The loss of a child is devastating for a parent. And in the last week of March, it’s hard to fathom the loss we’ve seen and heard in the news lately.
Last Easter Sunday, about 60 people died, many of whom were mothers and children, from a suicide bombing in a local park in Pakistan. Then, the following day, March 28, the four-year old daughter (identified in media only by the nickname “Little Light Bulb”) of 36-year old Claire Wang was inexplicably beheaded by a knife-wielding attacker in Taiwan. Closer to home, Filipino netizens mourned the passing of 3-year-old “Courageous Caitie” Lucas whose battle with a rare form of leukemia touched so many.
The pain that results from a death of shocking nature is indescribable. How does a mother or father even get up in the morning? And, yet, we have Mrs. Wang who has remained composed in spite of her family’s tragedy and amid public outrage over the incident. Her daughter’s alleged attacker, who has a criminal record for drug offenses and had undergone psychiatric treatment, was beaten up by an angry mob as he was being transferred from the Taipei police station to the prosecutor’s office. Instead of calling for his execution, Wang appealed for the public to be reasonable. She told TV reporters, “I believe suspects in these kinds of random killings lose their minds at that moment.”
Grief coach Cathy Sanchez Babao, whose second child, 4-year-old Migi, passed away in 1998 due to a heart condition, believes that Wang’s call for sobriety is truly admirable and inspiring. “The journey towards healing will be a long and challenging one for her and her family. But already they have taken the first step. Though Mrs. Wang in an interview claims to be of no particular religion or faith, her response speaks of the good in every faith that exists. To see goodness in the face of deep sadness is truly grace personified.”
Furthermore, Cathy points out that there are important lessons to gain from the brave way Wang is handling her grief. For one, she had the grace to forgive, which is unimaginable in the face of her pain. If Mrs. Wang is able to try to understand the man who took away her little daughter’s life, then people who’ve experienced less grave offenses should not be so hard-hearted, says Cathy. “If she is able to be calm and to forgive, then so must we."
Perhaps what is more important to address is the reason why such random attacks do happen in the first place. “Mrs. Wang makes a valid point by going into the root cause of this gruesome act,” says Cathy. The weekly columnist of “Roots and Wings” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer says that whatever the circumstance surrounding the loss of a child, grieving is always difficult and long-drawn. “It’s because life doesn’t allow much space to process loss and often neither do we,” she explains.
In her case, she has coped by spending the last 18 years keeping the memory of Migi alive and helping others deal with the departure of their own loved ones through her writings, talks and personal counseling. She shares some ways that a parent could cope and eventually heal.
Remain connected to the memory of your departed child. In the many months that Migi was confined in the hospital, Cathy noticed that there was a need for a haven for the little ones bravely fighting debilitating conditions. Immediately, she decided to set up nooks in government hospitals all over the country where sick children can read books, watch movies and play with toys. She asked friends to donate materials and called these nooks “Migi’s Corner” in honor of her late son.
“Being able to ‘connect’ with one’s child… can be critical to helping navigate the first few years after a loss,” Cathy writes in her 2014 book Heart On My Sleeve, a collection of her essays and articles.“I believe this is what I set out to do when we established Migi’s Corner… For the family and for myself, we felt like Migi’s heart continued to live on in the hearts of every child who was helped by playing or staying in the play corners.”
Talk with other bereaved parents. Cathy also says in her book Heart On My Sleeve, “Reaching out to bereaved parents online and in person and talking about their experience and how they survived was a lifeline in the early years.” She took a step further and interviewed mothers like her. She compiled the lessons culled from those conversations into another book, Between Loss and Forever, which is about Filipina mothers on the grief journey. “Knowing my path was being used for a higher purpose helped soothe the deep wound of losing a child,” says Cathy.
Have a “mourning ritual.” Since 2009, Cathy has been taking off on what she calls an adventure that brings her to a grief conference where counselors like her converge to discuss the latest trends and developments in the field of Thanatology, the study of death and dying and the psychological mechanisms dealing with these matters. Travel, whether to a place near or far, was initially simply a “mourning ritual,” another coping mechanism. Along with writing, it has been helping Cathy make sense of Migi’s death. “Without proper mourning rituals allowing us to say goodbye, we may push aside, downplay or deny deeply painful losses in our lives,” cautions Cathy.
Cathy Sanchez Babao will conduct a Good Grief Workshop to be held every Wednesday from April 6 to May 11 at Bonifacio Global City. There will be two sessions each day, 9-11 am and 2-4 pm. The workshop aims to “create a safe, structured and supportive space to recognize and honor loss and would like to process more fully.” The meetings, which will be done in a small setting, are composed of structured writing and sharing activities. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, a brief screening email is required prior to joining. For more information and to reserve a slot and schedule an interview, contact Cathy at email@example.com.