People often ask about why others have unrealistic expectations related to grieving. Such expectations can be particularly true in the case of bereaved parents. These expectations may include what I call the magic timeline. Such models may represent an attempt by others regarding how long grief will continue. Questions such as the age of the child, how the death occurred, and the existence of surviving children may be an attempt to estimate the length of time that grief will continue. The reality is that there is no magic timeline, and each griever will have a unique journey. Grief continues throughout one’s lifetime and becomes integrated into the life of the grieving parent.
So, if grief is not a neat and organized experience, what is it? Early in grief, parents will identify feeling as though they are overtaken by their suffering, which can feel like they are drowning in an ocean. They may describe sudden waves that overtake them with no life preserver in sight.
There are also periods of feeling as though they are out of the dangerous waters and on solid ground. As grief continues, it alternates between these two states, and over time, there is more time spent on a solid foundation than in the water.
For those who have experienced such a devastating loss, do not be hesitant to ask for what is needed—openly talking about your child to those who can support you. If you are helping someone who has lost a child, be present and willing to listen. There are no magic words to say or need to make things better because that is not possible. Simply be present and be ready to listen.
Wishing you Peace
Tom Fulbrook Ph.D., LCSW