The Greatest Loss Of All Is Loss Of A Child

The Greatest Loss Of All Is Loss Of A Child

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The largest number of letters I receive in response to this column is from people who have lost someone, and they want to know how to deal with their loss.

I am deeply touched by the grief of everybody who has lost a loved one, but the most heartbreaking is the grief of a mother who loses her child. If the greatest love of all is the mother's love for her child, as I believe, then the greatest sorrow of all also has to be over the loss of one whom she loves so much. So, just when I think I have written all that can be written about grief, I am shown the need for more.

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote the history-making book, "Silent Spring." She reminds her readers of the eloquent words of the poet Keats: "The sedge is withered from the lake, and no birds sing." Imagine that you wait through a long winter for the spring and when spring finally comes, no birds sing. "Silent Spring" made us aware of a major loss that was taking place outside our awareness - death of our environmental and animal life, due to chemical pollution.

"A Silent Sorrow," written 30 years later by Ingrid Kohn and Perry-Linn Moffitt, drew attention to the loss of mothers who lose their babies during pregnancy or soon after. She, too, waits for the whole winter of pregnancy only to witness a silent spring. Since other relatives, including the father, lack a similar depth of contact, the mother has to do much of her grieving alone and in silence. However, it is heartening to see that in the last few years the awareness of the "silent sorrow" is increasing in the world of maternal and child care.

Picture this. A mother feeds her baby who was earlier crying a little. After feeding she lays him in her lap, comforts and pats him and the baby falls off to sleep in her lap. A little later, when she tries to wake him up, he does not awaken. Sometime, during his sleep, the baby has quietly slipped away. No warning, no noise, no premonitions. How does anyone deal with such a situation, except to go into a shock and a long spell of numbness?

The mother, after the initial spell of shock and numbness, develops what is called, the "mausoleum syndrome." The lost baby's room becomes the mausoleum and everything touched, used, worn by, or associated with the baby is preserved as it was. So, the mother goes and sits there for hours. She will not remove or allow to be removed anything from that room. She insists that everything must stay exactly as it was on the day of the baby's death. No one can even talk about the baby or about anything related to it.

To continue this scenario, there is hardly any interaction between the grief-stricken husband and wife. Their surviving children are raising themselves. The husband needs his wife. The children need their mother. The mother needs her children and her husband, but they can't get past those walls raised by grief. Their extended family knows that their relatives need help, but everyone is afraid to even mention it. How can this family let go of its unthinkable grief and loss?

Grief surrounds us by its invisible walls and isolates us from one another. In this case, every day, the father, before leaving the house, wants to know that the mother and children will be all right. Children, before going to school, want to know if their parents will be all right. The mother wants to know that all will be well if she lets them out of her sight. But grief scalds their lips. They stay in "freeze" position. Each one is enclosed in his or her cocoon.

Then, how does the grief ever lessen? The grief does not lessen from the proverbial "letting go," it comes from reconnecting with the survivors. The answer to the question of how to let go is this: "Reconnect, reconnect, reconnect." So, reconnect with the loved ones who are still around you. Remember they need you more than the one you have lost. The problem of mausoleum syndrome will automatically be resolved when you reconnect with others and make contact with life.

Relatives must first overcome their own hesitation about professional help before they can look into the eyes of the bereaved and say in a matter-of-fact tone, "We love you and we are concerned about you. You must seek professional help." Make sure that the bereaved is not clinically depressed. If not, don't worry if the bereaved wants to hang onto the belongings of the lost loved one for a year or two.

Therapy is about personal growth. People can grow to new heights of character and strength from the process of grieving. It is true that grieving changes us forever. Let it change us forever in positive directions. We can surpass ourselves as we grow through grief. It is by stretching ourselves that our lives can get larger.

Dr. Joanne Jozefowski, in her book, "The Phoenix Syndrome: Rising From the Ashes of the Grief," says "While the bereaved person may not have had a choice in the death of the loved one, he or she has the choice of how to respond to that death after the period of acute grief." Find the purpose of your life. When you remember your purpose, you can pull yourself out of the shell of grief and reconnect.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted July 2003


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