Grow Around the Grief

July 06, 2022

Grow Around the Grief

There’s a name for a child who has lost a parent: Orphan. There’s a name for a person who has lost their spouse: Widow. As human beings, we try to make sense of the senseless by assigning them words or names. But there’s no common word for a parent who has lost a child. Those suffering such an unimaginable loss often feel like nobody understands what they are going through, or don’t know how they are ever going to recover from such a devastating loss.

JF&CS is a safe, supportive environment for those suffering from the loss of a child. Through therapy and other Frances Bunzl Clinical Services we provide to the community, we offer a space for processing, openness, and healing. If you have a loved one who is suffering from the loss of a child, and you have no idea how to help, or you are suffering from the loss yourself, and have no idea what to do, this post is for you.

Community Chaplain Rabbi Judith Beiner and JF&CS clinician Brennen Joseph walk us through the best ways to support parents grieving a loss. Plus, they offer resources and support for those doing their best to manage the loss themselves.

How to Support a Parent Who Has Lost a Child

If you want to be supportive to a parent who has lost a child, Rabbi Judith Beiner said to listen more than you talk. She said that many grieving people face further pain and distress when well-intentioned people say insensitive things like “It will get better” or “You still have another child” or “You can try again.”

“When someone is bereaved in front of you, listen more than you talk,” she said. “If you want to say anything, you can say something like ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through.’ It’s a powerful acknowledgement that while you know what sadness is, you cannot truly understand the extent of their sadness. Also, if you know the person well, try giving them a hug. A hug can be more powerful than any words.”

JF&CS clinician Brennen Joseph agreed, adding: “It’s ok to not have the right words. It’s ok to admit you don’t know what to say other than just being there and being present with them. You don’t have to have all the answers. And you don’t need to be a Positive Polly about everything, either.”

Furthermore, Rabbi Beiner said that encouraging grieving parents to be happy or focus on the positives is doing a disservice to them: “People need to be allowed to feel sad about their loss as part of their healing.”

Another great way to help support parents who have lost a child is to volunteer to help them out. Many people will say “Please let me know how I can support you,” which Rabbi Beiner said is kind, but not always helpful. She said many people may not know what they need or are too overwhelmed to think about it or even answer your calls.

“Instead of asking someone how they can help, try concrete, active ways of helping,” Rabbi Beiner suggested. “Tell them you want to come over and make dinner, and ask what day works for them. Or tell them you want to come over and watch a movie with them and ask what night works.”

Rabbi Beiner added that it’s crucial to follow up with grieving parents past the initial few months. She explained that when people first initially suffer a loss, friends and family tend to shower them with love and support for the first month or so. Rabbi Beiner said it’s important to keep that up, because people are still grieving after the initial outpouring of support.

“They need you now, but they will also need you in six months,” Rabbi Beiner said. “A few months down the line, it gets even harder, which is when they will need you the most. They aren’t ‘done’ grieving just because six months has passed, and they still need you.”

Brennen said to be sure to follow up with people if they happen to not answer your call or message: “Don’t give up on them. They are going through a lot.”

How JF&CS Supports Grieving Parents

Rabbi Beiner said that all loss is tragic and devastating, but that losing a child is a unique kind of pain. We all expect one day that we will lose our parents, but for a parent to lose a child, it feels against the “natural order” of how life is “supposed” to go.

“When you lose a child, there’s no way to get around the negative changes that unfold in your life because of it,” Rabbi Beiner explained. “You can’t get over it, but you can get through it. The hole in your heart cannot be filled, but you can grow around the grief.”

Rabbi Beiner mentioned a graphic often used in the JF&CS bereavement group with two sets of jars. The top set of three jars are the same size and show three different sized balls in them. The bottom set of three jars are each a different size, but the ball within them stays the same size. This further emphasizes the message that people tend to believe that grief shrinks over time, but what really happens is that we grow around our grief.

Support groups can be a helpful way to connect with those who have experienced similar losses, and to hear their stories. Some bereaved parents process their grief by sharing their stories with the world. One example is Jeanine Bekerman, who shared her story of loss, called “I miss him.” with the Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF). Another parent who experienced loss, Kim Demontfort, also shared her story with JFF through a blog called “Acceptance.” Both women share their very raw and real feelings about loss.

Brennen said that losing a child, no matter what age, is incredibly difficult. She said that if you have suffered this unimaginable loss, lean into your feelings, go easy on yourself, and get the support you need.

“There is no deadline or timeline for grieving, or for finding a ‘new norm’ or ‘new identity’ or however you want to refer to it,” she said. “Use a non-judgmental approach for yourself and your healing. Surround yourself with supportive people, and a supportive environment.”

Jewish Family & Career Services offers support systems for those who have experienced the loss of a child. We offer in-person and virtual bereavement group for those going through loss of all kinds on select Mondays starting in August. You you can register for these groups by emailing Rabbi Beiner or emailing Brennen. Frances Bunzl Clinical Services at JF&CS offers individual therapy for all ages, and Rabbi Beiner provides chaplaincy services with other Bikur Cholim (Hebrew for “visiting the sick”) volunteers, where she and the volunteers provide compassion and connection when it is needed the most.