Monday, July 30, 2018

In Grief: When A Friend's Mourning Pattern Seems Strange

[Reviewed and updated April 19, 2022]

Never judge another knight without first knowing the strength and cunning of the dragons he fights.  ~ 
Richelle E. Goodrich

A reader writes: I was wondering if you could tell me how you would best suggest telling children about a sibling that has passed before they were born. I have a friend who had a son die at 1 year. The other children who came after him were told of his death but not much else about him. The friend did not think this was the best way to deal with this but he was overruled by his wife.
She never talked about his life or showed them video or pictures of him. She just seemed to need for them to know he was gone but nothing else. I have lost my mother a few years ago and it became clear to me then that this was strange. It is almost like she wants them to grief as much as she does but never be able to reconcile the loss. It is very clear that you are not supposed to talk to them about their brother unless it is about him dying. Does this seem like a strange way of dealing with this to you? Thank you.

My response: You wrote to me asking how I would suggest telling children about a sibling who died before they were born. Although it is obvious that you are a concerned and caring friend in this situation, since it is not the parents of these children asking for my advice, it becomes very difficult for me to answer your question ~ but I will tell you what I think.

You ask whether I think their way of dealing with this is "strange" and, since I don't know any details about their situation, I would be reluctant to make that value judgment. What I can tell you is that everyone grieves differently according to their age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss, and available support. Grieving differs among members of the same family, as each person’s relationship with and attachment to the deceased family member varies. How anyone reacts to a death depends on how they’ve responded to other crises in their life; on what was lost when this death happened (not only the life of the person who died, but certain aspects of their own lives as well: their way of life; who they were in their relationship with that person and who they planned to be; their hopes and dreams for the future); on who died (spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, relative, friend or other; how they lived together and what that person meant to them); on the person’s role in their family; on when the death occurred (at what point in their life cycle: theirs as well as that of the person who died); and on how (the circumstances surrounding the death, and how the death occurred).

You know your friend better than I do. All I can suggest to you is that you learn all you can about normal grief and what resources are "out there" and available. You might begin by spending some time on my Articles page and following some of the links listed there. Then, if and when the timing seems right, you can gently offer to share some of the resources you yourself have discovered and explored (so you'll know why you're recommending them).  You might also print out some of the articles you find and give them to your friend to read ~ but be aware that she may not be open to or ready for your offers to help ~ especially if she does not see that there is a problem here that requires your intervention in the first place.

As I read your message, I was reminded of an article by psychologist and grief counselor Bob Baugher entitled I Don't Care How Long It's Been ~ Can We Talk About My Child? in which he offers some insights and suggestions that you may find helpful. After reading it yourself, you may want to give a copy of it to your friend with a gentle comment such as, "I found this interesting article that shed some light on something I've been wondering about for some time ~ I thought perhaps you'd be interested in it, too. Maybe we can talk about it together, after you've had a chance to read it."

I don't know if what I've said offers you much help, my dear. I know it's difficult when you want to do something to make things better for others you care about, and you're not certain if they want or even need your help. Whatever you decide to do, please know that I am thinking of you.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing Newsletter. Sign up here.


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