The Compassionate Friends, a nonprofit that provides support to grieving parents, grandparents and siblings says that "out-of-order death", the death of a young person outside life's natural order of progression, is the most difficult type of loss to recover from, and that the grieving process is the hardest.
Gayle and David Mosenson lost their oldest son, Jeffrey, 18 years ago when his car skidded out of control on a slick, icy road and hit a tree. "Not a day goes by that we don't think of Jeffrey. Jeffrey was a wonderful son and brother, a great friend, someone who was always there for people, ready to lend a helping hand." Losing Jeffrey broke their hearts and the hearts of their three other children who all looked up to their other brother. (The photograph above is of Gayle and David Mosenson at ribbon cutting for the Jeffrey Mosenson Center for Trauma and Emergency Medicine wing at NUMC.)
Devorah and Rabbi Yakov Cohen, lost their seven year old son, Elisha, to a brain tumor after a long battle with cancer. Cindy and Brian Nadelbach's lost their son, Joshua, to suicide last May. Paula Stephens lost her son who was a soldier over four years ago, and unfortunately, the list goes on.
How does one make sense of such losses? And how can one comfort people who have gone through the devastating loss of a child, grandchild or sibling?
"Many family members find they want to do something special to commemorate and memorialize their loved one so their memory will live on. Some join in the efforts of a charity or ask for contributions to a cause they believe in, while others, like the Mosensons and the Nadelbachs choose to found and fund a nonprofit," said Libby Hikind, CEO and founder of GrantWatch.com. "GrantWatch can help find grants for grief, bereavement and mental health programming.
The Mosensons dedicated their efforts, through the Jeffrey Mosenson Memorial Fund, to raising funds to build a training facility for emergency responders. Once raised, the funds, were used to rebuild and expand The Nassau County Fire, Police, EMS Academy at Nassau University Medical Center (https://www.ncfpaems.org), where Jeffrey had trained to become a fireman and EMT. The Mosensons raised the funds through email campaigns, fundraising events such as annual golf tournaments and silent auctions to build a state of the art facility. The Jeffrey Mosenson Center for Trauma and Emergency Medicine wing at NUMC, which houses the academy, opened in May of 2010, and is the first public-private partnership in Nassau County. The center now trains about 2,500 students per year to become paramedics, fire fighters, police, and EMTs. (http://www.jeffreymosenson.org/MissionStatement.php)
Devorah and Rabbi Yakov Cohen became active in blood and bone marrow drives and other charity work in Houston, and aiding the foundation by volunteering regularly. Both highly regarded spiritual teachers in their community, every class they teach is dedicated to their son's memory and to "raise his soul," and often on behalf of someone in need of healing. "It's our tradition to take on more good deeds and do them more thoroughly and with a full heart to raise the soul of the deceased," said Devorah.
Whether the death of a child was due to gun violence, a drunk driver, suicide, car accident, physical illness, alcoholism or drug overdose, these five principles apply in how to support grieving parents, grandparents, siblings and other close family and friends.
1. Remember their children.
The loss of a child "is a degree of suffering that is impossible to grasp without experiencing it first hand," writes author, motivational speaker, and coach, Paula Stephens, in her blog "Crazy Good Grief." "Often, when we know someone else is experiencing grief, our discomfort keeps us from approaching it head on. But we want the world to remember our children, no matter how young or old they were… If you never met my son, don't be afraid to ask about him. One of my greatest joys is talking about Brandon."
2. Accept that you can't "fix" them.
The death of a child breaks a person, especially a parent, in a way that is not fixable or solvable. People learn to put one foot in front of the other and move forward, to cope and live their lives, but their lives are never the same.
"Living with loss is a solitary journey, even if there are other family members who are also experiencing the loss," says Stephens. Be patient with them as they find their way. Everyone heals in a different time frame and there are no right or wrong answers.
Time does not necessarily heal this wound. Some people find a way to cope with it that "heals the wound" for them, but that is not the case for all or even most. It's a spiritual journey. Some find comfort in their Higher Power knowing best, that everything happens for a reason, they feel grateful for the gift of their child, even if they were taken away much too soon, but such words from another will not necessarily help them and might make them feel worse.
3. Know that there are at least two days a year they need a time out.
Birthdays, death anniversaries (or as Stephens puts it, "angelversaries"), and holidays are especially hard for them. "Our hearts ache to celebrate our child's arrival into this world, but we are left becoming intensely aware of the hole in our hearts instead. Some parents create rituals or have parties while others prefer solitude. "Either way, we are likely going to need time to process the marking of another year without our child. The period leading up to these dates, especially the death anniversary are also extremely difficult. Some people feel like they're reliving them every year," says Stephens.
4. Realize that they struggle every day with happiness.
"It's an ongoing battle to balance the pain and guilt of outliving your child with the desire to live in a way that honors them and their time on this earth," says Stephens.
Grieving parents are constantly balancing their feelings of grief and how to continue to live and be happy after the loss. These feelings will be especially strong at special occasions like weddings, graduations, and other milestones. "Don't walk away – witness it with us and be part of our process," writes Stephens.
5. Even if their loss and grief make you feel uncomfortable, please stand by them.
"Don't feel uncomfortable. People didn't know what to say to us. Know that when someone loses a child, they need your help. We need your support. We need you to stand by us and be with us. We've had enough loss in our lives, we don't want to lose our friends as well. We need your support," said Gayle Mosenson. "Don't feel bad for making us cry. I cry anyway… You don't have to be scared to talk about Jeffrey, I LOVE when friends talk about him. I want to keep his memory alive. I don't want people to ever forget him."
You don't have to know what to say, it's okay to sit with them in sadness. If you knew their child, share your memories as well. They want to know how their child was special to others.
"Don't be afraid to share what's going on in your life with us. Hearing about what's happening in your life, the good and the bad, keeps us connected. We want to be there for you too, whatever's happening in your life," said Gayle.
Last September Paula Stephens hosted the first world wide online summit for grief recovery – The Healthy Grief Revolution: A Survivor's Summit. If you've experienced a loss, you can sign up for healthy inspirational support at CrazyGoodGrief.com.
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About the Author: The author is a staff writer for GrantWatch.