We interviewed grief researcher Anna Baglione PhD about how losing her father as a young child helped form her personality and her life choices. She helps us to understand what a child goes through when they lose a parent and gives advice on how we can help a child who loses their mother or father.
I was nearly a teenager when my dad died. I guess you could say he avoided all the teenage drama that comes with having a young daughter, though I’m sure he would have been up to the task.
It was . . . depressing. I went from having a relatively normal life to having to wear an ugly funeral dress and awkwardly comfort people who were trying to comfort me. I became a very angry kid. I distinctly remember getting pulled out of basketball practice once a week so we could attend family grief therapy. I hated it (God bless the grief support counselors). It was awkward, and I mostly just sat in the corner trying to avoid the uncomfortable icebreaker questions. I also dropped out of piano lessons. Things just became a mundane kind of sad.
We had to learn to lean on each other more than we were used to, for routine things like getting laundry and dishes done, or just figuring out “what’s next”? It was definitely a learning curve.
Family friends, my parents’ co-workers, teachers . . . everyone tried as best they could to help.
Not much - maybe if my mom had access to more financial resources things would have been a little easier. I was lucky - I ended up getting a scholarship to attend a really good high school, which helped. But I also remember all the rejection letters my mom got for tuition assistance. There didn’t seem to be any consideration for widows, in that respect.
I think I’ve become more empathetic, for sure. While the experience of going through grief was an unwelcome one, the empathy gain has come in handy.
It comes in waves. Conducting our CHI 2018 study on grief support groups, it felt like I was talking to others who understood me (and I could understand them and tell their stories). But once we submitted the study for publication, my body acted like it was going through grief all over again. I couldn’t sleep well, and I wasn’t hungry . . . empathy is a strange beast.
Be incredibly, incredibly patient. Let them be angry, or sad, or whatever they need to be. And help them find a creative outlet for it (e.g. photography, painting, music, sports). It helps.
Grief is tough, and sometimes life deals you sad cards. But it can serve a higher purpose, if you shape it into something meaningful over time.
I do think my experience (and observing the experience of a family member, years later) pushed me to explore grief-related research as a purposeful direction for my work. It just took me awhile to realize I could do that kind of research, and that it could potentially benefit other people by giving a voice to their stories.
We are most grateful to Anna for working with us and sharing her valuable insights. If you are still coping with issues from losing a parent at an early age, have a look at some of our pages below, or see whether you might need counseling here.
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