Grief and Loss

Artists statement…

As a midwife, the issue of grief and loss is always a difficult and challenging one. Caring for a dying or deceased child, or a bereaved family however, is such an honour and privilege. I did not always feel this way. As a student midwife, I felt completely unprepared and incompetent to care for these families and thus, it was suggested to me to embrace this topic and to try to overcome my aversion to it. A wise woman informed me that ‘Midwifery was not all happy and beautiful. That some women went home with an empty womb and empty arms. But this too was a journey, a celebration of life’. I then wondered, ‘how was death a celebration of life?’

I have been a singer and pianist for many years, and so decided to attempt to understand grief and loss through lyrics and music.

I took the thought that the death of a child is still a ‘journey and celebration’, home with me. I then sat down and thought about two women close to me who had lost their babies. One miscarried at eleven weeks, the other, experienced the loss of her first full-term child at just twenty minutes of age. ‘Pure exhaustion’ she was informed as they quickly whisked him away, never to be seen again. 54 years ago when this occurred, the hospital in which he was born baptised him ‘John’, although he was to become known as Mark to his parents. It was explained to me that in those days, all the babies who had died were either baptised ‘John’ or ‘Mary’, and that the parents did not get to see or hold that child. Not one photograph or handprint exists of baby Mark. All that exists is a faded memory in the minds of his parents, and a star that is named after him by his mother.

The writing of the lyrics and music then flowed from me as I reminisced about these family members who had lost their babies due to miscarriage and early neonatal death. I narrated one couples journey through my song.

It is through death that we can truly appreciate life.

My song ‘We Dreamed of You’ can be purchased through this website. Please click here to purchase my CD Single.

The Grieving Process:

The grieving process after the death of a child is unique. The death of a baby is especially difficult to endure for a number of reasons. The parents have envisioned a lifetime of expectations and vision for that child. They may feel as though their future is lost- the future for the baby and for their role as parents. As stated by Kowalski (1987), perinatal loss represents the loss of a significant person, the loss of an aspect of themselves, the loss of a stage of life and the loss of a dream or creation.

Grief refers to the process of experiencing psychological, behavioural, social and physical reactions to loss. Grief is a natural reaction yet is dependent on an individual’s unique perception of loss and does not need social recognition or validation by others. Mourning is the cultural or public display of grief through one’s behaviour. It is the process through which the resolution of grief may be accomplished. Bereavement is the entire process precipitated by the loss of a loved one through death (Rando, 1993).

The death of an infant is a profound loss. It is thus important to recognise and acknowledge a families’ need to grieve for their babies. According to Bennett & Brown (1999), however, it is essential that we, as health care providers, do not make assumptions about the meaning of a childbearing loss to a particular woman. It is difficult and nearly impossible to understand the significance of a pregnancy or a child to another person. The depth and immense feelings including those of unspoken hopes, expectations and dreams for that child differ for every woman and family member.

The Three Phases of Grief and Mourning:

Avoidance of Protest
Avoidance or protest occurs from the time the woman and her family receive news that their child is deceased. It can last from a few hours to days. This phase is marked by the desire to avoid the acknowledgement that a loved one is lost and by a desperate and frantic attempt to reinstate the relationship with the lost person. Woman and their partners often direct anger and hostility towards themselves or health workers for having failed to avert the loss.

Confrontation and Disorganisation
It is during this phase that grief is at its most intense and reactions to the loss are most acute. The awareness of finality is present. This phase is painful as the mourner confronts the reality of the loss.

Accommodation or Reorganisation
It is during this phase that the symptoms of acute grief decline. The mother and family will gradually begin to reinvest socially and emotionally with others. The lost one is not forgotten, however the mourner acknowledges the death in a way that encourages healthy, life-affirming growth. This phase can last for several years and indicates that the mourner can now enjoy life and looks forward to the future (Rando, 1993).

As similarly described and summarized by Burden & Stuart (2002), the grieving process involves accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of grief, adjusting to a new environment and dealing with emotionally relocating the deceased, and finally, moving on with life. If this process does not occur, then unresolved grief will result.

Copyright 2009 Devon Plumley | Page by Tania Tobin
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