When your child dies, you immediately become part of what is unofficially known as “the grief club.” This is a global connection of people whose lives have been impacted by the loss of a loved one. As a bereaved parent, the “childloss community” is sadly vast. There are smaller groups of us supporting the bereaved who connect over similar losses or experiences.
Connecting with others who have some idea what you are going through is one of our strongest human instincts. It is powerful and should be encouraged. Indeed, sites like Still Standing Magazine actively seek ways to bring the bereaved together, to share stories and open up the conversation about death and grief.
Related: Taking On The Grief
As humans, we are compelled to support those in need and empathise with those in distress and difficult situations. As a bereaved parent, that connection often intensifies as we battle our own emotions as well as our desire to help someone else going through the same unimaginable pain. Yet there soon comes a time when other people’s stories can have a lasting impact, particularly if their experience is close to our own.
Social media is a useful way to share our stories and connect. Equally, we are exposed to all the information from the accounts that we follow, 24/7. When we wake up and check our news feed, it’s often the sad stories we’ll see (and be affected by), reminding us of our own sadness, telling us that this world is a bad place where only terrible things happen and that it is full of such terrible loss. Before we’ve had time to process all this, we’re already exposed to many other similar stories as the feeds keep refreshing. By bedtime, it’s easy to see why we feel mentally exhausted and overwhelmed. Then the next day it starts all over again.
It’s impossible to turn off the empathy switch (not that you’d want to), but there are ways you can protect yourself should you begin to feel overwhelmed.
- Show you care without getting too involved
Taking on someone else’s pain is not only unrealistic; it’s unhelpful to everyone, most of all you. Empathy is a good thing, but when you connect too deeply with the event, it only serves to crush you. That will actually prevent you from helping others. Aim to show compassion, which means you acknowledge the pain and can empathise with it, but you also disassociate yourself from it—it’s sad/scary/unfair, but it’s not happening to you. From this perspective, you will be in a better position to offer help in whatever way feels appropriate. You can listen to the story without feeling you need to be a therapist and take on the problem. Or you can send a supportive text message that doesn’t require an ongoing conversation that keeps you up all night.
- Unplug the news feed and social media
Avoiding social media is near impossible, but you can control what you see. Twitter throws out the news so fast it is hard to keep up. Facebook has become a platform for debate and expressing strong feelings and images. Television and the press show us sensational stories on a daily basis. There is little escape from fear, pain, and negativity, but it’s an unnatural bias. We don’t ever hear about the peaceful community or the healthy children. Try culling the accounts you follow that make you feel uncomfortable or that upset you. It’s perfectly okay not to follow a website’s social feed just because it focuses on pregnancy loss. You don’t have to expose yourself to that type of loss all the time. It wasn’t part of your day-to-day before, so think about whether it’s healthy for it to be now. The information is there when you want to seek it out; it doesn’t have to be the other way around.
- Get outside and see people IRL (in real life)
This one is so obvious but something we all find hard to do when grieving. Get out in the daylight, breathe deeply, walk briskly, give your mind time to reflect and process. If you don’t regularly see other people IRL, find a group or place to go that helps you see life in different ways. An art or photography class can give you time to focus on one thing. Look for small groups or meetings that you could join, such as at a church or community group. Talking to older generations can be helpful in showing you how your experience fits within a lifetime of seasons. Exercising with others helps to form friendships without the pressure of having deep conversations, and it’s also good for you.
Related: Self-Care: “Me Time”
Far from making you less supportive of people’s situations, these things will build you up. New knowledge and experiences will benefit your ability to be compassionate and emphatic towards others. And, if you notice anyone taking on the troubles of others in a way that appears to be distressing or overwhelming to them, perhaps share these tips so they too can break the cycle.
Photo by Claudia on Unsplash