Joe and Jenny (not their real names as online therapy clients are confidential and cases are only shared with permission) met at university. It was a match made in heaven. With both of them being incredibly sociable people, excelling in all things sporty, they became a much-loved power couple. Joe and Jenny dated for many years. They got married. And a short while after that had the most beautiful little baby girl well befitting the “perfect couple”.
Joe and Jenny were both extremely devoted and loving parents. Jenny eventually opted to stay at home with their little one during the day. Joe worked extremely hard to ensure that that would be financially possible. But things started unravelling between Joe and Jenny. Soon the news broke that they would be getting a divorce. Since Jenny had not been working it simply was not viable for her to live on her own and she didn’t want to leave her daughter at a crèche just yet.
Both Joe and Jenny were devastated by the split. Joe relied heavily on his support system of family and friends to get him through this terrible time. But Jenny did not have that kind of support network despite having quite a few good friends. See, Jenny was not from Joe’s country. They met at university because she chose to study abroad.
Due to the financial and housing situation and the lack of support, Jenny opted to move back to her parents. Because Joe was working full-time it only made sense that Jenny take their little girl along initially. They were two grown-ups after all and working out the kinks in terms of co-parenting from two different countries couldn’t possibly be that hard. Especially not since the countries were only a 2-hour flight apart.
But as many amicable divorces go, things soon turned ugly. The fighting started, the insults, accusations. Years of suppressed anger and resentment surfaced. Amicable divorce proceedings came to a screeching halt. Litigation started. Suddenly the little girl turned into a pawn and a custody battle of epic proportions started.
What made this harder was that while Jenny was living with her parents, with the bare minimum of expenses, Joe was still working full-days, still paying for the house, insurance, medical etc. And legal battles across borders are expensive. Especially if one currency is much stronger than the other.
After many years of fighting one legal battle after the other and simply getting nowhere, Joe was facing financial ruin. Despite tirelessly fighting for his little girl, he had not been able to see or even speak to her in years. Joe had reached the end of the road in his efforts. As hard as it was to do, he had to come to grips (and to peace) with the fact that he had to let her go and hope that she comes looking for him later in life.
Joe and Jenny’s story is an extreme divorce case and every parent’s nightmare. Sadly, this is also many divorced parent’s reality. With flawed systems all across the globe that are flooded with cases on a daily basis, there are many parents and children who are falling through the cracks. To such an extent that they end up at the point that Joe eventually reached; forced to let go.
But how does a parent do that? How does a parent get through the grief of this massive loss? And the feelings of guilt because they feel they failed their child?
This is what we refer to as a “living death” and follows many of the same principles as grieving the permanent loss of someone extremely important to you. Here are a few tips on how to deal with this loss:
Grief is a very personal thing. But when it touches an entire family – especially with other children in the mix – it’s crucial that the grief is shared. Talk about it. Remember the good times. Cry about it. Rage about it. But do it together. Leaving each to deal with a shared grief on their own can lead to many other problems that your family simply does not need right now. If you would like to have a space to deal with your grief on a personal basis and help establish how to grieve in a family setting, you can ask your therapist to do so during your online therapy session.
Focus on the children
As tough as this might be on you, it’s still easier than it is a child that feels powerless and has a limited understanding of why a sibling/siblings are no longer in their lives. You need to pay special attention to the kids. Spend as much quality time with them as possible and talk about their sibling(s) – keeping them a part of your daily lives even though they are not physically present.
Buy the birthday present, buy the Christmas present, and record the personal messages on their first day of school. Celebrate each achievement and milestone in their lives even though you are unable to see or talk to them.
It’s for ALL of you
Keeping the children involved in your daily lives, celebrating milestones etc. is not just for you and any siblings to deal with the loss. Studies have shown that the vast majority of children with a “lost parent” whether due to social workers stepping in, adoption or parental alienation during a divorce, goes searching for the parent at one stage of their lives. Once your child(ren) find you, you can show them that you never forgot about them and that they were always loved and missed.
Many strongly suggest writing letters to the child(ren). Tell them what you would’ve liked to have said to them in person. This has an incredibly healing effect on a parent due to the journaling nature of this exercise. It also serves as something you can give them and “catch up” with when the time comes and they’ve come looking for you.
Don’t rush the packing
You’re probably still going to have a room or closet filled with their things; toys, clothes, books, bedding… Don’t rush into making a decision on what to do with the belongings. Whether it’s a painful reminder or a comfort, don’t rush into giving things away or putting them into storage. Work through and process all the feelings that are attached to these personal items first.
The difficult questions
Sadly, many have quite a lot of questions when it comes to these kinds of cases. A lot of people simply cannot understand how it’s possible for a system to fail someone so badly. They start wondering whether you are not to blame for the situation you are in. Others will always hold out hope that things will change. These will always ask for a progress update on the matter.
Whatever the case may be, people will ask questions (even if some might be insensitive or offensive). To emotionally and mentally prepare yourself for this, practice answers ahead of time and decide what you are willing or not willing to share. And remember; you don’t owe anybody any answers. If you feel like it’s too personal to share with those outside of the family, then you don’t have to.
It can be very tough to navigate the treacherous waters of grief, and you and anyone else touched by this tragedy will most likely need therapy. Online therapy is a very convenient way to reach professionals in the comfort of your own home. It may become a little trickier when dealing with very small children in the family, so your online therapist will be able to recommend a specialist in terms of play therapy.
Join a support group
Many feel very alone in their grief – even in a family that shares it. This can be due to a multitude of reasons from age and specific details surrounding the circumstances to the parental role and gender of the parent. A single parent might struggle to stay strong for the family’s sake and a husband might feel like his new wife doesn’t quite understand how they feel.
Whatever the case may be, it’s incredibly helpful to surround yourself with people going through the same thing as you. There are many support groups that serve to fill this exact need. If you’re not even sure where to start looking for these support groups, simply ask the professional you’re receiving your online therapy from and they’ll gladly recommend a few.
Losing a child(ren) can be incredibly traumatising and although it’s something one will never be able to entirely “get over”, it’s most definitely possible to learn to live with the situation in a healthy and helpful way. If you or someone you love are currently finding themselves in this position and need some support and guidance, please feel free to reach out to one of our online therapy experts at firstname.lastname@example.org or, alternatively, simply complete the form below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.