Theories of grief have changed over the last 20 to 30 years. Traditionally we saw grief as pathological, like an illness that needed to be treated. This is also where we got the idea that grief was a ‘fixed term’ episode, something that we would experience, medicate or treat, and then return to our normal selves. Hence the sayings in our language around grief like ‘closure’, ‘moving on’ and ‘getting over it’.
Contemporary theories see grief as more of part of our human condition. One approach is that of ‘continuing bonds’. Just because someone we love has died, does not mean that our relationship with them is over. These different approaches to grief move away from a universal experience of grief, and expectations that we will all do the same thing, remember in the same way and ‘achieve closure’. Grief is considered an individual expression of sadness and love. And something that stays with us – in varying degrees and intensity.
Many of us still consider grief in a traditional way, whilst others consider it as an individual expression of love – and therein lies many problems we have with misunderstanding and hurt. Often we look to our families for support and empathy, but if we’ve only experienced grief in a certain (traditional) way and see it pathologically, then we’ll struggle to support our loved one who seems to be approaching it ‘weirdly’ and just won’t move on.
Within this traditional approach to grief is also the concept that baby loss is a ‘lesser’ experience. Because a baby may not have lived outside the womb, or may have lived for a short time, there is sometimes an assumption that a brief life will equate to lesser grief. Our brains are wired to compare and categorise, so we also tend to place different losses on gradients and see some as ‘worse’ than others.
Again, this approach can lead to misunderstanding and hurt. A baby certainly may have had a brief life, in utero or not, but this does not equate with how a family feels when that baby dies. Not at all. A baby represents hope, wonder, a future, dreams and intentions. We not only mourn the little life that has died but also everything that we associated with that little person. They are a much loved member of a family - a daughter, son, brother, sister, grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin, and friend. And we had great plans for them.
Of course we mourn their brief existence and we mourn the life we planned for them and how our life was going to be with them in it. (And we know that as soon as a pregnancy is confirmed, we see not only the nine months ahead but many years ahead as well). We also love this little person dearly.
And we grieve for them because we love them.
© Vicki Culling Associates 2013