Why do we care? The pain can last a lifetime:
What the research tells us
The ongoing pain and the differences in the way mothers and fathers grieve can have an impact on the couple’s relationship. In one study, bereaved mothers who were distressed at 2 months after the loss reported lower marital satisfaction at 30 months after the loss (Vance, et al 2002). So often we tell young families who have experienced a loss that once they have another child, they will feel better.
While the new baby can bring great joy, it does not cancel out the pain of the previous loss. In one study, fathers showed an overall decrease in depressive symptoms following the birth of a healthy baby, but up to 1/3 of mothers were still at high risk for depression (Armstrong, et al, 2007).
Sensitivity and support for the loss of an infant is needed for the long haul. Families do not “get over” the loss. One study that followed families over many years found that even 18 years after the death of a child, (parents were 53 years old at that time), bereaved parents reported more depressive symptoms, poorer well-being, more health problems and more marital disruption than parents who had not experienced a loss (Rogers, et al, 2008).
We need to be attuned to these experiences of loss even in older congregants.
What follows is an excerpt of an interview of Deborah Alston, founder of the Skye Foundation, in which she describes grief in the years and decades following a loss event as "unacknowledged," and decries a lack of ongoing support for parents whose loss may have occurred decades prior but who are still grieving. At the time of the interview, Ms. Alston was four years into her own bereavement journey, following a stillbirth.
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