dealing with bereavement
March 5, 2014 2:59 AM   Subscribe

I am having trouble dealing with the loss of my parent. What did you do during a period of acute loss that helped you hang in?

One of my parents died last week. I have a tiny baby. I am freaking out: chest pain, anxiety attacks, forgetting words like "table", unable to concentrate, worrying that all sorts of things are going to kill the baby, crying in public.

I have to plan the funeral and take care of the baby. I worry that the baby is being negatively affected by my mood. Plus I can't think straight half the time.

What can I do to cope? (I have a therapist, who, unfortuitously, is about to go on vacation. I've asked friends to babysit. And I'm trying to take care of myself physically -- eat well, sleep enough, etc.) Do you know any good books for this kind of situation? Does anybody ever go see two therapists simultaneously? Do you know of any other things, techniques, ideas that might be useful? I know loss is loss and hard things are hard, but I feel like for the kid's sake I have to keep my act together as much as possible. If you have any items or methods that've helped you in similar crises I'd love to hear them. Thanks.
posted by sockanalia to Human Relations (24 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, what you're feeling is normal. Don't beat yourself up over it: it's normal to be as upset ("freaking out") as you are right now. Allow yourself to be sad, angry, upset, etc. And keep doing what you're doing: taking care of yourself physically.

The baby will be okay, really. I assume you're taking care of him (or her) physically as well. He won't be scarred for life because his mother is upset at this moment.

Can you ask your therapist for referral to someone to talk to while he's on vacation?
posted by Ms. Next at 3:23 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mother died of cancer while I was pregnant, the day after she had come to the ultrasound and learned that I would have a girl.

Dealing with the circumstances works differently for everyone. But the way I processed the loss of my mom was to feel sad and shitty, but to remember all of the positivity of her life that she had showed me when I could.

Do not feel guilty or worried about your baby. She will be fine. If you feel sad while she is awake, that is OK too. Human beings mourn.
posted by miss tea at 3:28 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was under immense stress from a number of sources when my son was a tiny baby, including a very problematic home purchase, a job I was really afraid that I'd be fired from, and worst of all my mom dying of ALS. While my son was a baby my dad and I had to make the difficult decision to take her off of life support, and she died when my son was 9 months old. He is now 17 months and probably the most cheerful kid you'll ever meet. As long as you're making sure his needs are met and you're not taking out your problems on him, your baby will be fine. Try to find comfort in this tiny new life.
posted by amro at 3:48 AM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss, my thoughts are with you as you travel this road.

Seeing a second therapist is fine and might make sense. This is a traumatic event, it won't take session after session for a therapist to get a back story in order to be useful for you. Find someone that specializes in grief and is comfortable with seeing you for two or three sessions specific to this.

Also, it sounds like you're already taking some appropriate measures, good for you.

And, as said by others, the baby will be fine, take that worry off your plate.

posted by HuronBob at 4:08 AM on March 5, 2014

I received very helpful support/short term grief counseling at our local hospice organization following my mother's death. Do you have an organization like that where you live?
posted by jaruwaan at 4:14 AM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

My heart goes out to you. If you were here I would treat you to a massage from my wonderful friend Sara. If you know of a very good and kind massage therapist go see her, it will help you deal with the stress. Your baby will be fine.

I went through another kind of trauma with a newborn. He grew up to be a fine loving person, great friend, husband, dad.
posted by mareli at 4:48 AM on March 5, 2014

I am so, so sorry for your loss and can only imagine the immense anxiety of the situation.

I second the suggestion of grief counseling. Also there may be a grief support group near you. Perhaps your therapist can help you find those resources before leaving for vacation?

You sound like you are doing everything right in this very stressful situation, including taking good care of your baby and getting help for yourself. Hugs to you. Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 5:22 AM on March 5, 2014

I have dealt with a lot of grief and found it so helpful to (don't laugh, I'm serious) watch stupid television. Or funny movies.

Please note that, not only did I see a psychologist plenty around these losses, I also am one, so I promise I'm not advising you to dive headlong into avoidance.

I just found that Judd Apatow or That 70's Show or [pick your silly poison] allowed my cognitive and emotional processes to be temporarily distracted.

It felt like cheating the first time I did it - going en mass to the theater with my family a day after my Grandma died to see Anchorman*. But we walked out of the theater feeling like we had all had the nap we so desperately needed.

If you find this is helpful to you, remember that it's just good self care to "nap" every now and again.

*Anchorman; not Anchorman 2
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 5:32 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss. My mom died recently and and I completely relate to many of the reactions you describe.

Is there a way you can get into see your doctor or call them? Mine gave me a prescription for xanax. I only took it when I felt like I needed it, but it took the edge off so I didn't have overwhelming anxiety or panic attacks. I also think grief counseling is helpful, but in the early days, I think 1-1 would be more helpful for you than group therapy.
posted by missmerrymack at 5:55 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am so very sorry for your loss. I felt a lot like you after my mom passed a few years ago. It does get better and easier with the passage of time. I think the thing that helped me most was to just take one day at a time, and allow myself to feel the way I felt without worrying about it. I spent time with people when I was up for it and spent time alone when I needed.

As for the therapist question, my daughter is currently seeing two at the same time. One she loves to talk to and feels that she gets support from. The other one works with her on more practical ways to deal with her anxiety and depression. It just happened that we never found the exact combination in the same person that she was comfortable with, so we went with both of them. Yes, it costs us more money but sometimes you end up making other sacrifices if something works better.

And as others have said, babies are resilient, and yours will be fine. Spend time just loving and snuggling. That can be healing for your as well.

My thoughts are with you.
posted by maxg94 at 6:46 AM on March 5, 2014

I'm so very sorry. I lost my mom a few years ago. So you know all those well meaning people who are saying, "If you need anything..."? Call them. Get a few of your parent's friends and your friends to form a funeral team to help plan the service. It will take the pressure off of you making all those decisions.

Do see another therapist if that makes you feel better (I agree with asking for a referral from your current one for the time they are away). I spent many hours in my therapist's office crying over my mom and it helps.

Be with friends. Take the baby and let them be fussed over by those friends. Eat take out with them and watch a light movie. You may not laugh, but it's not going to make you cry either.

Know that this terrible bleak feeling is going to pass with time. It won't always hurt like it does right now, I promise.
posted by cecic at 7:40 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss.

As with anything else in parenting, the first step is to put on your own oxygen mask first. With a young baby it's important to have help. In this case, it is essential. Call in any and every favor you need to ("I hate to ask so bluntly but we're in a bind, could you bring over a couple of meals?" "Could you make a couple of phone calls for me?" "Could you come hang out while I catch a couple hours of sleep?")

Eating and taking care of the baby are your first priorities, obv. Then the funeral planning, but try to farm out as much of that as possible (can you convince someone from the funeral home to come to you so you don't have to bundle up the baby to go over there and look at catalog pictures of coffins?)

Don't be afraid to hire a babysitter, even while you are in the house, so you can just veg for a bit. Don't be afraid to eat all of your meals from take-out. Try to get out a bit, or try to get people to come to you, it's tough to be alone when you're with a baby all day, and it's tough to be alone when you're grieving.

Last thing is, even our little babies can feel our moods, and they will respond accordingly. A fussy baby is the last thing you need right now. Talk to your baby about what you are going through. Seeing how other people feel is how our children learn empathy and how to name their own emotions. It's never too early to learn those things. It's okay for your baby to see you cry, as long as you let them know what's going on ("mommy's crying, isn't she? mommy doesn't feel good today, but don't worry, I will be okay.").
posted by vignettist at 8:02 AM on March 5, 2014

This is absolutely a time to call on the troops. Siblings, in-laws, friends, aunts and uncles, whomever you trust and can rely on.

First make a list: list all the things that need to be done (the list includes taking naps, time for baby, meals, etc.)
Second: keep the list going - every time you remember something, add it to the list
Third: every time someone says: How can I help?, give them something from the list, whether it's a meal, picking up drycleaning, making phone calls or joining you at the funeral home.

It is so important to have all the support you can. Call in all your favors now.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:25 AM on March 5, 2014

I can tell you what NOT to do: Drink heavily or make major changes in the first year.
posted by misspony at 9:32 AM on March 5, 2014

Grief is a lot more physical than people realize; we think it's all about emotions, but there were days when I could not move from grief, like my whole body had gotten heavy. It drove me crazy because it made no sense, but I had to deal with it.

Your panic attacks, forgetfulness, etc. are all extremely, extremely normal. If your therapist or a new therapist can prescribe you something that helps, then take it, because you won't need it forever. You are in the midst of an emotional storm that will die down on its own terms (but it will die down).

Your baby won't remember anything about any of this. Feel free to be sad when you're with him, or let someone else hold him while you cry or are alone.

All the other advice above is good. I have lost both my parents, one when I was 20 and the other when my son was 3. It was terrible but I still think about them in happy/proud ways all the time. I tell my son about them and show him pictures and let him know all the ways he looks like them (he has my dad's exact smile, which always makes me tear up when I think of it).

Just get through the funeral, and make sure you have therapy/support for the next year. Your grief will run its course and your son will be fine, and after a while you will be too.
posted by emjaybee at 10:08 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry. I don't have much useful to add except another data point on the "your baby will be fine" end. My grandmother died suddenly and dramatically (national news dramatic) when my mother was 7 months into a difficult pregnancy with me (bedrest much of the time). The next year or so was tied up in settling the estate, which got very contentious and caused some long-lasting estrangement. She remembers very little about the first year of my life because she was in such a haze of grief; despite that, I was happy, healthy, and strongly attached to her. Do your best not to beat yourself up. Your baby will be fine, and will not remember any of this.
posted by katemonster at 10:16 AM on March 5, 2014

I'm sorry for your loss...

While I was at a very different stage of life when I lost one of my parents (i.e. with no baby to care for) here's what I did that helped me...and I believe like what vignettist said about putting on your own oxygen mask first :
- Leaned on my support network
- Examined my responsibilities and scaled back where I could to take the pressure off (taking incompletes in many of my college classes that semester). Take the easy way out when it comes to meals, housekeeping etc. Cut yourself a LOT of slack in those areas.
- Wrote letters to that parent in my journal. Talked to them about my worries. That helped me feel more connected and ease the burden.
- This was one book I found helpful: Writing as a Way of Healing. What struck a chord with me was that the most helpful way to write about something to help heal yourself was that you couldn't just write about what happened or how you felt. You should write about both.
- Talked to doctor about options for anxiety medication. Just knowing that I had the option helped me.
- As far as worrying goes, I personally worried A LOT over unrelated things...I think that they were things that I felt I had a sense of control over, as opposed to death which we don't have much control over. If that makes sense.
- I personally did not find therapy helpful until years later when I had time to process it but I didn't have a therpist before it happened so of course YMMV

Hope that answers some of your of luck to you, take care of yourself :-)
posted by Shadow Boxer at 10:34 AM on March 5, 2014

You have so much great advice here. I just want to put forth that if you're anywhere near Austin, TX, I would be glad to help in whatever way I can - feel free to MeMail for specific ways I can help if you're nearby.

Anxiety medication, specific time set aside to absorb your fresh little person (even if you start crying), reaching out to your network, making sure you're checking in to see if you're getting enough self-care...those are all the most core things in these situations, I think.

Sending you strength, comfort, and clarity.
posted by batmonkey at 12:47 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry for posting twice, but I wanted to add something that helped me after a little bit of time had passed and I was expected to go back to my normal routine.

I would set aside specific times where I could allow myself to grieve in as dramatic a fashion as I needed -- crying, sobbing, flinging myself onto my bed, what have you. I often didn't need it, but knowing I had an outlet sometimes helped me get through tough days. 1-1 grief counseling also filled this need. When I knew I had a safe space to talk about my feelings it was easier to make it through the days.
posted by missmerrymack at 1:04 PM on March 5, 2014

Hang in there, OP. Speaking personally, I found things were much *much* easier going once the funeral and the organising, relative-meeting, head-nodding etc it entailed was over. Once the will stuff was over, which took quite a while, alas, it was even better.

I felt like that stuff interfered with my ability to grieve the way I wanted, putting focus on unpleasant things, complicated things, and things that did not really encapsulate or showcase my relationship with my dad and all its positive parts, rather than the finality of his death.

So, it really does get better. After the funeral, when everyone had gone back home, I felt like I could finally exhale. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 3:07 PM on March 5, 2014

I would second getting in touch with a hospice in your area, whether your parent had any help from them or not. They have the best grief counselors and resources to help you find the grip you're looking for right now and they're happy to help you.

I'm so sorry about your loss. As your baby grows, you'll see your parent in him now and again and that will make you smile.
posted by aryma at 7:10 PM on March 5, 2014

I had a couple other things in rapid succession after the death of one of my parents so there's that. I've heard that the first 2-3 months your brain is just not working properly; mine did in terms of the job search I had to start but at work my concentration was zero. So yeah, forgetting words like "table" is perfectly fine.

Reading books was a HUGE help for me. I had never lost anyone in my life before so I had no clue what it meant when people said you'd be on an emotional roller coaster for a while. And a while is different for different people; it certainly wont be a month or two. This is just the beginning. I literally bought any book on grief that I could get my hands on, so I do have a long list that I can memail if you are interested. I found some of them helpful coz I was just stunned by how physical the grief was in the first few weeks.

Reading or hearing about other people's experiences helps me a lot. I joined a grief support group at a church even though I don't even belong to that faith. It was immensely helpful, although at times, this is something I realized much more in retrospect than at the time. It was helpful to know what you were going through was normal and that you were not going crazy.

While I had/have no babies, I doubt that you will be scarring the child with your grief. Had the child been a few years of age, that might have been a concern to look into. You could also consult the pediatrician on that.

I didn't realize fully how messed up friends can be at this time. When you encounter someone who blurts out something insensitive, and you will meet those kinds, it will help to be aware of their ignorance although it may still hurt just as much. Like your grief, you've got to let yourself feel whatever you are feeling rather than trying to intellectually analyse the feelings for their validity or "normalcy". Similarly, I'd say wanting to "cope" almost sounds like you want to "contain" your feelings. Not have anything awkward and uncomfortable spill over. Grief is kind of messy- there is no graceful way of dealing with it without repressing something, and grief is also a journey you can't walk alone. You've got to feel it to heal it, and you've got to talk about it to fully feel it.

I found that I was lucky that I knew quite a few older people (55+) who were remarkably empathetic. That helped.

Also, having experienced this, I'd second the recommendation of not making any major life changes in the first year.

I am sorry for your loss. Should you want to memail me for any reason at all - books or just need some stranger to listen or complain about an insensitive person - anything, then please feel free to do so.

posted by xm at 9:38 PM on March 5, 2014

Forgot to mention that some cultures don't do very well with grieving or mourning. It helps to be aware of it and not dismiss your feelings to fit in the cultural expectations but rather find a safe place within your culture with kind and compassionate people to express your needs and feelings so you are on the path toward healing.
posted by xm at 9:41 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all these answers. I particularly take comfort from the people who reassured me that I'm not going to warp the baby by crying on its sleeping head. And the idea that things might get slightly less pressurized after the funeral is over. You are kind people, mefites.
posted by sockanalia at 12:57 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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