Grief is a topic that is often overlooked or neglected, yet grief is an experience that impacts people in a myriad of ways. As part of our mission which aims to advocate, educate, and support, we have identified the need for public education surrounding the grief experience. Several storytellers have shared their lived experience with grief for our blog - this is Mary Ellen's story.
In 2012, my family experienced the heartbreaking death of my grandson, Mason who died suddenly at 9 ½ months old. He died in his bed of a sudden, unexplained infant death, just two weeks before his first Christmas. Mason was my only daughter’s second child. He was such a happy baby, always full of joy as he discovered the wonders of his world. He had just learned to walk before his death.
After he died, I was very sad at the loss of such a beautiful baby boy. I was filled with sadness and pain for my daughter who was overcome with sadness and yearning for her baby. She had been breastfeeding Mason and her body reminded her constantly that her baby was gone. I was also angry at the police who treated my daughter and her husband as if they were suspects in the death of their son. They were locked out of their home for three days until the autopsy results were available. They were sent out into a cold rainy December morning to wait outside their home until the police dismissed them. They never got to hold Mason to say goodbye until days later when they made a special request to the funeral director. Then his little body had the autopsy incisions and stitches. So very sad!
Immediately after his death, I spent time with my daughter and her family, visiting with them and helping them as best I could. Their other little boy was just two years old. We cried and we did the normal day to day activities as best we could. I yelled to the trees and the sky while I was away from others in the woods until I cried. I sought some counselling for myself for a few sessions. I found the counselling to be very helpful. He helped me feel that I was doing okay and that the grief process was something I had to give myself time to go through. I also found a good grief counsellor for my daughter who she worked with for about a year or so. It helped me greatly to know she was getting help.
Despite some of the wonderful support we received, there were interactions with others that were not helpful at all. People can be unintentionally hurtful when someone dies; they try to say something to help but it really makes things worse. We really have so little experience with death and dying and people often do not realize how devastating the unexpected death of a child is.
Looking back, I wish that people would have realized that as the grandmother, I had suffered a very big loss as well. I had lost my grandson, but maybe even more painful was seeing the suffering that my baby (my daughter) went through. Friends and family always asked how my daughter was doing, but very few ever asked how I was. I have learned so much from the death of Mason. I hope that it all makes me more sensitive to the pain that others suffer due to the death of a loved one and helps me offer the kind of support that they need.
I continue to support my daughter and her husband as best I can. We talk about Mason. I send a special card or gift for his birthday. We all acknowledge that we miss him and he is a very special part of us. I am still angry with the police for how my daughter was treated. They showed no compassion to a family who had just lost a child. I think about contacting the local police to talk about how this case would be handled now and if there is sensitivity training provided to the officers to make an already very traumatic event less so. I think about it, and then decide not to, since it might be too painful for my daughter to relive. Maybe someday.
It has been nine years and I think I am managing my grief well. I try very hard to "feel the joy" that Mason radiated as he explored his world. That has gotten easier as time goes by. I wish I knew then that there would be happiness again and that my daughter and her husband would be strong enough to survive and even thrive after the death of their precious Mason.