The tragic events last month that took more than 20 lives have left so many families, and our nation, in mourning. Our experts suggest helpful ways we can express sympathy and support in times of grief. Here, we ask them questions that we hope you will find useful.
How can we support grieving parents and siblings following the death of a child in the family?
Surviving the loss of a child needs support from all of us. Each one of us expresses sadness uniquely, but all family members are affected by the loss. Sadness can hide a wide range of emotions that are hard to deal with – anger, guilt, panic and longing. Whatever way we choose to express our sadness, a supportive environment can help us feel that our emotions are welcome. Here are ways you can support your loved ones with their painful experience:
Encouraging parents and affected people to cry; crying can be very healthy and healing
Being physically present, calling to check in on the family, asking about how they feel, listening to them while they talk about their child in however ways they choose to let the pain out
Sharing your own loss if you lived a similar tragedy; you can say “I can feel how hard this is for you” without mentioning details of your own story. You can be a source of hope and comfort. If you can’t find something to say, your presence is enough
Giving the parents space for themselves while ensuring they know you are there for them
Trying to provide some practical support such as taking care of their other children as they can be distracted and unable to pay attention to others during the first days
Hugging and holding their hands to express your empathy can be helpful
Advising them of helpful resources if you think they will benefit from professional support such as grief counselling
Relationships & Couples Therapist
How can the death of a child affect a couple and how can a marriage survive such a loss?
In the immediate aftermath, partners are not only dealing with the huge loss and pain, they are also planning the logistics of the funeral and the customs and services around it. When all this passes and people around them start returning to their own lives, that’s when couples can find themselves confronting a much deeper and lonelier type of grief. This can lead one or both to an emotional crash, and if not dealt with, can be detrimental to their relationship, especially if the relationship was strained before the tragedy. Here are three tips for partners to keep their relationship a priority in the face of such a tragedy:
1. Letting your partner grieve on their own terms
Each person has a different way and style of grieving; what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. Women and men mourn differently – a man’s pain tends to focus on his inability to have protected their child. A woman’s pain tends to be focused on wishing to have spent more cherishing moments with their child and how she will miss doing so in the future. Women often need to speak about their thoughts and feelings while men tend to want to focus on tasks. This can cause resentment in the wife as she mistakenly assumes that her husband seems less pained by the loss. A husband may mistakenly feel that his wife is overreacting by crying all the time and that she is just unable to deal with reality.
2. Staying connected
In trying to maintain daily communication throughout the grieving process, the aim is to stay connected to each other and understand what your partner is going through. You don’t necessarily need to have long and deep conversations. A good way to stay connected is to check in on each other during the day. If physically apart, a telephone call or message asking “how are you?” and “if you need anything?” goes a long way too.
3. Reaching out to other people for support
Although parents are grieving the loss of the same child, each of them is carrying their individual pain that they need to bear and work through. This can render them unable to meet many of their spouse’s needs; they may feel empty inside, as if there is nothing for them left to give. A grieving spouse might expect their partner to be there for them all the time and take their pain away. This may not be possible at times, compelling you to reach out to other people around you as well.
If you find yourself struggling down the line with emotional disconnection, sexual challenges, increased conflict and fighting, losing purpose and meaning in continuing your marriage, therapy is a safe place to start working on these issues.
How can schools and educators foster a supportive environment for grieving students?
Generally, death is a subject we don’t like to speak about with adults and children alike. Death is associated with complicated and negative feelings despite the fact that we believe that death is part of the cycle of life.
Many parents and educators believe that kids do not need to know about death or to speak about it with them as it is beyond their grasp. However, scientific research indicates the contrary; it is imperative that we speak to our kids about death even if it is the death of a pet so that they can learn how to adapt. Teachers too need to help students identify their feelings, express their grief and provide support.
In our society, it is acceptable to cry but not to show anger as teens usually do when a loved one dies. Teens usually feel that with death their loved one has abandoned them. I would say to this teen: “It’s okay to feel angry, but know that if this person were alive, you would not be abandoned.” Then we can explain that there are things in life we can change and there are others that we can’t but we can adapt.
One way of starting the dialogue is to speak about the loved one’s life, the happy and funny moments. This will keep his memory alive in our thoughts and hearts, and we can thank God for these moments.
Contributor to our Muslim
Divine Perspectives corner
How can our faith help us with our grief and be an anchor of support for grieving families and friends?
When innocent lives are lost, an entire nation is affected by the tragedy. Jordan is in mourning. In a country steeped in religious tradition, Christians and Muslims in Jordan seek answers and justification. They ask a beneficent and merciful God, “Why?”
In our grief, we turn to the Holy Scriptures. There are many righteous and noble parents cited in the Qur’an who asked God why: Jacob, the father of Joseph, Noah, the father of a renegade son, and the mother of Moses who was told to trust in God and cast her baby boy into the river.
We don’t know God’s wisdom. We can’t fathom it. But we must trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, has a plan, knows there is something good that will eventually come of the tragedy.
As Muslims, we believe children are pure and go immediately to heaven with no reckoning. And we are tremendously rewarded for our patience and may even attain the status of a martyr for bearing such unbearable pain.
May the Most Merciful of the Merciful be with you at your most difficult times.
Contributor to our Christian
Divine Perspectives corner
As Jordan mourns the loss of the precious children and other loved ones in the tragic Dead Sea incident, we remind ourselves to ask the ‘How’ questions instead of the ‘Why’ questions. How are we going to react in the face of such suffering?
Jesus teaches us how to respond when he himself wept and mourned with Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus died in the village of Bethany (John 11). Before Jesus performed the miracle of raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, he cried as his heart broke to see his friends in pain. Likewise, our hearts break with the broken-hearted as they grieve the loss of their beloved.
As Christians, we are called to weep with those who weep and come alongside them as we love them and help them process through their grief and pain.
The Holy Spirit reminds us that Christ’s victory on the cross through his resurrection means that death does not get the final word. Jesus defeated death and because of that we have the hope of eternal life. This is our strength and joy even in the midst of suffering as we comfort those who walk through the shadow of the valley of death. May the peace of our Lord that surpasses all understanding bring comfort and rest to all those who mourn the loss of their loved ones.
Job Coach for People with Disabilities & Founder of Bahja,
a community of support for
differently abled individuals
How important is peer support for a grieving family?
Losing a child is devastating, but having peer support from other families who can understand, can be healing. No parent, sibling or child needs to grieve alone.
While many of us worry about what to say to a grieving person, it’s actually more important to listen with compassion. As you listen, remember that grief is a highly emotional experience, so they need to feel free to express their feelings without fear of judgment, argument or criticism. It’s better to avoid giving advice and statements that begin with “you should” or “you will.” After some time has passed, you could begin your comments with “have you thought about…” or “you might try…”
A support group led by a professional facilitator can be a safe place for grieving families to know they are not alone, share their grief and find the tools to live with their unimaginable loss. You can start this up if you are a social worker or a certified therapist; otherwise, you can connect with a grief counsellor to get such a group going.