Part one of this blog focused on how mothers and fathers tend to grief differently when losing a child. It was argued how such differences can lead to misunderstandings and consequently may even draw the parents away from each other. This second part will focus on what can help parents support each other during this very hard time.
First of all, once we accept that there are different ways of grieving, it is important to acknowledge that no one way is better or worse than the other. This helps us to drop judgements and interpretations about how others, or ourselves, are reacting to the loss. So just because the father may decide to increase his working hours or book a family holiday, does not mean that he has forgotten the child he has just lost, does not care and perhaps does not love the child as much as the mother, who is in deep sorrow and crying all day long, does. So, it is essential not to use expression of grief as a measure of love. A parent who is more private with their pain does not love the child any less.
Therefore, when faced with such a reality, it is important for the couple to acknowledge the importance of communication, and just like they should not judge themselves for their reaction to their loss, they should not judge their spouse’s. It is understandable that a bereaved couple may find it impossible to give comfort to each other when both are feeling so devastated. Each partner may expect too much and receive too little. Of course, this can cause a rift between them, which can, however, be avoided if each accepts how deeply hurt the other is feeling. It is good to remember that many of the reactions, fights, stress that may be happening in the relationship are because of the deep pain that both are feeling and not necessarily because something is wrong with the relationship.
In addition to understanding each other’s grief, a couple can support each other by looking at their relationship as a tribute to the child that they both loved so much. The parents may find it helpful to both look back at the times they were happy and allow this happy memory to encourage them to plan something together as parents of the child they lost. Furthermore, it may be valuable for each parent to remember how much their child loved their respective spouse and allow such love to motivate them to do something special and kind to each other, in honour of their child.
The death of a child is most certainly a huge strain on any relationship. However, it does not have to be the end of that relationship. Recognising that people grieve differently is essential. But sometimes, relationships may need help during such time. This is most definitely available. In addition to other family members and friends, professional counsellors with experience in working with bereavement, can be a great source of support for the parents to find a smoother path again.
Coping differently with grief is not a problem but merely a difference in people’s coping styles. Learning to find a shared way of supporting each other through love and respect is a sure way of honouring the memories of the child lost.
Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.