realities of both life and death better. Giving those parents experiencing grief through loss the care and tools they need to re-learn their purpose for living in a different context after the death of a child has occurred, can be a very satisfying accomplishment as a professional caregiver and practitioner. 

Central Institute for Educational Advancement
P.O. Box 750491 Dayton, Ohio 45475-0491