Being There In A Time Of Loss

Losing a loved one, especially a child, at any time of your life is hard. During the holidays it can be even more difficult.

Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, you don’t know what it feels like. But you might know someone who has gone through this type of loss, and maybe struggled with what to say or if you should even say anything at all.

“The advice I give to family and friends of somebody who has had a loss is that it’s a good idea to bring it up,” says Dr. Wendi Hirsch, child psychologist at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

“Acknowledge their loss. Say I’m sorry, but don’t try to solve their problems. Ask how the people in their family are doing, how they’re doing.

“I think people sometimes are fearful of asking someone for the 15th time how they’re doing, but you do need to acknowledge it because it’s such a major event in their life and not to acknowledge it can be quite painful. It makes people feel like you’re unaware of something that’s probably one of the most important things they’re going through.”

During the Christmas season, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children holds a yearly Memorial Tree Trimming Service for families of patients who have died. This year’s service takes place Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Central Union Church.

“It’s usually a full house with standing room only,” says chaplain Angela Smerz. “When you lose a child or even a family member during the year; birthdays, holidays and particularly Christmas are a time of deep emotion and sentiment.

“Losing a child is one of those things that can have the greatest impact on a person spiritually, emotionally, psychologically. The tree trimming service is a way to celebrate their life and it gives them an opportunity to come together to honor their loved one publicly.”

At the service, families read the name of their loved one and hang an ornament in their honor.

For people who may know someone who has lost a loved one, Hirsch suggests:

* Acknowledge their loss. * Be present and offer your help.

* Be a good listener. * Avoid cliches. For example: Your child is in a better place. Everything happens for a reason.

* Continue to be there even after the immediate loss. Keep checking on them and continue to be supportive of that person.

“What we’ve noticed and research has shown over time is the immediate support after the loss of somebody is pretty significant,” she explains. “People are available. They’re very supportive. There’s a lot of phone calls.

“It’s not until three to six months after the loss that the grief can really be at the most intense. The immediate shock has faded and now they’re moving forward without that person that they love. And very unfortunately that’s also the time when the social supports seems to drop off.”