Peer-support groups help families deal with the loss of a child


January 28, 2001|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. I just finished reading your response to the woman who lost her 3 1/2 -year-old son in a hit-and-run accident. You were right on the money.

I lost a 7-month-old daughter. Having to bury a child is devastating, but there is some wonderful help available.

I highly recommend a support group for parents and siblings called Compassionate Friends (www.compassionatefriends. com). It was an incredible help to me.

Today, as I watch my son excel in academics and music, I can only imagine how my daughter would be. I comfort myself with the faith and knowledge that God called her to a higher good. Grief is a powerful and healing set of emotions, but it's something to go through, not hang onto.

To all readers who have lost children: Faith, counseling and talking with others who have been through what you are going through now is of immense help. Allow grief to come out for siblings. Talk to your surviving children, and get them to talk to you. I give my prayers to the woman who wrote to you that she and her family will heal.

A. Thank you for your lovely note and suggestions. I am not familiar with Compassionate Friends, but it sounds as if the group offers a very important ingredient: peer support from other families who have had to face tragedy. My friend Maria Trozzi, an expert in grief work, has written a very helpful book, "Talking with Children about Loss" (Perigee, 1999). It contains ideas about how to talk to children about losing a sibling or another relative. I recommend it to anyone who is facing a loss.

Q. I have been married to my husband for four years, and I have a great relationship with my two stepchildren, ages 14 and 12, who live with us a week at a time.

My husband and I didn't plan on having any children, but I was recently shocked to find out at a checkup that I was almost one month pregnant.

Over the years, the kids have asked us to have kids of our own. (They already have a little sister from their mother's second marriage.) Since we have announced the pregnancy, however, I have had nothing but smart, nasty remarks from my stepdaughter. My stepson is very excited, but my stepdaughter makes remarks about the weight I will gain and how fat I'll be. I figure she is acting out because she will no longer be the baby at our house and because I won't be able to continue to play sports with her and her brother while I'm pregnant.

I'm not sure what to do at this point. I was going to bring the kids to a couple of appointments to make them feel more at ease and involved. Please advise.

A. Your stepdaughter is revealing her jealousy over your taking her father away from her. This is to be expected, and I think it's probably healthier to have it out in the open. Now you two can discuss her feelings about your marriage. You can also be ready to discuss her questions about her incipient sexuality, the threat of pregnancy which it brings, and her fears about the displacement the new baby will bring. What an opportunity to share the experience and her questions!

Of course, I'd take her with you to doctor appointments to feel more involved, if that's appropriate.

Maybe she's also hit a raw nerve in you. Perhaps your pregnancy has uncovered new worries about stepparenting. Did you expect it always to be a smooth course? I suggest you read "Stepparenting" by Jeanette Lofas and Dawn Sova (Kensington Books, 1985). Important relationships are never smooth, but it sounds as though you are making a wonderful effort to listen to your stepchildren's concerns.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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