It’s funny how sometimes we think we understand but in the end we discover how wrong we were and what we might have missed out on. Oops. A while back I was visiting with Michelle, who had a good idea what we were going through in the sense that she’d lost her husband a few years ago and knew and understood grief . She was the first person to mention “Compassionate Friends” to me so I just thought it was a support group for people grieving the loss of a loved one. It wasn’t until Darlene from Compassionate Friends based in Vernon phoned me and said she heard about us through Marc’s dad and she wanted to know if it was okay to send us some literature. It arrived just the other day. Turns out Compassionate Friends is not a general support group for people grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s specifically for parents grieving the loss of a child. The one card says “The Compassionate Friends is an international self-help, non-profit organization, offering friendship, understanding, grief education and HOPE for the future to all bereaved parents. MEMBERSHIP is open to all bereaved parents, adult siblings and grandparents. There are no membership fees – the price of membership is the death of a child, which makes our membership the most expensive in the world. TCF has no religious affiliation.”
As I devoured all the pamphlets I wanted to cry (and did) because it was a reminded that we weren’t alone in our grief, that there were others who really understand and are willing to be there to help us and they offer advice and help, not as experts in different fields like grief counsellors, etc. but because they are walking the same road only they’re further ahead and are all too familiar with the terrain.
The package contained a range of pamphlets:
Seven Principles for Bereaved Parents
Grief: Understanding the Side Effects of Grieving
Caring for Surviving Children
Sibling Grief: When a Brother or Sister Dies
When a Grandchild Dies
How to Help: When a Child Dies
Coping with Grief after a Long Term Illness
Ways and Words to Comfort
What I really like about them is that they are short, easy to read, you don’t have to wade through an entire book to glean a few gold nuggets, they are the gold nuggets. They’re the collective experience of countless parents who are going through the same experience so the advice rings true to what we’re experiencing.
So many people over the last six months, and especially around the time of Bernadette’s death asked if there was anything they could do and to just ask. People so desperately wanted to help. The problem was that we just didn’t know how to answer. This was all so new to us and we were totally overwhelmed and didn’t know what would be of help and what wouldn’t. We were unable to think and to process what we were going through and unable to articulate any needs besides the very basic “breath in, breath out” and ‘where did I leave the Kleenex box?”. I wish we’d had these pamphlets back then, especially at the funeral. You know, like beside Bernadette’s picture a whole stack of the various pamphlets that people could pick up if they wanted because in the end the best help is if people just understood a little better what we were going through. I think people wanted to but we were too overwhelmed to understand ourselves. I’m not complaining by any means, but it does make me question if maybe there is something we can do to make sure these pamphlets are available to other people when someone they know loses a child. And the best place for it would be at the funeral, offered by the funeral home as part of their services. For that matter maybe they do and because I was not involved with the funeral home aspect at all I just didn’t know such help was available.
After getting the package in the mail and realizing just what Compassionate Friends was, I went to their website:https://www.compassionatefriends.org/home.aspx
and there was a video on the homepage entitled After A Child Dies that was amazing too. It was a plug for Compassionate Friends, especially the last few minutes, but the first ten minutes was kind of a general recap of the last five months for us.
One thing that really jumped out at me was at 3:30 into the video there was a segment called “Understanding this Grief” and the first dad said:
“People in life experience death of various forms. They lose relatives, they lose friends. And so they think that losing a child is the same – and it’s not. It’s very very different. And unless you’ve experienced it you just can’t understand it. And so they assume that it will be like any other death and that in time it will be like another death that you have gotten over but you don’t.” I found that statement extremely encouraging because I have been getting tiny bits of advice from people here and there and even putting pressure on myself to expect grieving Bernadette would be the same as grieving other loved ones, even Ron. To be totally honest, I don’t even know if I’ve STARTED to grieve for my brother. I mean really started. When he died I was eight months pregnant with Zoe and going through such a hard time and then after she was born it was no picnic and a new baby can be all consuming for the first little while. Oh I’ve cried at times and I think about how much I deeply miss him but it’s just not the same as with Bernadette. Thoughts of her are so constantly in the forefront of my mind and there just doesn’t seem to be much permanent room up there for anything else – except maybe Catherine and Zoe’s immediate needs. When I do think about Ron now it is intermingled with thoughts of Bernadette and I don’t know who the tears are for if not both. Mom said the same thing.
I think the biggest thing that learning about Compassionate Friends has given us so far is permission to experience grieving Bernadette differently than grieving other loved ones, family, and friends. Elizabeth Brown kind of did that in her book Surviving the Loss of a Child but I need to be reminded. Like I said, not much stays in my head these days except the fact that Zoe still needs regular diaper changes. It probably explains too why Grieving with the Help of Your Catholic Faith by Lorene Hanley Duquin wasn’t overly helpful.