Mental Health Minute: Coping With the Grief of Having a Child With Medical Complexities

It is crucial for parents and caregivers of children with medical complexities to take the time to care for their mental health. With our new series Mental Health Minute, PHS clinical social worker Monica Oberg will answer questions we’ve gotten from parents and caregivers about navigating the stresses and concerns that come with this journey, from grief and balance to the isolation many parents experience.

To kick off the series, we’re going to be hosting a Facebook Live discussion with Monica at 12:30 on Thursday, December 20 as we discuss managing grief during the holidays, which can be a particularly difficult time for individuals dealing with medical concerns.

In the meantime, read on for Monica’s response to a parent’s concern about handling grief when raising a child with medical complexities. 

Do you have a question that you would like Monica to answer? Leave it below! 


“I’m having a hard time dealing with the grief of
having a child with medical complexities. How do you recommend people cope with the trauma that comes with this life? I don’t know how to care for myself, my family, or my child’s mental health needs.”

I want to start by saying that this is a concern I have heard from many parents – so if you’re feeling this way, please know that you are NOT alone. It’s also good to keep in mind that if you’re on this journey, it’s completely normal to move in and out the grief process (possibly multiple times) depending on new information on your child’s medical condition, your own health, or the time of year, among other triggers.

There are many theories of how people grieve. Some believe the stages are linear, while others believe there are five to seven stages that ebb and flow from day to day or even hour to hour. The different stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – so it’s understandable if your emotions and outlook vary throughout your and your child’s journey.

Whatever your belief is, grief can be messy and it’s not always straightforward. My biggest suggestion for someone grieving is to go through it. While it may seem easier to try to overcome the emotions, when individuals try to block or ignore the feelings of grief, it often builds up until it feels like an explosion of emotion.

Expressing your emotions does not make you weak; it makes you human.

The most important advice I can give is to share your feelings with someone.

 

Ask questions, seek support however you’re comfortable, make sure you aren’t isolating yourself, and know you aren’t alone. If you have a partner or close family member who may also be grieving your child’s medical complexities, talk about it with them – you may be going through a more similar experience than you realize. While the actual process of talking through your experiences and journey may sound overwhelming, I believe you will feel some sense of relief that comes with knowing someone else has heard (and shared) your concerns.

Expressing your emotions does not make you weak; it makes you human – and the holidays have a way of bringing many forms of feelings to each of us. It’s important that we own our feelings and rather than them owning us. If you are talking about how you are feeling, expressing yourself in a healthy way, and making sure to participate in self-care, these things can help you to cope with grief instead of allowing it to take over.

Some coping strategies to help with grief include finding support – both emotional and practical. Maybe it is something informal like talking with your friends or family, or something more formal such as a support group of other parents who have a child with medical complexities, or individual or family therapy (PHS offers individual therapy for adolescents and adults, and play therapy and a sibling support program for children).

Don’t feel bad asking for practical support – finding someone to help make meals for a period of time, or clean your house, or help complete some errands, can really make a difference in a person’s mental health.

Besides verbally processing your grief, many find it helpful to journal. Write about your day; both good and bad. If you are feeling really emotional about a specific person, thing, or diagnosis and you can’t address it personally, try writing a letter to it. Share all of your feelings and express yourself as you might to a friend. Then tear it up, throw it away. It often helps to get your feelings down on paper and can be a good way to give words to your feelings, express yourself, and give yourself an outlet if you aren’t comfortable sharing it with somebody.

Acceptance is another coping strategy. Accept that your feelings will change over time. Accept that you need to express yourself, and accept that you may have a wide arrange of feelings all in a day. You are grieving and it may look messy. Lastly, please take time for self-care. Go for a walk, take a 5-minute break, breathe, color, play with Playdoh, read a book or magazine you love. Meet a friend for coffee or enjoy one alone. Accept that you need some time for yourself in order to care for others.

If you are in need of support please call PHS at 651-642-1825. 

Originally published: December 5, 2018

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