Reflections on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and Planning for National Children’s Grief Awareness Month
Grief impacts the entire family. Recent research on grief in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic estimates that each death affects nine surviving family members. That is nine people left to find ways to cope with their grief. The grief community’s focus in October and November are on the youngest members of our family.
October was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, a time dedicated to education, awareness, and remembrance of all forms of pregnancy and infant loss. Raising awareness and education is important to helping with prevention, policy change, and grief support. The topic of pregnancy loss has historically been taboo and considered private. Many bereaved parents suffered in silence alone, but pregnancy and infant loss organizations are working to change this narrative. The loss of a child at any stage is devastating and it is important for parents’ health and emotional well-being to access the services they need to support them in their grief and let them know they are not alone.
November is National Children’s Grief and Awareness month, dedicated to supporting children in their grief and educating and empowering their caregivers, whether it be parents, extended family members, teachers, or coaches. We often worry about being honest and open with children when it comes to death and dying because we fear what their reaction might be. Caregivers’ natural instinct is to protect or shield, but research shows that everyone in the family does better when family members talk openly with each other because honesty builds safety, security, and trust. Children are inherently resilient and often understand and can handle more than we think. We can be the models for our children in coping with grief, inviting them to share their story, acknowledging that all feelings are valid, and engaging them in grief support programs.
In honor of National Children’s Grief and Awareness month, we invited a member of the COPE community and a Camp Erin NYC alumnus to share some reflections on her grief experience.
Click here to read her reflections.
At COPE we hope to support all members of our community through our own programming, including our Teen Support Group or Camp Erin NYC, or referrals to other local organizations. Please contact our Clinical Director, Claire Sharkey, LCSW, at firstname.lastname@example.org or T: 212-574-0540 for support and explore our resources page on our website www.copefoundation.org/grief-resources/.
We have also included a few of these resources below to support the bereaved children in your life or for those coping with a pregnancy or infant loss.
March of Dimes: https://www.marchofdimes.org/index.aspx
Star Legacy Foundation: https://starlegacyfoundation.org/
Pregnancy Loss Support Program: https://www.pregnancyloss.org/
National Alliance for Children’s Grief: https://childrengrieve.org/awareness/children-s-grief-awareness
The Dougy Center: https://www.dougy.org/
Eluna Network: https://elunanetwork.org/
“Identifying and Supporting Your Individual Grieving Style”
It has become a commonly accepted idea that there exists a number of different learning styles. Some children learn better through listening, others through watching, and still others by writing or actively participating. We have come to understand that when it comes to learning, one size does not fit all, and children will respond differently to alternative learning methods. Teaching to different styles can better support children in their educational experience and set them up for the most success.
The same can be said for grief. Grieving comes in many different forms, influenced by personality type, community, upbringing, culture, religion, and available resources. We are all unique individuals and thus, the way we cope with our grief will also be diverse and varied.
In order to learn our own grieving style and process, we can first look to our past to inform our present. It is not about reinventing the wheel; we already have our own roadmap for coping with difficult experiences. Grief might be unlike what we have been through before, but the tools may be transferable. We can draw on the people or things that were helpful then and avoid the ones that proved to not be helpful in the past.
We can start by asking ourselves, what are other challenges or difficult life transitions I have faced in the past? This transition could be a loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or a move to another city. Next, we can consider, during that experience, how did I cope? What helped? Who helped? What or who did not help? Perhaps at the time we felt that reaching out to support people and talking about the experience was useful or perhaps we preferred to process internally through writing, prayer, or meditation. Maybe it was easier to be with friends who had shared experiences or maybe we struggled with comparisons and preferred to be with those who did not. Maybe we wish we had sought out informal or professional help sooner or given ourselves more time to adjust or heal before jumping back into being social. Perhaps cleaning, organization, and taking care of mundane tasks like laundry or grocery shopping gave us a sense of control or break from our stress or maybe it was easier to allow others to step in to help so we could fully focus on our coping.
Considering our past experiences and learning from them will be a good place to start, but since we are constantly evolving individuals and resources in the past may not be available to us now (including possibly the support of the person we are grieving), it is important to next ask these same questions of ourselves in the present. How am I grieving now? Maybe we are highly expressive in our grief and find ourselves crying frequently as this provides a healthy release. Or maybe we express our emotions in a controlled or therapeutic way, channeling it through music, art, or exercise.
Perhaps the grief always feels near to us or maybe it is kept at arm’s length until we feel that we are in a safe space and ready to allow it in.
What is important to me? Is spirituality or religion an active part of my life and will I find comfort in leaning on this community? What or who is helping? What or who is not helping? Are we setting healthy boundaries with those around us and asking for help from the people who we think will be supportive? Does it help to be around people or to have quiet time on our own? Are there activities that feel like a healthy distraction from our grief that brings relief when we engage in them such as spending time in nature or quality time with family. What is available to me? Do I live in an area with access to supportive programming in my native language or can I connect online? Are there parks, trails, or gyms nearby? Do I have childcare or flexibility outside of work to engage in these things? What are my triggers? Are there places, pictures, or topics that will unexpectedly bring us back into our grief and can we give ourselves space from them or prepare ourselves for when we cannot? How am I grieving differently than the others around me? Is their grief experience keeping me from processing my own?
Purposefully engaging in these conversations internally or with others can help us identify our own unique style of grieving and then seek out the corresponding support. We often know what will not work for us, but it can be harder to know what will. Examining the coping skills we have used throughout our lives up to this point and exploring our own unique personality traits and set of beliefs can help us begin to identify those strategies that can help us in our grief journey.
Thanks to COPE Facilitator Marilyn Kohn LMSW for this month’s healing tip.
March 11th 2020 was the beginning of a most difficult year when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. It has been one of isolation, loneliness, and fear. It complicated the grief process.
April 2021 will hopefully be the beginning of hope and gratitude for all that we still have. Now that we have turned the clocks ahead and the days are longer, we will experience more light than darkness. Flowers will be popping up and the sun will warm our bodies. Spring has arrived.
We have been told that if we have been vaccinated, we can safely see our families and friends in small groups. We will be able to hug our children and grandchildren. Vaccines will be more abundant for all age groups and some restrictions will be relaxed. Hopefully we too can feel less anxious and begin to move forward with caution.
The grief journey is not an easy road to travel and one that you never imagined you would or could. In the beginning you need to keep you loved one very close to you, never wanting to let go. As time progresses and at your own pace, you will be able to have them alongside you and not figuratively blocking your path. You will be able to slowly move forward confident that your love for them will keep your loved one very close and in your heart forever.
Grief is work and is constantly changing. It needs time, patience, and self love. Imagine there is a heavy brick in your pocket. Some days the brick will feel very heavy and other days lighter. You put one foot in front of the other and begin your journey. Go at your own stride and don’t let others dictate to you. There are no “shoulds” only what you feel you can do.
Try different activities and see how you feel. You don’t have to feel obligated to go to family celebrations if you are not ready. YOU, be your own judge. Hoping your brick has more light days. Cope cares and will always be available to you for support.
Thanks to COPE’s facilitator Diane McNamara, LCSW-R for this month’s Healing Tip
Riding the roller coaster of grief
The grieving process is not linear. One does not move smoothly or swiftly through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to finally reach this holy grail place of acceptance. Instead it is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs where minute by minute your feelings, thoughts, and mood may change. So much so, you may wonder if you are going crazy. There will be times when life might almost feel “normal”. You may smile at the antics of a child, laugh with a friend, actually enjoy a meal or a song or a TV show. Do not feel guilty. You are healing.
Then there will be those “other times” when you feel totally overwhelmed by your grief. You are not alone.
I offer some tips for coping that people have shared with me over the years, and research has shown to be helpful:
- Move a muscle change a thought – anything physical will work; mop the floor, scrub the tub, exercise.
- Get out of you – call a friend that is worse off, cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, bring clothing to the homeless shelter.
- Take a shower or bath, splash your face with water, wash dishes, even looking at pictures of water are shown to have a calming effect.
- Get outdoors in nature – garden, smell the fresh air, touch the grass, walk the beach.
- Make a gratitude list – An attitude of gratitude is healing.
- Pray or meditate – Prayer is powerful in lifting the spirit.
- Cry – do not fight the feeling, honor it.
Remember no two people experience grief the same way. My hope is that with a pocket full of tools you may find some peace on your healing journey.
Thanks to COPE Facilitator Lauren Jukofsky, LCSW for this month’s Healing Tip
Take Care of Yourself
There are moments that can be stressful for everyone, adding the loss of a loved on top of everything else can feel unsurmountable.
What is Stress?
- Stress is a bodily response to life’s demands
- Stress occurs on a multitude of different levels-internal or external.
- Most stress is caused by our perceptions and reactions to the situations that occur in our lives.
- Stress can be felt in different symptoms in a person: physical, emotional and behavioral.
Recognizing the stress you may have is important. There are many different ways to tackle stress, one essential way is rest and self-care. Take time to recharge to avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout. People need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process means “switching off” from stress by having periods of time when you are engaging in other enjoyable activities.
That’s why it’s important that you disconnect from time to time, in a way that fits your needs and preferences. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste. When possible, take time off to relax and unwind, so you can feel reinvigorated and more like yourself.
Thanks to COPE Facilitator Janet Zimmerman, LCSW-R for this month’s Healing Tip
Sometimes you just don’t feel like getting out of bed.
You want to stay in your pajamas and just pull the sheets over your head. You want to hide. That’s understandable and real. Sometimes you need a day to just wallow in the sadness. But as you already know, doing that doesn’t really make you feel better.
The thing is, grief is work. It takes tremendous energy to do the little things, like getting up, getting dressed, making breakfast. You don’t feel like doing it. It’s too hard. You know what you should do; well-meaning loved ones are always pushing you to get out, talk to people, take a walk, listen to music, appreciate nature. You know the drill. You’ve read the books and articles. You may have heard suggestions in group, or read them in the COPE newsletter. You may have even tried some of them and know that these things DO help. But sometimes you just don’t want to do them.
But in the long run you need to create “muscle memory.” Your brain and your body need to automatically know what to do to help you survive this pain. So you get up, you brush your teeth, you reach out to a friend (maybe from a COPE group, who will totally understand what you are going through), and you try. You push yourself. What used to be automatic and easy is hard. And that is an understatement. But by pushing yourself to get through the day, by getting dressed and going for a walk, by making breakfast, by doing the laundry, you will be slowly and surely finding your way to your new normal. You will be surviving and finding ways to deal with your loss.
It’s an ultimate irony that you, who have suffered so much, should now have to work really hard to recover. Haven’t you been hurt enough? Shouldn’t you be able to be left alone? That’s how you feel. But it doesn’t work that way. You need to put in the work to get through every day. You may have to fake the smile when you see a neighbor. You may have to listen to someone’s boring story to stay socially active.
Because that is how you will get stronger. You need to go through the motions first, feeling like you are just playacting, and then you will start to feel better.. Because you will be entering life again. You will hate it. You will want to go back to bed. But the sooner you start doing the work, the sooner you will find ways to make life have some meaning again. Think of it as building blocks. You start slowly, you mess up, you give up, and then you put another brick on the pile. And at some point you will haul yourself up. And there will be sun. And there will be helpful friends and relatives. And you will begin to breathe.
Take a deep breath.
You will get there.