Grief By Association
Miles away, her father was also in a hospital. This was nothing unusual. His emphysema had him there regularly, for several years now. Close to her father, she had always made the journey to the Veteran’s Hospital to keep him company. In the days before freeways and expressways, it was a long car ride. Her kids and her Mother always went with her, and spent the day. While one was upstairs, the other kept the kids occupied in the hospital lobby, then they’d trade places. All of them were quite used to this routine.
Now, though, it upset her that she couldn’t be there to give her father the special care she was known for. When anyone came to see her, they had to report on Dad, and take instructions from her on things he liked and needed done.
The difference this time was that Dad’s over-taxed system gave out, and he died. Her doctors asked the family to keep this news from her, so as not to add to her already stressful situation. She gave birth on the third day, and spent another two days near exhaustion from it. When she regained some strength, she again inquired after her father. Now the news could not be kept, and deep grief was added to her post partum complications. These also kept her from attending his funeral.
Her family took her and the new baby home on Christmas Eve. The older kids at home had put up the tree and decorations. The family did the best they could to have Christmas, in honor of the Father whose favorite holiday it was.
Besides being the type of Christmas story not likely to be seen on the evening news, much more was going on here.
Because it was Dad’s favorite, Christmas had always been highly anticipated. Since he was too sick to travel, all convened at the Parents’ home. Over the years Dad had hand crafted an entire winter village that filled the bay windows under a huge tree. In those last years, it took many hands to get it all set up. After his death, Mom had moved to a smaller place. No one had room to display it, but it was some time before anyone really had the heart to even take the pieces out anyway. In fact, the mere appearance of Christmas items made them all sad for years. In those days before grief was a household word, there was no working through it. One merely squared one’s shoulders, kept a stiff upper lip, and moved on about the tasks of life.
Many years later, one of the grandchildren made a space for the village, and requested the pieces. Only then were the stories told, the pieces admired, the Man discussed. Finally, the tears were allowed. Finally, healing began.
However, there was a strict moratorium on Christmas preparations each year until that youngest child’s birthday was celebrated. Great effort was taken to make sure she got her special Day, and didn’t get swept in with the Holiday. While she grew to appreciate this, she never felt a closeness to her mother. She spent much of her childhood doing things to please her mother, thinking her own deficiencies the problem.
It certainly was no fault of that young girl. It is natural for a child to take responsibility when anything in the family goes wrong, even from a very young age. After all, in normal development, the child sees itself as the center of the universe. The actions of the child’s family do nothing to dispel that perception. So when something is amiss, the child assumes guilt for the cause. The child can’t verbalize this. Even in adulthood, the connection is rarely made. In this instance, the birth of this wonderful daughter was forever linked to the loss of the beloved Father.
With counseling, the young girl finally understood the disconnect. Had her mother had help with her grief, things may have been quite different between the two. But such was not the case, and years of unresolved grief went unchecked.
Psychology tells us that any child born near the time of any trauma is forever linked to the event. It’s difficult to work through, but not impossible. Again, psychology and grief are new areas of study. So there are many “walking wounded” amongst us that suffer needlessly. Are you one? Does this story sound familiar to you?
What if it sounds familiar, but you know of no traumatic event close to your birth? Let’s go back and look at those older kids at home.
Miscarriage is the death of a child. No one on earth recovers from that easily. Some, not at all. While subsequent live births are a great relief, and appropriately celebrated, there is underlying sadness. This is a wonderful child, but it is not the child that died. That child can never be replaced, will always be missed. The trauma may not have occurred around the time of the new baby’s birth, but the association is there.
Add to that the fact that until very, very recently, miscarriage was treated as a medical mishap. Clinical terms were used for the matter expelled from the woman’s (not the mother’s) womb. There was no talk of a child, no grief addressed.
One may also look at abortion, rape, adoption, divorce and substance abuse as possible reasons that a mother and child have difficulty bonding.
The bottom line is this: Now that you know, what are you going to do? It’s never too late to get help. This Holiday season, give yourself the gift of
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