July, with its often punishing heat, has come and gone. While it was here, though, I kept seeing references to the fact that July has been designated Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. Or rather International Bereaved Parents Month, which implies a reach even greater than I’d first imagined.
According to the internet, the designation is meant to honor parents everywhere who’ve lost a child. The idea, as well as the credit, belongs to Peter and Deb Kulkkula, who—almost unimaginably—lost not only one, but two, adult sons.
In my opinion, just about anything that offers even the tiniest measure of comfort to a bereaved parent is definitely worth doing. If nothing else, the designation recognizes parents who’ve lost a child—and who, as a result, often feel isolated and alone.
The designation is also intended to provide suggestions to those who would like to offer their support to bereaved parents.
And yet does such a designation suggest that one particular type of grief—specifically the grief that accompanies losing a child—is “worse” than other types of grief? There are any number of people out there, including many who have not lost a child, who are likely to say “yes, it’s definitely worse.” They say this because child loss is an unnatural loss. Because, if you have children, it’s the most frightening loss imaginable.
We parents simply cannot grasp—no matter what our children’s age or stage in life—that we might lose them. “This will never happen to me,” you say. Unless or until the day comes when it does, in fact, happen to you.
It’s a primordial fear—that of your child dying before you. And yet the vast majority of us who end up “bearing the unbearable” somehow find a way of carrying on.
Those of us who’ve lost a child know grief, and through our grief many of us have become more tolerant. We’ve learned that it’s impossible to determine levels and degrees of grief, even when people call ours “the worst.” In other words, we understand and accept that we cannot possibly know the hearts of others. Or even at times our own.
The inescapable reality is that the measure of grief each of us is destined to experience during our lifetimes is highly personal, and even mysterious, tracing, as it inevitably does, its own unique path through our souls.