“When the Bough Breaks – forever after the death of a son or daughter.” Judith R. Bernstein, Ph.D. Andrews McMeel Publishing 1997.
A Personal Quest for Survival
In 1987, Dr. Bernstein, a practicing psychologist, lost her 26 year old son to cancer. She writes, “How are we to live with this for the rest of our lives? Will the crushing ache in my chest ever lessen? Can we ever return to our old selves, involved in the lives of our daughters, and caring about work, hobbies, friends or the changing of seasons?”
Seven years after her son’s death, and still searching for the answers to her own questions about how to weather the cataclysmic changes in her life, she realizes that experts are saying we (bereaved parents) should return to “normal” after six months or a year, two at most.
How could a person ever return to the life they had before the death of their child? And what was “normal”?
No Time Limits on Grieving
A research project took shape. She began to interview other bereaved parents to see how they were surviving years and decades later. To date, no study had been made of the ways in which catastrophe reshapes all that comes after.
Dr. Bernstein felt “if we are to help and understand what happens to people in the aftermath of the trauma of intense grief, we should ask where they are in the process of learning to live with what has happened. Where is that process in five, ten, thirty years?” This is the question she set out to ask.
With her husband Don, a professor of psychology and his graduate research fellow, Jennifer Goldberg Cole, they approached the worldwide self-help support group for bereaved parents and siblings The Compassionate Friends (TCF). The response to their quest for parents willing to talk about their experiences with intense grief was overwhelming. Within six months they had interviewed dozens of parents.
1st print at Suite 101
Loss Changes Us
Dr. Bernstein discovered that major loss does not go away. Major loss needs not to be overcome, (recovered from) but rather to be put into context. People don’t recover; they adapt. They alter their values, attitudes, perceptions, relationships, and beliefs, with the result that they are substantially different from the people they once were.
“When the Bough Breaks – forever after the death of a son or daughter.” For me as a bereaved parent, this book is a personal story within a collection of thoughts and anecdotes that helped to pull me through the darkest time of my life. All of the crazy thoughts I had, through endless nights when sleep eluded me, were validated. I was not alone.
This is a book full of people, in the grip of abysmal grief, who were now living their lives without their children. I read passages where parents spoke about not thinking that they were going to live. And every parent was searching for ways, words, anything to give them hope that they were going to survive the pain.
A New Normal
It is written, throughout the ages of mankind, that we find HOPE in the ashes of the aftermath of war.
Dr. Bernstein had written the “first book that has assessed the enduring consequences of loss….” And in doing so she has empowered the human population that suffers from the “unthinkable.” There is no more grieving “wrong” or time’s up! It’s been two years, so your life should be back to normal! In that I was given hope. I felt relief to know it was normal to feel that I wasn’t “all better” (like I had the flu).
I’m not sitting around moping all the time. I feel joy and I can laugh. But even though it’s been eleven years since I hugged my little boy, in my quiet moments, when I think of him, it still hurts just as bad as it ever did. I’m going to need the rest of my life, to learn how to live the rest of my life, without him in it.
Besides, normal is a moving target.
1st printed at Suite 101.