The Good-bye letter, Part 3

Jillian Brasch | December 16th, 2011

images8In keeping with our topic of the good-bye letter from parent to child (and keep in mind that I’m also talking about adult children), here is another suggestion.

Is there something you can say to help them cope after you’ve died?

You might reassure your child that you had a full, happy, long (or whatever is true for you) life.

There might be healthy ways you can suggest to help them find solace. Because they will all be going through grief together, you might suggest they keep in touch with family. However, it’s important to point out that people grieve in different ways, and they should not judge each other on these differences. Some people are active grievers and must be “doing something.” So if your brother suddenly goes to the gym to work out for two hours every day, that may be his way of grieving. It may look like an escape from grief, but it may not be.

You might also suggest they get in touch with friends–your friends or theirs. It’s helpful to keep in touch with your friends, because if they have questions about you later, your friends may know the answers. It’s important for them not to pull away from their friends (probably their main support system) at this time. However, if their friends haven’t experienced the death of a parent, they can’t possibly understand what your child is experiencing. They can imagine it, and hopefully empathize, but to truly understand it, it has to be experienced.(I had a 60-year-old friend say this to me only last week. ” I haven’t been sympathetic enough to friends who have lost their parents. Until it happened to me, I didn’t really understand what they were going through.”)

You might suggest they reach out to their community (friends from work, neighbors,etc.), or to a spiritual community (depending on your family’s beliefs), or to God. Very often when someone dies, there is a period of time when the bereaved person is angry at God. You might even address this in your letter, saying it’s only natural.

This is a time for them to let themselves depend on others. This is a time to let themselves feel what they feel. If they try to stuff it down, it only comes back later.

Grief lasts longer than we expect, so it’s a good time to ask for support. I heard a story about a woman whose Mother died around the holidays. On the second year after her mother’s death, she sent a Christmas ornament with a note attached to each of her friends. The note simply read, “The anniversary of my mother’s death will be soon. Please call me for lunch or coffee.” I thought that was a great way to ask her community of friends to support her. She may have not been able to pick up the phone, but sending the small gift with a note was, in my mind, brilliant.

Asking for help at this time is not a weakness. In many other cultures, the bereaved are given support for much longer than here in the U.S. Here, it is┬ácommon to get only three days off work if a family member dies, and then you are expected to return to work at 100%. With this being the cultural attitude, we accept this as normal. It isn’t.

And finally, as a parent you might want to encourage them to go to a grief support group. In a support group, often sponsored by hospices or churches, they will be with people they don’t know (which sometimes feels safer) who are going through a shared experience. Hearing their thoughts and feelings helps normalize the experience of grief. If they don’t feel like their grief is moving along normally, they can seek the help of a grief counselor, someone who is an expert in this area of therapy.

We’ll talk more about grief in future blogs.

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