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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life


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Some people do understand. A nurse whose friend's six-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident says,

I heard that grief carries you initially, and then after a certain point, you carry grief. I understand that the acuteness of the grief is the first two years, but that's a long time. It would be absurd to think, "Well, I'm going to get over this," because that doesn't make sense. How can you get over losing a child? At the same time, it's so harrowing to suffer like you have to when experiencing the loss. I told my friend, "Anytime that you want to talk about it or say anything, I'm here. Anything you do is all right. Whatever you feel is fine."

Grieving parents will be able to normalize their reactions by realizing that their deepest feelings and their most personally bizarre behaviors are in no way abnormal or dissimilar to what other bereaved parents have experienced. They can appreciate that going forward with their lives does not mean they won't have tears years later. I am comforted that my tears over Kristen's loss now only flow on certain days and with specific situations, as opposed to 365 days a year as it once was. At these times, an understanding friend is the best remedy.

In her personal experience, poet and author Judith Viorst agrees. From what she has read and from the tears she has seen shed over sons and daughters dead for many years, parents — including women and men with loving, productive lives — may never give up grieving for their lost child. But they are parents who are remembering and moving forward.

Even Sigmund Freud, on the day his deceased daughter Sophie would have been 36 years old, wrote in a letter to a friend:

Although we know that after such a loss the acute state of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else.

Dr. Expert, you too can grow not only by studying the research but by listening to the needs of the bereaved. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross believed her experiences of working with the dying and the bereaved enriched her life more than any other.

Facing death, she felt, means facing the ultimate of life. To live to the fullest requires an awareness that life is ultimately short and that everything we do must be made to count. We can all learn from the experiences of the bereaved.

A 33-year-old woman I counseled shared her personal growth from supporting a friend, Nancy, whose ten-year-old daughter died when she was riding her bike and got hit by a car.

What did I learn from it? I learned that you can get through it. I've observed Nancy and have learned you really can survive. I learned that grieving is really important.

The feelings must be expressed. I learned a funeral is really important. I learned the significance of that whole process and of a funeral ceremony. I saw how nurturing it can be for everyone to come together in grief. I learned that death is a tremendous loss and, on the other hand, it demystified it for me. I think she is the first one I grieved so much for. I learned a lot about how children take it and how to interpret death to them. I learned something about how natural it is and how final. I learned a lot about it. A lot!

I personally grieved for her and my husband did too, very intensely. Not only because of my relationship with her but because I identified so strongly with Nancy. I mean, her daughter spent the night at our house, was a friend of my daughter's. I think it's interesting, because I grieved for Nancy, and for my personal loss of her daughter, and for my child's loss of her. It was on so many levels. What I also learned was that Nancy needs to keep talking about her daughter. She needs support for years — she said that and I know that. I will be there for her because I learned I can ... and I don't have to have answers.

Shadow grief as discussed by Peppers and Knapp has implications for the bereaved employee as well. It is crucial to remember that a parent's feelings of loss, even though not overtly manifested, are never entirely worked through or left in the past. Dr. Expert, the tendency is to think that if the employee appears normal, he must not be grieving.

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