Remembering: The Death of a Child
By Robert R. Thompson, M.D.
Reviewed by Loya Coffin
Colorado Springs, Colorado
This excellent book of "Support and Healing, Hope and Inspiration" is
the story of a couple's grief journey after the tragic loss of their son,
Paul Leslie Thompson. Even though Dr. Thompson is a physician and all too
familiar with death, nothing could have prepared him and his wife for the
acute grieving process that lay ahead of them. Dr. Thompson describes his
experience with these words:
"The death of a child takes you on a journey like a hawk carries a rabbit
through the sky. It eventually drops you either dead or wounded. What you
see and do on the journey is up to you. The journey itself is not."
Dr. Thompson invites the reader to join him and his wife on their journey
through grief. He explains their need to see, feel and hold their son after
the accident. He tells of the funeral plans and how they made it through
the ceremony in a zombie-like state. He admits that although he and his
wife are practicing Christians, they sometimes felt too numb to pray and
were not sure what to say to God. They tried to make sense of it all, but
couldn't. "I thought then and still believe, that the pain of losing a
child derives in part from the anger we feel that the natural cycle of
life has been interrupted."
Dr. Thompson then gently to us what was helpful to the couple they faced
their grief. "We took consolation where we could find it." They were grateful
to have each other and to be able to share the journey with their other
two son, parents and other family members. The recollection of last words
spoken and the memories shared were appreciated and represented little
drops of soothing oil on the wounded hearts. The loving and
caring friends who took over in the house and who just sat and listened
were of great consolation. Touch was also very important in the healing
process. "Handshakes were not enough. Embraces were required and each hug
squeezed out a new burst of anguish." Almost every decision was validated
with the words, "Paul would have liked that." A notepad was put near the
casket, so that anyone who wanted to could write a memory of Paul on it.
Someone introduced the Thompsons to The Compassionate Friends who believe
that "grief shared by many is grief borne by many" and who suggested that
they use a memory box to collect memorabilia. The church family acted as
a supportive community and relieved them of some of the burdens of daily
life. The funeral director and the pastor helped by providing a "healing
funeral." Patients, staff and colleagues "carried" them and allowed them
to grieve as long as they needed to. We would expect Dr. Thompson to also
describe some of the physical and mental effects of grief. He describes
that both, husband and wife, started suffering from throbbing headaches
soon after the news of their son's death. Other symptoms were fatigue,
numbness, sleeplessness, weight loss, gray hair and the onset of menopause.
Depression was a concern, but Dr. Thompson knew that medicating grieving
patients is not appropriate unless there are signs of serious melancholia
and "involutional" depression. It took a voluntary decision to not "extend
the acute grieving process and make a career out of it." Although sometimes
marriages suffer from the grief experience, Dr. Thompson found that "a
mutually supportive respect for each other's personal grief can result
in a stronger marriage - one in which both partners rely on each other
for mutual support and encouragement, as well as continued personal growth."
This grief experience has effected a changed in Dr. Thompson's attitude
toward death. His patients and his own mortality have taken on new meaning.
Both Dr. Thompson and his wife don't want to "move on" or "get on with
their lives," but want to integrated moments of remembrance and appreciation
of life and the living into their daily lives.
Remembering: The Death of a Child
By Robert K. Thompson, M.D.
Support and Healing, Hope and Inspiration
Remembering: The Death of a Child is a personal account of a family's
tragic loss of their eighteenyear-old son in a freakish traffic accident.
Following the narrative of the accident and the shock and sorrow that it
visited upon the family, the author offers words of support and healing
as well as words of hope and inspiration. A chapter on The Compassionate
Friends details the importance of sharing tragedy in the group setting.
At the end of the book, a section on grief resources provides contact information
for The Compassionate Friends as well as other resources for bereaved parents.