Coping with Loss

12 Jan

The recent shooting in Tucson, which took the life of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, as well as  five others, made me think that since my blog is about raising children, it might be important to talk about how to cope with the loss of a child. I have been very fortunate not to have endured a tragedy like this, but as I mentioned in my blog post on health care, Crisis Brings Clarity, I came very close to losing Hannah on several occasions, and I was surrounded by other people in the hospital who did, in fact, lose their children. I wrote the following in a memoir about Hannah’s medical crisis, which I hope to someday publish:

When we were in the hospital for Hannah’s first surgery, we saw two families lose children. Again, we did not know the families or the patients, but we had seen them in the halls. In both cases, we could hear them calling people to let them know what happened. I remember sitting in the waiting area eating lunch with Sean and his family, and all of a sudden, several people ran by yelling and crying hysterically. I put down my fork and just watched them. It was like a car accident. It was horrible to watch, but I just couldn’t help it. It made me so sick to my stomach to see how clearly distraught they all were. I looked at Sean and said, “We need to get Hannah out of here!” He agreed. I’m sure I won’t ever be able to get that image of those people out of my head. It was very upsetting for both of us because every time we saw someone lose a family member in that unit, we couldn’t help but picture ourselves going through that.

It has been three years since that incident, but re-reading  that excerpt still leaves me verging on tears. I can only imagine what that family went through, or what many other families go through when losing a child. I thought it might be useful to provide a few suggestions that may help you or someone you know.

Diana Biorkman, mother of Noah Biorkman, is an amazing example of a parent who turned the loss of her child into something positive. In 2009 I learned through an e-mail that she had asked people to send Christmas cards to her 5-year-old son, Noah, who had been diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma in 2007. He said he just wanted cards, and since his family expected that it would be their last Christmas together, they celebrated in November instead.

At the time I also learned that a Care Page had been set up for Noah, which is something Sean and I had done for Hannah when she was in the hospital to keep people apprised of her condition. I began following Noah’s Care Page updates and sent a Christmas card to him. He passed away in November 2009, after receiving more than one million Christmas cards.

Diana wasted no time in starting the Power of Noah Foundation to help other ill children. She continues to have fundraisers and updates Noah’s Care Page to let supporters know how the foundation is doing.

In her updates, Diana is also very candid about her feelings, which continually impresses me. It seems as though in the aftermath of such a tragedy, for some it is better to be open about feelings. Perhaps for her it is cathartic. I work the same way, and during my struggles with Hannah’s health, I found that talking about my fears was more helpful than holding it all in.

Another parent who is currently working to create a foundation is Daniel Marco, whose son Zachary was murdered in Tempe last year. He’s setting up the Zachary Marco Foundation and has since been very vocal about ending violence in the community. He, too, seems to be coping through opening up about his loss.

There are other ways of dealing with the loss of a child–some find it helpful to look toward religion, family or friends. Others prefer to cope on their own.

My oldest sister, Cathy, passed away in 1986 at the age of 18. Although it has been almost 25 years since her death, my mom still feels the loss. She said for about a year she tried to hide her feelings from people and deal with them on own, but it wasn’t very effective in helping her recover. She then sought the help of a counselor, but that, too, was ineffective for her. She said what helped the most was attending the Centre for Living With Dying, where she talked about her loss openly with others who could understand her pain.

They say time heals all wounds, but time hasn’t made my mom forget. I’m certain that Diana Biorkman and Daniel Marco will never forget either. As my mom told me, “You never get over that.” But it has helped her move forward.

Here are a couple of articles that may also provide help to those who have suffered a loss:

How to Help A Friend Deal with the Loss of a Child or Loved One

Coping with the Loss of a Child

And here are a few other resources for those in Arizona:

Arizona Counselors Association

From http://www.findingstone.com/services/azsupportgroups.htm:

Grief and Bereavement Support Group: 602-678-1313

Grief and Loss Seminars and Groups: 480-433-4182

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One Response to “Coping with Loss”

  1. Karen Elliott January 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    This is the first positive piece of journalism I’ve seen since the tragedy occured in AZ. Instead of finger-pointing and the blame game, people should be writing more stories like this. My hat is off to you Joanne.

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