At a recent presentation in the North Vancouver Library series “Mere Mortals,” two leaders of the North Vancouver Compassionate Friends, a peer-support group for bereaved parents, addressed the topic of grieving the death of a child and how to help bereaved parents.
Jan Bryant, whose ten-year-old daughter Lindsay died from a fall over 25 years ago, gave a gripping account of the debilitating experience of losing one’s child. Of course, any loss of a loved one debilitates, but the grief over losing a child is complicated with the guilt of surviving. Your child is not supposed to die before you, and even if, logically, there is nothing you could have done to save your child, you still feel you have failed in your protective role as parent.
Cathy Sosnowsky (and in a repeat of the presentation, Leslie Gibbons) talked about the way a support group like The Compassionate Friends (TCF) can be of help to parents in grief.
TCF is an international organization, founded fifty years ago in a hospital in Coventry, England, when two sets of parents whose children were dying found consolation in supporting each other. The chapter of TCF on the North Shore was founded thirty years ago and its monthly sharing circle continues to meet by means of Zoom during this pandemic.
Besides holding monthly sharing circles, the North Shore TCF has reached out to the community through a public art project in west Victoria Park (at Lonsdale Ave. and Keith Rd.). The symbolic marble sculpture (an abstract Madonna with a hole in the centre) is surrounded by a pathway of paving stones bearing words significant to individual children: Laughter, Love, Goodnight Moon, Gone Fishing…. Bereaved parents purchased stones (to help finance the installation) and chose words that represented their child. In deciding not to have individual names on the stones, the hope was that they would speak to anyone of the love we are blessed with in our children.
The presenters also spoke of things not to say to a bereaved parent and things you could do to help. Do not say “I know how you feel” unless you are another bereaved parent and even so, griefs differ. Do not try to console with “God needed another angel.” Such cliches are the opposite of comforting. Do not suggest that the newly bereaved call you if they need help. They won’t. Just come over with food, take any surviving siblings out, vacuum the floor… And, above all, listen.
In their shock, bereaved parents need to retell their story again and again. It’s as if they can’t believe it, and they can’t. Don’t be afraid to say the child’s name, to share memories of them. As the initial shock of loss passes into a more quiet grieving, parents still want to hear their child’s name. Remembering a birth date and death date helps.
Any parent who has lost a child of any age, from whatever cause and however long ago, is welcome to join the TCF sharing circle that meets every second Wednesday of the month. Contact Cathy 604-770-4570, or Leslie 604-619-2481, of Jan northshore@TCFCanada.net for more information.
Cathy Sosnowsky’s teenage son died in a freak accident over 20 years ago. Besides playing a leadership role in North Shore’s TCF chapter, she gives writing towards healing workshops and has authored three books based on her grief journey: Holding On: Poems for Alex; Snapshots: A Story of Loss, Love and Life; and Finding Heartstone: A Taste of Wilderness. www.cathysosnowsky.com.