Today is National Bereaved Parents’ Day – a day aimed at honouring bereaved parents from all walks of life, raising awareness and helping them realise they are not alone. National Bereaved Parents’ Day was started in 2020 by the charity, A Child of Mine, which helps support bereaved parents. The theme for this year is ‘You are not alone’.
Loss of community as a bereaved parent
I’ve talked before on my blog about the secondary losses that I have experienced as a bereaved parent. It’s a seemingly endless list of losses that unfold as time goes by – that loss of the person you were before your child died, the loss of hopes, of dreams, of the future moments that you’ll never experience. One of the big secondary losses for me was the loss of community. Various little communities that I was once a part of – the parents of Jessica’s classmates; the heart family community; the friends who simply didn’t know how to react and how to be with me after Jessica died.
I still see some of those parents on the school run (although much less so now that Jessica’s year is about to make the transition to secondary school) and we say hello, but I’m not part of that group anymore. I don’t have a living child of that age; I don’t have the common connection with them that I once had.
The same goes for the heart family community – for those with living heart children. My story is their worst fear; I no longer share my experiences with them because they are either too far in the past or they are unable to give the hope that I know every heart parent desperately seeks, because once upon a time, that was what I wanted too. To be told that it was all going to be okay, that my child would be one of those to grow and thrive. But sadly that’s not everyone’s story.
And there are the friends who were once part of my life and then slipped quietly out of it. Who tried to find words of comfort, but who struggled with my grief and the loss of the person I used to be. Who ultimately found it easier, for a whole host of reasons, to gradually lose contact. I don’t blame them – it’s hard to be around a person who is living through the kind of intense grief that comes with child loss, and it’s hard to accept that the person you once knew has been changed forever.
Being a bereaved parent can feel incredibly lonely. I don’t feel the connection to other parents at the school gate that I once did. I don’t make new friends easily. My experience of losing my beautiful daughter can often feel like a barrier. There’s always that initial hurdle to be crossed when getting to know people. Those innocent questions: “How many children do you have? How old are they?” I always start with “well, my youngest is four…” and work my way up to Jessica, steeling myself for the inevitable awkwardness that will come when I tell someone she died. Knowing that the other person will rarely know how to respond, and then trying to find ways of reassuring them that it was okay for them to have asked the question, that I’m okay about talking about Jessica.
Sometimes they ask about her in a way that is caring and sensitive, and I can tell that they’re trying not to be intrusive but at the same time sensing that I want to be able to talk about Jessica. Sometimes they change the subject and we rarely, if ever, mention Jessica again and that invisible barrier that I feel separates me from other parents rises a little higher.
Being a bereaved parent is lonely. But we are not alone.
Finding my community
I am incredibly grateful for the love and support of my family and the friends that stayed, the ones who were able to be there and walk alongside us through the storms of grief. They’ve helped me keep going more times than they’ll ever know.
As with the friends who stepped up to support us from the start of our journey with Jessica, there have been surprises along the way. It’s not always the people you expect to be there that are the ones who do end up being there for you. But those friends who have known us throughout Jessica’s journey; the ones that will talk with me about Jessica and not become awkward around my grief – the ones who will laugh with me, smile with me, cry with me – they are worth their weight in gold.
I saw a Donna Ashworth poem called ‘Nobody told me ‘ shared in a post on social media recently. These lines in particular spoke to me:
“Nobody told me,
that your life would feel like a movie I made up in my head,
that I would seek out others who had seen it too,
just to feel you there for a moment.”
Those people who knew Jessica, who remember her, who will sit and talk with me and share their memories – they are so incredibly special.
The bereaved parents’ community
Being able to speak with other bereaved parents can really help sometimes. There is that connection that I have with another parent who understands what it is like to lose a child. I wish that none of us had that experience and understanding, but as we do, it does help to know that we are not alone in our stories and experiences.
Since Jessica died, I’ve attended online support groups with other bereaved parents and am part of several Facebook groups. It can be helpful to share our thoughts and feelings with others who understand, although we do need to be sensitive too with regards to triggers. I find that more specific bereaved parents groups work better for me. As you can imagine the bereaved parents’ community is as varied as any other community and I find it easier to connect with parents who have lost a child of a similar age or in similar circumstances.
You are not alone – finding support
I’ve tried to be open and honest when it comes to sharing my experiences as a bereaved parent, in order to help others walking this path know they are not alone and to help those trying to support bereaved parents to have a better understanding of the path that we are walking. Child loss can be a taboo subject, and it’s certainly one that makes people very uncomfortable. It’s important to be able to talk openly about our children though, and to share their stories and the beautiful people they were. It’s important to be able to share our stories and our truth, and to let others know that they are not alone in the things they are feeling and thinking. It’s important to be able to make connections and to find support.
There are various different charities that help bereaved parents and families. These are a few that I’ve encountered over the last few years:
- The Compassionate Friends – providing peer support for bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents. Support available includes leaflets, a support helpline, support groups and Facebook groups.
- A Child of Mine – provides emotional and practical peer support, and also works alongside health professionals to help provide support for bereaved families.
- Child Bereavement UK – provides information and support for bereaved children and families who have lost a child.
- Halo Children’s Foundation – West London-based group, providing support for bereaved children and families.