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Bereavement Support Services
Surviving the 1st Year
By: Judy and Tim Taylor
DON’T BE AFRAID OF YOUR FEELINGS AND DON’T RUN AWAY FROM THEM. You will experience many unfamiliar feelings during the first year of grief. Let yourself feel them. Cry, be angry, express your feelings. You may experience intense pain, feelings of unreality, isolation, exhaustion, panic, fear, reality, distortion, deep depression, loneliness, emptiness, anger and guilt. You are not going crazy (which is something everyone worries about). Grief is extremely painful, but it is the cost of commitment to those we love. Grief is a process; it is hard work, but the only way to reach the other side of it is to go through it. Learn to flow with your feelings of grief and know that, although they are painful, they are not permanent. Your sense of reality, your concentration will come back. You will function again, just as well as you did before perhaps even better.
SHARE YOUR FEELINGS. For those who are verbal by nature, talking about your feelings can be an important coping tool. At first you may have a compulsion to go over the details of your child’s death over and over again. But telling the story helps. Each time it is told, there may be a small feeling of relief. Eventually, although you may like to talk about your child’s life, you will no longer have the compulsion to review his or her death.
FIND A CREATIVE OUTLET. Any outlet that requires physical involvement (needlework, painting, building a patio or other project) can be very helpful. At first it may be best to choose an outlet which does not require much thought, such as needlework or painting by numbers, but which will offer some relief from your feelings of grief. It may also help to reduce the feeling of powerlessness by providing a sense of control through completing a task. A little later, reading about grief can provide information and understanding about the emotions you are experiencing. This helps. Keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings can also be an excellent outlet, especially if you don’t have someone to whom you can talk.
TAKE TIME IN SMALL MANAGEABLE CHUNKS. Having experienced such a traumatic event we are injured emotionally. As in any injury, it takes time to heal. Although difficult to do it is worth the effort to take just one day at a time. Don’t’ borrow trouble by sitting around dreading something (like Christmas or your child’s birthday) which may be three months down the road. Today is all we have to worry about. During the past 18 months we discovered the days we dreaded so badly were usually not as horrible as we built them up to be.
SET GOALS. At first these may be exceedingly simple. But it is very important not to wait until you become interested in something before you begin to do it. When you begin to set goals and find new things to do, you may find you have absolutely no interest in them. Try anyway, the interest comes in doing. By setting goals and attempting to reach them you may find that you will establish a new routine. This is important.
UTILIZE SUPPORT GROUPS. For us, The Compassionate Friends has been a fantastic help. We attended the first meeting with some hesitation for fear that is might be a “pity party.” However, it had been recommended by two professionals, and we were desperate, We had been feeling totally isolated. Suddenly we were in a room full of people who had gone through the same experience, and they were still living and surviving! As the months passed we began to look forward more and more to sharing our feelings with people who actually knew what we were talking about. There seems to be an instant bonding among people who have lost children. Because we have received so much support from TCF, we would like to pass on some of that help to people who come into the group newly bereaved, hurt and confused, just as we were such a short time ago.
DON’T TRY TO LIVE UP TO OTHER PEOPLE’S EXPECTATIONS. Many people will try to tell you how you “should” grieve. Don’t let them. It’s your child who is dead. It’s your grief. There are no “shoulds” except for one. You “should” pretty much go with your own feelings and your own timetable. You must make forward progress, but no more that you are capable of dealing with. Don’t let people push you to do things before you are ready. You’ll know when something is right for you to do. We recently attended the Regional Conference of TCF where John Claypool, author of Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, was the keynote speaker. He said: “Until you have been through the entire calendar, you may not experience the full extent of loss. You don’t sow and reap in the same day. Impatience comes from people who are dealing with this grief on a much more superficial level that you are.” If you observe your own timing and throw out everybody else’s “shoulds” you can make a terrible difficult period of time just a little bit easier.
DON’T TURN TO MEDICATION OR ALCOHOL. This is extremely important. We can speak on the hazards of overmedication from personal experience. If you feel that you need counseling, make sure that the counselor you see is experienced in dealing with grief. If you feel you are being given or kept on too much medication, change doctors or get a second opinion. The experience of grief is bad enough in and of itself; we don’t need it complicated by dependence on medication or alcohol. There is a certain amount of grief and pain that you have to endure, medication only postpones the grieving process.
WATCH YOUR HEALTH. Don’t allow your health to deteriorate. The state of your health is of the utmost importance, your mind is having enough trouble dealing with the shock of the situation. Without the proper food and rest your mind won’t be able to deal with it all. It is vital to eat a balanced diet and to get the proper amount of sleep and exorcise.
DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM YOUR SPOUSE. When a tragedy happens, we expect to be able to lean on our husband or wife. It is a shock to find as Harriet Schiff says in The Bereaved Parent that it is hard to lean on something that is already bent double. Learn to accept and respect each other’s methods of grieving even if you don’t understand. Give each other time and space. If your spouse is having a bad say, say you’re sorry, that you understand, but you don’t try to get him to come out of his mood, or try to entertain her to get her mind off it. This is behavior that may be resented. Communicate; really work at it. You don’t have to talk all the time, but please try to remember – in most cases you and your spouse had a relationship apart from your child. Stay close together; you need each other.
DON’T PROLONG YOUR GRIEF TO KEEP YOURSELF CLOSE TO YOUR CHILD. There is a temptation to think that by maintaining a state of grief on a severe plateau one might actually feel as though he were maintaining a closeness with his child. This is a false impression. Letting go of pain does not mean letting go of your child. Don’t feel guilty about feeling better.
DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF. The “guilties” can be very damaging. Don’t put yourself down. Treat yourself as kindly and with as much respect as you would treat someone else who was going through this same experience.
DON’T TAKE WHAT PEOPLE SAY TOO SERIOUSLY. You will hear all kinds of platitudes: “Hold your chin up.”, “Well, at least you can have other children.”, “Be grateful that you have each other.”, “I know just how you feel: I lost my 96 year old great-aunt last year.” Sometimes it will hurt: Sometimes it will make you angry. Try to cultivate a sense of humor. Most people mean well, they’re not out to hurt you. They just don’t know what to say. Our daughter, Shannon, when asked what she would say to a person whose child has died replied: “I would say, ‘I love you’.” If we all took lessons from six-year-olds, we might know what to say.