The loss of a child is without any doubt one of the most challenging experiences I have gone through in my life both personally and in my relationship.
The most important aspect I have found through my survey of more than a hundred people and through interviewing parents one-on-one are:
- Understanding different ways of grieving
- Accepting the differences
- Allowing each other time to grieve.
The 5 steps to survive your loss as a couple
Grief and death are topics that make a lot of people uncomfortable. Since you and I have both experienced the loss of a child, we know this from personal experience. You as a couple have a common source for your experience of loss. Nonetheless, even though the source may be the same, the experience itself can be very different. When, where, and how the experience differs is the point at which you need to keep working with each other to stay connected.
The main causes for stress in the relationship post-loss are that couples:
A. Have different grieving styles and are unaware of them
B. Don’t recognize, don’t understand, or don’t accept each other’s style
C. Think / feel the other is not grieving properly
D. Expect the other to grieve like they do.
- Step 1 ALLOWING
- Step 2 AWARENESS
- Step 3 ACKNOWLEDGING
- Step 4 ADJUSTING
- Step 5 ABSORBING & INTEGRATING
Step 1: Allowing
The first step is all about the initial response to the loss of your child. You are in shock, which emotionally protects you from being too overwhelmed by the loss. You are unconscious to most of what is happening to you and around you. Your life’s energy is focused on giving you the best support in dealing with this shock by experiencing numbness and disbelief. What is required at this step is to allow yourself to be taken care of by your friends and family and allowing your experience to unfold.
Step 2: Awareness
In the second step you become more aware and conscious of what has happened and try to deal with the irrevocable reality of death. You grieve but you don’t know what to do about it. You are becoming aware of the emotions like anger, sadness, guilt, and anxiety while also experiencing physical, behavioural, and cognitive symptoms as part of your suffering.
Step 3: Acknowledging
As time goes by and as you move to step three you are aware of how you process the loss and actively try to find ways to progress through it. This is most likely the time for you to pick up books and talk to other bereaved parents. You are starting to take steps towards your new life where the loss is still important but moves away from the centre of your life.
Step 4: Adjusting
In the fourth step, you begin to integrate your child’s memory into your life. Grief has become a habitual reaction to triggers. You have become familiar with it and are able to move with it. As recovery takes place, you are better able to accept the loss. You invest energy to create your New Normal life. You still feel the loss but that feeling becomes part of your more typical feelings and experiences.
Step 5: Absorbing and integrating
The fifth step guides you in (totally) integrating the loss in your life. You reflect on it. You recognize its gift in your life and are grateful for the evolution in your life since. The experience of gratitude and the understanding of the gifts from your loss prevail over the sadness. The loss has found an integrated place in your life and you focus on other areas of your life and the future ahead.
Relationships can be challenging without loss. It is my personal opinion that we enter any relationship to grow: emotionally and spiritually. Having said this, we definitely did not choose to add the loss of a child to our ‘personal growth to-do list’.
To read more about this, check out the book Grieving Parents: Surviving Loss As A Couple.