Dealing with death
I wanted to reflect on an episode that we had a week or so ago with Dr. Carmel Harrington about SIDS. It was quite a confronting episode. If you haven’t listened to it, I would recommend that you go back and have a listen to it.
Carmel shared her own personal story, which led her to the professional journey she has been on for the last 30 plus years. It was quite a confronting story of her own child dying from sudden infant death syndrome at the age of two and what really struck me about it was when she said that the advice her doctors gave her was to just forget about it and get on with it and go and have another baby.
That raised some issues, which I wanted to share with you as well because, in my own life, I have been fortunate enough to have two wonderful daughters who are now age, which I think about to turn 35 and 31 but between the two, we had a stillborn. That’s not something that you expect when you are pregnant to have your child, which you are excited and looking forward to the birth of a new child to have a stillborn. This happened literally in the last week of our pregnancy. And of course, this would have happened 33 odd years ago.
What triggered the reaction that I wanted to share with you was when Carmel said the doctor had said, just get on with it and have another baby, because quite frankly, how we deal with these kinds of traumas is really important. I’m fortunate enough to have my wife guide us through this one because my initial response to that at that time was not too dissimilar to the doctors.
That was I just wanted to get on with life and let’s move on and let’s have another baby and all this. And because my wife had an experience in her own family where a stillborn had been ignored and life had, in inverted commas, just got on with it. This remained something that was unresolved. She was determined for us to deal with this in an appropriate way. I am eternally grateful to her now, 33 years later, for having done that, because if we hadn’t done that either, our relationship probably wouldn’t have survived or we would still be picking up the pieces or coming back to it as an unresolved issue.
How did we deal with it?
Well, firstly, we gave the child a name. It was called Tahlia and we looked at her and we held her and we dealt with the issue. We then went and had grief counseling, which was the most amazing experience. I mean, we had the most wonderful grief counselor who we had to actually two incredible sessions with one that lasted for four hours and resulted in a huge amount of tears, and a whole lot of issues were brought up and talked about.
It was an incredible experience for me because, at that point, I just wanted to if someone if something had died, if someone had died, then I just wanted to move on. I didn’t want to confront the grief of that loss of that death. This was really a very confronting experience then we went back for another few sessions and it kind of gave me permission to acknowledge that people have died.
When people die, when a partner dies, or when a child dies, people almost don’t want to discuss it with somebody and would rather pretend that it didn’t happen. Whether that’s within a relationship or whether that is among friends or relatives, it is something that I believe is really important to confront or at least acknowledge in a respectful way and deal with and not pretend that it didn’t happen because of the death of someone close to you.
When we’re talking about the death of a child and I mean, whether it’s an unborn child that hasn’t been born yet in a stillbirth, whether it’s a miscarriage, that’s another experience that can be very traumatic, whether it’s stillborn. That, of course, is incredibly traumatic, and then the death of a child, a young child, particularly as Carmel experienced, with which was largely unexplained as it was our stillborn, largely unexplained.
We realize how precious life is and how death is something we do need to confront and we do need to discuss in a respectful and caring and acknowledge its existence. That was very empowering, and I’m eternally grateful to my wife for having made me literally or guided me is perhaps a better way for her to have guided me through this and for me to have gone along with it and to be eternally grateful for her to have done that and for us to have done that together. Because these kinds of events are events that can either bring people closer together or drive them apart. Ultimately, death is something we all will confront at some point.
Being acknowledging that and learning how to deal respectfully with that is something that is important. I know that as a result of that grief counseling that I did go through at that point, when I have people that I meet who’s someone close has died with or even in my surgery where I’ve had patients that I’ve had relationships with for many years, and I know that one that their partner may have died, I will sometimes just say to them, you know, in passing when I’m asking, how are you? Which often runs off the tongue very easily in people and has very little meaning to sometimes say, look, it’s how long’s it been since so-and-so has died.
Just acknowledging that this was a real event that had a significant effect on their life is what is actually. On one hand, you might feel it’s opening up an old wound, but on the other hand, if you do it respectfully and in a sympathetic way, it at least acknowledges that you’re acknowledging that this huge event has occurred in their life. If they do want to say anything, that’s fine, they have permission to say it and if they died, they’ll just brush it off and say, oh, look, I’m fine, it’s all past, etc.
But I just wanted to share that experience with you because it was such a powerful story. I’m very grateful to Carmel for sharing such an event publicly with us. It had such a profound effect on her and had such a profound effect on us in our family and in my relationship with my own wife, who I’m very fortunate now to have been married to for the last thirty-six years and feel closer to now than I ever have and that’s a very important story in our story. Anyway, I wanted to share that with you. I hope this finds you well.
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