Written by Clara Hinton
When a child dies, a parent’s thinking begins to change almost immediately. All of the seemingly insignificant things in life are now seen through tear-stained eyes, and new meaning is attached to the little things that others so often overlook each day. Grief has a way of turning all of life upside down and dramatic changes in priorities take place for a parent who lost a child.
When a parent understands the reality that his child has left this earth, a child’s belongings take on new meaning. Often, parents will cling to a favorite torn sweater because the sweater holds special meaning of times spent with this child fishing, biking, or jogging around the track at school. A parent will often search for something that “smells” like her child, finding great comfort in the momentary reminders of the one who is missed so very much.
Small, insignificant items such as a hairbrush, toothbrush, or even a child’s favorite perfume become treasures that are kept tucked away in a safe place and treated with utmost honor and respect. These reminders become very significant factors in the world of grief.
Parents may have a difficult time explaining how they feel about the little things that have great meaning now that their child is gone. In fact, some parents have shared that they are afraid they are going crazy because the little things now mean so much, and they refuse to tell others how they feel for fear of being criticized for acting somewhat out of character.
It is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no set of grief rules of etiquette to use as a guide. Because grief is so personal, what is meaningful to one parent might not have any meaning to another parent. And, that is okay. Every person should be given the dignity to grieve in his or her own way.
Well-meaning friends and family members need to respect the individual wishes of a parent. If a coloring book and small box of crayons holds a significant place in a parent’s heart full of grief, then others need to be extremely understanding.
It is so important for friends and family members to allow parents plenty of time and space to pack away their child’s belongings following the death of a child. It is vitally important to allow the parents of the child to make the choices about what to keep and what to give away. What seems little and meaningless to another could be the one thing for the parent of the deceased child that holds the most meaning. Again, the parents of the child are the ones to make these decisions without being rushed!
Remind yourself often that grief is individual, and the loss of a child follows no set of grief rules. If a candy bar is important for a parent to keep, then help that parent seal it properly, and allow him the dignity of his individual grief. Nothing is too small or insignificant in the eyes of a grief-stricken parent.
Allow for individual differences in grief. Do not try to impose your grief on another. Remind yourself often that every parent will attach different meaning to the belongings and memories left behind by his or her child. Be sensitive to the fact that in grief nothing is too little to be remembered. Part of a parent’s healing is to be given permission to grieve in his or her own way without being criticized. There is never a nonsacred moment or reminder to a grieving parent!