Even after the “official” grieving process ends, for parents who have lost children, the heartache and emptiness remain daily reminders of a life that could have been.
For many it is a private pain that is never far away — easily rekindled by a picture or a song or just a fleeting memory.
“People have this unconscious timeline about what is the acceptable period for grief,” said Sam (Sandra) Lucier, a private counsellor and former chaplain at the University of Victoria.
“They can even give you the first year. It’s tough because you have all the anniversaries and the birthdays and the holidays, but after that they think parents should be able to move on, but I don’t think it’s something anybody ever gets over.
“I believe people who haven’t experienced the loss of a child would be surprised at how much that child continues to be a part of a parent’s life even years later.”
In her dealings with people who have endured a mother and father’s worst nightmare, Lucier has found they somehow find the means of going on with their own lives.
Helping them do that is why she and others have arranged a special memorial service called Ended Beginnings this Sunday at Everden Rust Chapel.
Organized through the Penticton and District Hospice Society and the Bereavement Resource Centre, this is the first of what is hoped to be an annual event.
“This gives people an opportunity to be with the memory of that child,” said Lucier. “It’s not just the loss of that life, but for the hopes and the dreams that you had for that life. I think it’s an opportunity for healing for some, and validates and is a reaffirmation of that life.
“It’s basically an opportunity for people to gather around the memory of their own child, to know that life continues to exist somewhere, and in the quiet of your own thoughts you can connect there.”
Those attending can participate as much or as little as they wish. There is also the aspect of being with others in a similar situation.
“Nobody (who has not lost a child) wants to go there. That’s not a pain people want to imagine: ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what I would do. My world would end because I can’t imagine life without my child.’ That’s the reality of that loss.”
During the session, counsellor Lizbet Rosenfeld will speak about the lessons of loss, and parents can light a candle, write a letter to their loved one and take part in guided meditation.
The timing of the service — between Mother’s and Father’s Day — is not coincidental, according to Lucier, because these can be two of the most difficult times of the year.
The counsellor was involved with similar services during her time in Victoria and found them very helpful for participants.
“People loved it because they felt it gave them permission to be with that memory, honour that memory, think about that child without feeling like they’re ruminating or being depressive,” she said.
Someone who went each year was a woman whose 10-year-old daughter died in a car accident a week before Christmas — a funeral Lucier conducted.
Other regulars were the mother of a girl who committed suicide and a father of a boy who was so distraught at the time of his son’s death he barely remembered the funeral.
“He told me the Ended Beginning service gave him the opportunity to go back and say the goodbye he wanted to say to his son,” said Lucier.
Other parents she felt especially benefited were those who had suffered miscarriages or abortions because those deaths sometimes went unacknowledged.
Although not religious in the strict sense of the word, the service does have a strong spiritual undertone.
“For many people, when they experience a loss, it is kind of a confronting moment for them about what they believe,” she said.
“What this does is very much validate a person’s own beliefs, even those who don’t have religious beliefs but who still believe there is something.”
And while she admitted that not insulating herself from the pain of the service can be difficult personally, what she gains in knowing someone may have taken a little comfort in the session makes it all worthwhile.
The chapel is located at 1130 Carmi Ave. and the service begins at 2 p.m. and those attending are asked to bring a candle, paper and envelope.