Friday, November 25, 2011

Helping Grieving Parents Adjust to the "New Normal"

Grief professionals say that grieving parents will endure various “phases” of grief, such as shock, denial, depression, anger, and others. While the severity of each these phases might decrease over time, no grieving parent is ever “over” his or her grief. Grieving parents who are many years removed from the death of their child will say that, even while the “fog” of intense grief has since lifted from their lives, there continues to be an ongoing hole in their life, a void that cannot be filled. Grieving parents sometimes refer to living life in this type of ongoing grief as “the new normal.” Veteran grieving parents can attest to the fact that, even many years later, they continue to live in this “new normal.”

If you know parents grieving the death of a child, extend grace to them as they make arrangements for “the new normal.” Do not assume that they will engage in the same activities, enjoy the same hobbies or activities, and keep the same schedule. Being involved in certain activities that the parent may have previously enjoyed with the deceased child may now be too painful to endure. The child’s death may have caused a significant change in their outlook and priorities. The parents may have new interests and perhaps even new professional endeavors.

This “new normal” for the parents may mean that extended family members must make new arrangements around the Holidays and other significant dates, such a birth dates. Some grieving parents will avoid altogether any of the same activities they did before the death of their child. But regardless of whether the grieving parents wish to retain many of these same traditions, extended family members need to be ready to give up these traditions if it will be too painful on the parents.
For some extended family members, losing a Holiday tradition or other tradition is almost like religious heresy. But as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16-17, there is nothing uniquely spiritual about our traditions, days, and festivals. Don’t push grieving parents into an ongoing tradition just because the extended family wants to retain the tradition. Instead, realize that just as grieving parents must develop a “new normal,” so also must the extended family members develop a “new normal.” As you consider how to go about structuring Holiday traditions after the death of the child, consider asking the grieving parents what traditional activities they would like to be involved with, and which ones they would like to avoid. Whether it relates to Holiday traditions or other events, you can extend a considerable amount of grace to grieving parents by providing them the latitude to develop their “new normal” following the death of their child.

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