Death is rarely welcome in our lives and our Western culture typically has great difficulty knowing how to respond to it. We likely haven’t had any good models in our lives about how to grieve. Those around us don’t know what to say or do because there are so few rituals to engage in and we are so reluctant to intrude in the “privacy” of others.
The death of child is especially tragic and heart wrenching and losing a child through miscarriage or a stillbirth can be difficult to grieve for a lot of reasons. These deaths are often never talked about, are swept aside by loved ones, or rarely mentioned after a short period of time.
Well-meaning people will sometimes inadvertently discount the death: “You can have more children“; or, “You have two healthy children already.” These types of comments suggest that the child never lived, were never given “person” status, or that their lives didn’t matter. The message is: move on; this event (life) wasn’t that important.
One of the ways I talk about death in counselling is to ask questions about the relationship the client has with the person that died. For parents, I will ask questions about their non-living child in the same way I would ask about any living child.
We begin with the stories of the pregnancy and continue to the experience of the present and hopes for the future relationship. By re-membering (that is, making the child a member of the family again—or a member for the first time), we are creating space for a rich relationship to grow and continue between parents, children, and families. Here are a few questions we might discuss in a counselling session.
Remembering the Beginnings
- What are some moments of remembering and connection in your experiences of being pregnant?
- What might the child say about your love for him/her while in utero?
Re-Membering the child: The Current Relationship to Your Child
- What kinds of practices or conversations do you do to continue your relationship with your child (e.g., special celebrations, traditions)?
- How are you refusing or resisting other people’s messages or discourses to “let go” or “move on”? What might your child say about you and your position?
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this topic or if reading this post has awakened some grief for you.
Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
My deepest thanks to Lorraine Hedtke & Helena Grau Kristensen (2016) for their work in this area and the understanding they have provided. Adapted 2017, by Second Story Counselling. Lorraine Hedtke & Helena Grau Kristensen (2016). TC13 Workshop: Still Alive.