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How do your function as a person while living with the pain of grief?

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Jessica Elder
How do your function as a person while living with the pain of grief?

Bereaved parents often talk about how hard it is to function while grieving. Doing anything can be difficult...working, parenting, getting up in the morning, resuming responsbilities and day to day activities. Please discuss your challenges, and/or how you coped with these challenges while learning to function again.

John Ott

I am 13 years out from the death of my Nikki.    The first 4-5 years were the worst.   I had to work so burying myself in work helped.   I told my wife (I told her at about 8 years) that soon after Niiki died I started to have conversation with her as I drove home.   I would ask for her help on issues concerning her mother, did I do all I could do and what she would want me to do with the rest of my life.   These conversations my seem a little wierd but they helped me put things into perspective.   When ever I found my self depresed, angry or just plain out of it, I would ask myself what would Nikki want me to do.   I will always remember the time in church when she stood up and told everyone about her brain tumor.   She did not miss a beat and said "don't worry about me I will be with Jesus, please take care of my mother".  Nikki knew we were focussing on her for treatment and just plain making her happy. Another time that will stay with me forever is the time she was making out birthday cards for her friends for the whole year. We were sitting on the floor of our bedroom.  I asked her why she was making out cards for the whole year.  She said "in case I die before I can give them out, I want you to mail them for me."   I was stunned by her answer but realized how much she understood what was happening to her. .  With out thinking I mumbled what am I goin  do without you.  She turned and looked staright at me and said, "help other kids just like me".  I had no answer but never forgot the conversation.   I will continue to ask, what would Nikki want me to do.  This is what got me though the days, weeks, years after she died. 


Donna Beech

My son Jonathan died 7-and-a-half years ago yesterday.  I feel that this past year has been a very good one, though, largely because my other son David loves his new life as a college student.  Although Jonathan should now be 22 and alive, I am very grateful that a child of mine finally graduated from high school and moved on with his life, as every kid is supposed to do.

But I really don't remember anything of the first year after Jonathan died, and that inability to remember is a blessing, because it was such an incredibly painful time.  I had continued journalling every day, as I did from the time he was diagnosed.  After about a year (or maybe more) I realized that my journalling had turned into letters to Jonathan......and so I continued talking to him through my writing, for a few years.  I found that very comforting.  

While Jonathan was on hospice, I heard him crying one afternoon, so I went right to him (I still shake my head at my question to him:  "What's wrong?"  Duh....).  He said, "I'll never be able to thank everyone for everything they did for me."  I immediately promised that we would do that for him, through our music (we're musicians), and he calmed down.  That promise has carried me through many a rough time, as we established an annual memorial concert, held each year in March, shortly after his birthday (Feb. 27) and day he died (Mar. 10); the distractions of all the planning definitely carry me through what would otherwise be the most dismal days of the year.  

And, yes, there definitely have been many times when nothing could get me out of the extremely dark, heart-wrenching cloud.  At those times I just remembered that there are many other parents who lost their dear child, and that I'm not alone in my grief. 

One other thing that helped:  Our hospital puts together a memorial book for any parents who want to participate. Each family has a page where they can have their child's picture, and write anything they want.  I've participated every year.  It is another way in which I can see that I'm not alone.  

Peace and love to you all.



This is a tough one...

I am not sure you do function very well after your child dies.  I found functioning extremely difficult for years and at times I still do.

My son, Joseph, was 2 1/2 when he died.  At that time I had a 4 month old son as well.  Around 1 year after Joseph died we decided to expand our family and we had a 3rd son about 2 years after Joseph died.  This year we had our last child, a girl, who is currently 5 months old.

I am a stay-at-home mom.  When Joseph died we were growing our family and only contemplated not growing it becuase of the horrific experience of losing Joseph.  Eventually we reconsidered and decided to have our 4 children. 

Growing our family, while it was always the plan, has also served as a huge distraction for me (though that was never the reason we decided to have a big family.)  I liken it to working a lot or throwing oneself into work; distractions can be very helpful.  For the first few years after Joseph died, I was impossible to distract.  Not even having my 4 month old son distracted me from the sheer and utter pain of losing Joseph.  My inability to be distracted for about 3 years due to the intensity of the pain of the loss was tremendously hard and made me miss being at all mentally present for my other babies, which was just an added layer of loss at the hand of cancer.

In those early years I journaled, a lot.  I have never gone back to read my writings because I think that revisiting that pain would be really hard.  But i have a journal that is about 700 pages long.  I only stopped journaling at the beginning of the this year because I just got too busy but I was consisted for about 4 1/2 years.  It was a safe place to write things, private things, without repercussions.  It worked for me.

I also read a ton of books about grief and loss.  I found those were the only books I could focus on.  (I have a list of books on my charity's website: that I found helpful.)  I read everything I could get my hands on...if it was nonfiction and about death, I read it.  

I started a charity for my son; however, it has given me little comfort. I know that works for many people but it hasnt worked well for me.  I continue to keep the charity going because it does fund some current projects and I want my living kids to have the option of using it to do good if they so choose.  For now, it continues to operate and function quite well but I dont keep it running because of the comfort it gives me because it gives me very little, if any at all.

I stayed home a lot in those early years after Joseph died.  Not working and having an infant, I had that ability. I am not sure hiding from the world gave me comfort but the world felt so sad and scary without Joseph that I felt I just needed to stay away from it.  So I did.  And being able to give in to that need was helpful for a while and in small doses.

One of the most helpful things I did to get my life back on track after Joseph died was attend a bereavement session in Maine at Camp Sunshine.  Meeting other families that had endured a loss similar to mine was invaluable.  Attending that camp (which my husband and I did about 15 months after Joseph died) shifted our grief gears to a place where we felt we could get a little traction.  That camp changed our lives for the better as individuals and as a couple.

I think one's ability to function after one's child dies is one that comes with trial and error and with time.  What is important to remember is that most "civilains" (as I like to refer to non-bereaved parents) see what they want to see.  You could be suffocating inside and most people wont see that because they dont want to see that - for better or for worse.  My point is, you can very easily "trick" people into making them think you are functioning well by merely showering and "showing up."  If your goal is to be perceived as functioning well after your child dies, I think that is relatively easy to acheive.

If your goal is to truly function well after your child dies, I beleive each one of us has the ability to acheive that goal as well; however, it does take time, patience and (the most difficult, I think) acceptance of your life now without your child. Functioning well and more smoothly after your child dies takes a very long time (at 4 years after Joseph's death I felt I could function decently on a daily basis).  Now, at 5 years after Joseph's death, I function decently well each day and recover quicker and swifter when something happens that causes me to collapse.  I like to look at myself as getting "craftier" each year rather than "better" because there is something unsettling to me about life getting "better" without Joseph in it...instead, I think I get craftier about how to manage my life without him and handle the setbacks and challenges that come with being a bereaved mother.

In the meantime, when trying to learn to function better as a bereaved and grieving person, I stayed away from debilitating behaviors like drugs, alcohol and unhealthy distractions and I tried to foster healthy approaches to manage the pain in my life.  The book, "A grief like no other" by Kathleen O'Hara has a lot of information in it about how to handle those first years of loss and what pitfalls to avoid.  Dr. O'Hara's college-aged son, Aaron, was murdered but despite the different manner of death she experienced in losing her son I found her advice extremely helpful.  Here's a link to the book:




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