Grieving a Child with Mental Illness
Last week, my son Bob announced he is no longer playing basketball. Bob's been playing competitively since age five and is pretty good. This year he is a junior in high school, which means varsity -- his dream.
I told my son I support him. I'm proud he made his mental health and well-being a priority. Then I went upstairs to the privacy of my bedroom and sobbed.
Grief is Common When Parenting a Child with Mental Illness
The five stages of grief following a loss are commonly known:
Let's be clear. Losing a child to mental illness is a huge loss to a parent. My own grief has been intense.
When my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 12, my husband and I mourned our many losses. We grieved the child we thought we had. We lamented the future we imagined for him. We sorely missed the friends that disappeared. We bemoaned the fate of our family, forever changed.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes the stages of emotional response a family goes through when dealing with mental illness:
- Dealing with catastrophic events--shock and denial
- Learning to cope--anger and grief
- Moving into advocacy--understanding and acceptance
It is not surprising the two lists are similar. I quickly learned the grieving process is neither linear nor circular as I found myself jumping from shock and denial during each crisis to education and advocacy on account of my child's age.
Grieving Recurs for Parents of Mentally Ill Children
They say everyone grieves differently and there is no definitive end for the pain. Since Bob's diagnosis, the losses persisted. We mourned the family dinners and vacations we no longer took. We wept silently during the eighth grade dance and graduation Bob missed. We ached for the normal teen years and activities Bob would never experience.
There will be parental grief and loss with each transition Bob makes. Today we say goodbye to the state basketball championship. Soon Bob will go to college and start a career. Later he may get married and have children. Or not. Whatever Bob's choices, I'm certain his successes will be bittersweet for us.
With grief there is hope. I truly support Bob's decision to take a break from basketball. I am optimistic Bob will experience less anxiety this school year. I secretly fantasize Bob will use his free time to study more and improve his grades. I am prudently hopeful this decision will lead to others that sustain Bob's stability. I remind myself to live in the present and love the child I have with his many gifts and talents.
I accept grieving as a part of living with a mentally ill child. I acknowledge grieving can be healthy. I ask myself where I am in the grieving process and recall the stages are not linear. Finally, I grab a tissue and assure myself that sobbing today because Bob is no longer playing basketball is okay.
Halli, C. (2014, October 12). Grieving a Child with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2014/10/grieving-a-child-with-mental-illness
Author: Christina Halli
I know we will all find peace someday. Not a day goes by I don’t think of him but I’ve learned that what if should if’s I could have doesn’t get us anywhere. Blaming ourself is the last thing we should do.
I pray and send him love and strength. These people fighting severe mental illness are my heroes. That definition has changed for me witnessing my sons struggle. And I will hurt forever for him and his horrific fight.
homework for months. The school has done everything in their ability to help him. )
That was a good two weeks of crying for me. I went through all the phases of grief. My husband was not as effected, he knew school was a stressor. Why go, if it makes him
feel worse? His Dr said there is nothing wrong with taking an alternative route. So
now that we are on the scenic route in life he is actually doing really well. I even admit
it was the right thing to do. He knows what he needs to do, we just have to keep
trusting him. In fact some really great opportunities lay ahead, but I always proceed
towards these with caution until they are passed and are actual feathers in the cap.
I really enjoy this blog, your experience has been very similar to mine.