Perinatal loss involves older brothers and sisters who pass in a few moments from expecting a little brother to an unexpected bereavement.
The grieving family is a system full of entropy, of love, of mutual protection, of pain, of anger, of distrust, of impositions, of silences, of secrets, of silence.
The grieving family after being put in crisis by the heavy shock wave caused by the death of the expected child, has the task of recomposing itself, different from before and yet similar, modified but not distorted in its essence, pierced by pain, but not defeated : the relationships within the family, those of the parents among themselves and of the parents with their children, are privileged channels through which mourning can be elaborated, redefined, crossed, without leaving too many open wounds, without affecting the pre-existing relationships.
The bereaved family will therefore express a “collective” bereavement shared by all the members and some personal and intimate bereavement (one for each member of the family): these personal bereavement often not shared or not shareable, out of modesty, but also to protect the family members perceived as more fragile, should always find an external expressive channel (a self-help group for adults, a school teacher or another adult of the extended family for children) in order not to “explode” in unsuspecting times , in a complicated mourning. For many parents, even dealing with the bereavement of their children is too demanding in the first months after the loss. For others, dealing only with the pain of the children becomes the only existential reason, to the detriment of their personal mourning, closed in a drawer to rise.
Thinking about the whole family, all its members and the various griefs they face is a commitment that our society struggles to make. Mourning in general is frightening, bereavement in children terrifies. No one would ever want a child, one, three, five, eight, ten, twelve, fifteen years old (I could go on still, in this society that extends the times of growth indefinitely) to suffer the loss.
The solution adopted by our society in the last fifty years has been to deny children mourning. Pretend there is no mourning. Nothing at all. There are stars in the sky, rainbow bridges, grandparents who are former couch potatoes who run away to take a trip, dogs who fall in love and go to live in the mountains and goldfish who return to their mothers. There are, then, little brothers too beautiful to be little brothers, who transform themselves into guardian angels. There are all these bizarre occurrences, but there are no dead. And since there are no dead, there cannot even be the word, death. And if there cannot be the word death, because there is flight, travel, and so on, there cannot be a shared thought on what happened. Without shared thought and without words, there can be no idea of mourning in the heads of children, and without any starting idea, neither a detailed thought on the matter, nor a book of hypotheses and experiential resources can be developed.
However, there will be mourning, and for a long time, too. Mourning has its times and ways of expressing itself: mourning is a coat glued to the body of the adults of the family, who try to act as if nothing had happened and everything was under control, but they wear this fragile armor that plaster. Some children soon learn that you can’t talk about ” that thing over there ” at home. Others learn, on the other hand, that at home one cannot talk about “anything else” . Some learn that mum and dad experience grief in different ways, and they find themselves “siding” with one or the other, with effort and zeal, to try to “cure” the pain. Others experience envy for schoolmates who are okay, who have ten siblings, and they don’t, zero, not even one. Others notice that that little brother takes up all the space. Not in prayers, or in moments of remembrance. Under the skin, in the skin of the parents, especially of the mothers, these “ghost” “little angel” “superhero” brothers are omnipresent. Absent, yet gigantic.
Sometimes it is too much to endure this unequal competition between living and dead brothers. Dead siblings are cumbersome, all the more so the more family, school and society cannot find them a defined space in which to place them. The more silence and indifference surrounds the dead children, the greater the space they will occupy. Often at the expense of living siblings.
Hence, when perinatal bereavement occurs, each family member should be supported and encouraged to take care of their private and personal bereavement and to share a part of the bereavement journey with other family members, so as to find a way to live this. event that is the least traumatic possible and the most respectful of everyone’s needs, young and old.
“When do you have your mother do it, a little brother? – said a meddlesome acquaintance to Anna, seven and a half years old.
I already have a little brother, his name is Matteo, and he died in my mother’s womb before he was born. Here is his photo. Hi! “Anna answered, returning to play with her friends.
Matteo is the second son, born dead two years after Anna. After Matteo, Anna’s parents did not have any other children, but this did not prevent them and Anna from mourning, transforming it, and living their life fully.