Grief, How Can I Help?

Question: My neighbours lost one of their triplet sons. I feel helpless and don’t know how to help. How can I effectively support the family at this very sad time?

For several reasons grief is very difficult to deal with: Grief has no time line; Grief is very personal and everyone grieves differently; and there is no telling what may trigger sad and painful feelings. Additionally, grief, for the same individual, becomes different as they walk along its rocky and difficult path. The individuality of grief and where a person in his grief journey, makes it difficult to know exactly how to aid and support someone attempting to heal. Another factor which can impede helping someone is our own inhibitions regarding death and in not knowing how to approach a grieving person. It may be easier for some of us to ignore a grieving person, perhaps with a mumbled “Hello”, no eye contact and then to get on with our own lives.

The following has been prepared in order to assist you when you come into contact with someone who has suffered a loss. I hope that you will find it of assistance.

NOTE: “Loss” is defined as any major loss – e.g. loss of employment, house fire, divorce, as well as bereavement. This article deals with loss by death.

  1. Step forward and approach the bereaved individual. Put out your hand or offer them a hug, if the situation is appropriate. Make eye contact and say, “I am so sorry!” Often that will be enough to allow the person to speak of their pain.
  2. Be a good listener. This rule applies in so many different areas of our lives and is extremely important when listening to a bereaved person. Don’t add to their situation by recounting horror stories of your own. It is not a time for one-upmanship of stories. This is their time and a time for you to listen, to perhaps once again say, “I am so sorry.” Or “It just isn’t fair.” Don’t take up this time with yourself but give freely of your listening skills. Don’t be afraid to use the deceased’s name during the conversation. If you don’t know what they name the baby(ies), ask them. They will appreciate the validation of their baby’s existence. Families need to speak of their lost one(s), including using their names.
  3. Be prepared to make yourself available. Make sure you don’t give them the impression of “hurrying” or speeding them along because you need to be elsewhere or because you feel uncomfortable.
  4. Try to accept the words shared with you. A grieving individual may rail against life, G-d, the doctors, the world. Don’t make harsh judgements. Just accept the words as they come. In an effort to get rid of our pain, it is not unusual to make rash and/or harsh statements.
  5. There are many concrete ways in which you can assist – take care of other children for a while, bring over a meal, send a card, make a donation to an appropriate charity, attend the wake, funeral or memorial service, make a cup of tea for the parents. Ask how you can help.
  6. Don’t minimize the loss – “You can have more children.” “It’s better this way. Your baby was sick.” “She has gone to a better place.” “G-d needed her more than you did.” None of these remarks are helpful to a grieving parent. Children are not interchangeable and “having another one” will not replace what should have been and “a better place” is here with her family. Families who have survivors of multiple birth children are often not given the proper space to grieve their loss. In a bereavement counselling group session, parents of a surviving twin where yelled at by a mother who had lost her singleton child, “Why are you here? You have a baby, I have none!” Minimizing anyone’s loss does not help.
  7. Don’t forget to acknowledge the father’s grief too. Too often the Mom is consoled while Dad is expected to “Hang tough.” Some people ask Dad how Mom is doing and don’t even think of asking him how he is. Dad too, has lost a child and experiences feelings of loss and pain. He has the added burden of society’s expectations that he can “cope.” He may be split between a child(ren) at home, a baby in the NICU, his job, planning a funeral, and his wife recovering from a c-section. He will also need your support.
  8. There are no shortcuts through grieving. Any attempt at a shortcut can only make things worse. Try and allow the bereaved person as long or as short a period as they need. Be patient. Avoid tell the person how they “should” feel or act or what they “should” do to make things easier. Also avoid saying “You are handling it so well” as this puts people into a box. Remember that there is no time limit on grief and several months down the road, these families still do not feel “normal”. They are trying to adapt to a new reality. They have still lost their child(ren) and nothing will ever change that.
  9. Encourage the bereaved person to look after themselves. To eat properly (it is not unusual for a bereaved person to stop eating and drinking), to see to their own needs and not to make important decisions right away. They need time first to grieve and heal.
  10. Remember that you are not responsible for this person’s pain. You didn’t cause it and because your children are alive and healthy, try not to feel guilty about it.
  11. Remember that you cannot take away their pain but you can assist them over the rocky path. You can be supportive and caring. You will not have all of the answers and, often there are not any answers at all. Life happens with no apologies or excuses and sometimes, it can be quite unfair. They did nothing wrong to deserve this.
  12. You may find it prudent to recommend some professional counselling, a physician, religious figure, grief counsellor or therapist. The library has books on death and dying and there are workshops, seminars or support groups that can also be of assistance. Your local funeral home will also be able to guide you in this area.
  13. One way a Chapter can be of assistance is to donate Multiple Births Canada’s Loss Booklets to the funeral homes and neonatal hospital units in your Chapter area. Such a donation will assist the professionals in being aware of the family’s unique needs.

Additional Resources:

  • Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D., Fulcrum Publishing
  • The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, Barbara D. Rosof, Henry Holt and Company
  • On Children and Death, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Collier Books
  • Life After Loss, Bob Deits, Fisher Books
  • Men & Grief, Carol Staudacher, New Harbinger Publications
Did you do something special by way of support for a bereaved family and would like to share that idea with others? Write and let me know how you helped someone deal with the loss of their precious child(ren).

Grieving Grandparents

One of the most overlooked areas of grief is the grief experienced by grandparents. Your child has just suffered the death of their child or children and you could not protect nor shield him/her from this devastating loss. Further, you have lost your grandchild(ren). Your own hopes and dreams for the future are shattered. To further complicate matters, the grief process is a long, often painful journey which has no timeframe and which is very personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, only your way. With the loss of a baby(ies), we are changed forever. Hopefully the following will assist you, as the Grandparents, in coming to terms with and handling not only your own grief journey but also that of your child.

It is natural to want to protect one’s child from pain but that is not always possible. As you watch your child suffer and the dreams for the future are shattered with the death of your grandchild(ren), you can only stand by and watch. You feel powerless. It is difficult to offer comfort when you are also grieving yourself. You must try to offer comfort at the same time as you grieve.

  1. Take your child in your arms. Hold them, cry with them. Let them tell you how they feel. Listen with your heart, soul and with love. Words aren’t particularly necessary as you hold, support and love each other.
  2. If you are able to share some of your own feelings of sadness, do so. When we share difficult moments together, it makes the burden a little lighter. Concealing your own pain or feelings may only make them feel that you don’t care.
  3. Try to avoid telling your child how they should act. “You can have another baby.” “Try to pick up the pieces and get on with your lives, you are young.”
  4. If at all possible, try to see the baby(ies), to hold him/her, take photos with everyone, name the baby(ies). Encourage your child to do the same. Do not be afraid to use the baby’s name. After all he/she existed and was a real part of your family’s fantasy and future. To ignore the pregnancy or the loss will only make the mountains higher.
  5. Remember that the loss of this baby(ies) is not your fault. You did not cause the baby(ies) to die, but you can be supportive and available when possible to do so.
  6. Do not feel badly if your grief is initially ignored. As the parents try to come to terms with a new reality, they may inadvertently exclude you and not recognize the depth of your grief.
  7. Avoid blaming: “Do you think you exercised too much? Or drank too much coffee?” You might ask, “I know I wonder if I could have done anything differently, do you have similar feelings that are bothering you?” Try not to judge nor interpret any responses.
  8. Take care of yourself. Make sure you eat nutritiously and that your child and their partner does too. One of the first things that falls to the side after a death is appetite. A snack of cheese, fruit or vegetables ensures that health and strength are kept up. Try also to get adequate sleep and exercise during this painful period.
  9. Try to keep the lines of communication open between family members. Offer to assist with meals, childcare if there are other children, share resources and books.
  10. There are things that you can do to celebrate the memory of your grandchild(ren):-
    • plant a garden or a tree in a local park;
    • do some volunteer work;
    • make a donation to a favorite charity;
    • write about your feelings and perhaps give the journal to your child at a later date;
    • do something special on anniversaries or birth/death days.
  11. Grief is a very powerful emotion. Remember your other grandchildren if you have them. Don’t let your grief overshadow your ability to interact with them or others.
  12. If your child and spouse feels comfortable with it, you may wish to include the child(ren) who died whenever speaking about your grandchildren, especially when mentioning how many you have.

One bereaved grandmother advised that she was told by her son and his wife (both doctors) that she must never refer to the babies again (they died at 5-1/2 months gestation). This grandmother felt blocked and ignored regarding her own feelings. She felt that being doctors, they should be in a better position to understand grief, loss and how to deal with them. This is not always the case and while no doubt being able to dispense wise advice to their patients, were not able to acknowledge their own pain and loss. Denial regarding their loss was also inflicted on the grandparents. If such is the case for you, join a bereavement support group, try some grief counseling or speak to a good friend, doctor or religious support person. You don’t have to go through this alone. Your feelings are real and painful. You, too, have suffered a loss but you may need to explore some avenues on your own in order to obtain appropriate support.

Other Resources

Grieving Grandparents, by Sherokee Ilse and Lori Leininger, Wintergreen Press Inc.

Loss Organizations

Loss Support Network, Multiple Births Canada, www.multiplebirthscanada.org

Centre for Loss in Multiple Births (CLIMB), Alaska
E-mail: climb@pobox.alaska.net

Unprepared for a life without a child

My name is Lindsay and four years ago in 2003, I lost my twin daughters, Emma and Hailey. My story actually starts in October 2002.

I was really sick, throwing up all the time I had dropped about 30 pounds. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, so I went to the local walk-in clinic and the Doctor there told me that I had food poisoning and put me on the B.R.A.T DIET. He told me only bananas, rice, apple sauce and tea for 4 days and if I couldn’t keep that down, then to go to the hospital. So off to the hospital I went with my husband and father in tow. I think it was about 3 days later cause the sickness was starting to affect everything I did. I couldn’t drive to the store without pulling over several times to puke. and I was constantly calling in sick to university and to work.

When we got to the hospital I met a Female doctor who checked me over and asked if I could be pregnant? I thought for a second and said I could be but I am still getting a period. She did a pregnancy test on me and lo and behold I was pregnant! Her exact words to me were, “We usually like to have a parent in the room when we tell these kinds of things to teenagers.” I was so shocked by her words that I never even thought to tell her I was 25 years old. Not a child.

I burst out laughing and said, “It’s ok you can tell me. Did the test come back positive?” She kind of looked at me funny till I told her how old I was and that my husband and father were in the waiting room. I had a lot of relief when I found out I was pregnant. I knew from the time I was a little girl that I was going to have a set of twins. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. We started to collect baby stuff times two … everything we had we had two of in preparation for our twin daughters. The doctor gave me some pills which helped control the nausea.

On Dec. 25 2002, I had pains in my stomach they only last a couple of minutes but they brought on this major wave of nausea I was sick for a long time. I went in to see my doctor and he said everything was fine and sent me to an obgyn. I finally got an appointment for and ultra sound on Feb 15 2003. When I went in to the ultra sound room I asked if my husband could come in as a well. Initially they refused. The technician doing the ultra sound started with the screen facing me then this look of panic came over her and she turned the screen away from me very quickly and she left the room telling me something was wrong with the machine. When she came back to the room she had another technician as well as my husband with her. My husband stood in the corner of the room opposite from me and as soon as he saw the screen he came over and started to rub my arm. I was starting to get upset as no one was talking to me or telling me what was happening. We were finally told there were no heartbeats to be found. There was nothing they could do and I should go home and rest. They would call my doctor and let him know what was going on.

I was so distraught I thought just maybe, maybe she had made a mistake. We went home and I spent the entire weekend crying in bed with people coming and going. At this point I was 24 weeks pregnant. On Feb. 18 I called my doctor but he had no idea what was going on He told me to make an appointment for the next day which I did. I went in to see him on Feb. 19. My doctor called the ultrasound dept at the hospital while I was in the room and started quizzing them asking why he didn’t have any paper work on me and why he wasn’t informed. Their excuse was they were busy.

It was February 22 before I was admitted to the hospital. I was induced and drugged, so the next couple of days were a blur. My parents came everyday and sat with me and my husband stayed every night. Finally on February 26 2003 at 4:45 pm I delivered my twin girls. One was 11.3 ounces and the other was 1 lb. 3.7 ounces. I was devastated . My poor husband had left for work no more then 30 min before I delivered. I delivered them sitting on a toilet into a bowl so that they could take them out of the room quickly. My husband got back just in time to see me being wheeled down the hall to the OR for surgery. I needed to have a D&C.

I stayed in the hospital for about two days then sent me on my way unprepared for a life without a child. One of the things I remember from being in the hospital is the day after I delivered my girls. A young man was standing out side my door announcing to everyone that his wife had just delivered healthy twin boys. He was handing out fake cigars to everyone and when he went to come into  my room to give me one I yelled at him. I screamed at him to get the hell out.
I can’t understand why they put women whom have lost a child on the maternity ward. Yes, I had a private room but I could still hear the crying babies and the happy parents.
I miss my girls every day. In September of 2006 I found I was pregnant again. We were terrified that the same thing would happen. I was overly cautious during the pregnancy, but my doctor referred me to a fetal assessment center at the children’s hospital so that I could put my worries to rest. We are now the proud parents of a little girl who was born on June 1, 2007.

One of our beautiful twin grandsons was struck by a car

On February 2nd, 2005, one of our beautiful twin grandsons was struck by a car while riding his bicycle near his home on Long Island. His name is Anthony R. Matuza. He was only fifteen-years-old. Nicholas is Anthony’s twin brother.

For six days Anthony’s family, friends and church members surrounded him with faith, hope, love and many prayers. Anthony’s condition worsened, and on the sixth day, with no blood flow to his brain and no brain activity, his Mom and Dad had to make the heartbreaking decision to take Anthony off life support. Anthony died as he had lived, in the arms of those who loved him, and is now back in God’s care.

Our daughter Nicolle, Anthony’s Mom, is an E.R. nurse and an avid horse lover. Anthony’s Dad, Marty, is an Emergency Services Officer and a first responder in his fire district. After Anthony’s death, Nicolle’s faith was at its lowest point. She had begun to question even her steadfast belief in a just and merciful God. To fill her days Nicolle returned to her passion, riding and caring for horses. Being around the barn and walking the fragrant spring pastures seemed to give her a sense of communing with her lost son.

One weekend in early September while her Mom was visiting, Nicolle was online looking at horses. She found nothing that interested her in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut and was about to give up. Her Mom, Nana, suggested she try looking in Pennsylvania. Tired, Nana then went off to bed. A few minutes later she heard, “Mom, you have to come and see this”. There on the screen was “Anthony’s Faith Believe’n”. Looking further, they found the horse was born in February 2005, the same month and year Anthony died. Checking even further, they learned the horse cost fifteen hundred dollars, fifteen being the exact amount of years Anthony lived. This was the first day the ad was posted. Nana urged Nicolle to call right away. Marty laughed and said ” What do you need, lightning to strike you?” After Nicolle left a message with the woman who owned the horse, Nana took the call-back and asked if the horse was still for sale. The woman said “Yes.” Nana said, “We’ll take it!” She then went on to explain the sad circumstances of the loss of our grandson.

Now all we needed to do was find the money. It just so happened that Nana and I had a bond with accrued interest. The interest was fifteen hundred dollars, –fifteen hundred and nine dollars to be exact! Just the amount needed to buy the horse. Tom and Laurel, the owners of the stable where Nicolle was leasing a horse, even volunteered to trailer the new horse home for her from Union City in western Pennsylvania.

Our family believes that everything leading up to Nicolle buying this horse was Anthony’s way of telling her, “It’s all right Mom, I’m O.K. Now it’s time to move forward again.”

This pretty little seven month old filly, whose name is now Faith, was a gift from God and Anthony. She now lives on Long Island with Nicolle, Marty and Nicholas.

Sincerely,

Edward J. & Vivian Smith, Canadensis, PA