Grief is a universal human emotion. At some point in our lives, we all lose someone or something with whom or which we have made a deep heart connection. Although it is largely immaterial whether that loss takes place through death, divorce, an irreconcilable argument, moving away from each other, or some other mechanism, the remainder of this article will concentrate on losing someone to death. When a loved one dies, we are left holding an empty bag, and we don''t know what to do with it.
On the one hand, we want to hold on to it, and wallow in its emptiness—treasure the memories we have, and return to them over and over again. So we retreat into ourselves, perhaps even becoming depressed or despondent. On the other, we want to immediately fill it up with new, more pleasant memories, so we jump into a social whirl. Or maybe, we just keep on doing what we did before—getting up in the morning, going to school or work, and pretending the loss never happened, until we feel strong enough to take it out and examine it once more.
Part of the reason it is so difficult to contemplate the loss of a loved one, particularly here in the United States, is that as a culture, we have a tendency to shy away from talking about death. Open personal conversations between us and our relatives who are dying remain difficult, and so they do not happen very often. This is even more true when the dying person is a child. Nobody wants to tell the child he or she is, or may be, about to die. Nobody wants to tell brothers and sisters, or childhood friends, that their sibling or friend is not going to be with them for much longer. And yet, there comes a point when everyone, including the dying child, can perceive the truth.
Preferably before that point, but definitely at that point, parents need to have a loving conversation with all their children about what is likely to happen. Such a conversation, which validates the experience of dying and treats it as a natural part of life, is one of the last gifts they can give to their dying child, and one of the most meaningful they can ever give their other children. It opens the path to creating a joyful, celebratory environment while their child is still living (which may even improve the child''s prognosis), and to openly sharing the grief if/when the child dies.