Lessons from a Bereaved Cancer Parent on How to Emotionally Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic

Almost two years ago, the worst thing in the world happened: my precious, loving, silly, joyful, brilliant, freshly two-year-old son was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. Despite putting him through every treatment available, nine months after that, he suddenly began to decline, and one day, he came to die in my arms. 

For the past two years, I have been living every parent’s absolute worst nightmare, every single moment of every single day. 

And yet, for the past two years, I have also maintained a thriving psychotherapy practice; expanded my skills and hobbies and personal culture; developed a deeper practice of self-compassion; cultivated a stronger sense of connection with others both close and far and across different life domains; and immersed in a strong sense of meaning and purpose, more than I could have ever imagined at any point in my life before losing my son… 

This era that the world has been ushered into so suddenly and most unexpectedly, by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, reminds me in so many important ways of the life of a cancer parent:

  • One day, you and I each woke up to a whole new world. Nothing was as we expected it to be anymore. All of the mainstays of our day-to-day lives, everything we had come to count and rely on, everything that made us feel like our normal selves—our daily routines, our goods and services, our relationships with others, all the sights and sounds we had grown accustomed to—had seemingly ceased to exist. Our sense of normality, sense of safety and security, hopes and dreams for the future—all of these and more were shaken to their very core, one day, oh-so-unexpectedly. And this new world had no roadmap. We felt lost and disoriented and scared.
  • As we took in the intensity and severity of what was happening around us, we lost the luxury of ever forgetting, even for a second, how fragile life really is. Without a moment’s notice, everything can change, even for the worst, despite our best efforts and wishful thinking. Our shared experiences, like confinement to our homes, financial strain, social isolation, perceived scarcity, and a sense of helplessness, all combine to worsen the impacts of the situation further, while also failing to make it better. 
  • We learned, in an undeniable way, once and for all, that we are all vulnerable—that even we are impermanent.

When our basic sense of normal is so shaken up—when we understand that we are vulnerable to this disease, that it can get and take us or our loved ones, or at least, our financial means and other things that mean so much to us, this is such a massive weight that becomes piled onto our shoulders. 

“…even when the worst thing imaginable happens, we can still be okay.”

Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P. 

Notice that in calm times, to feel free and peaceful and relatively unburdened, the fragility of life and our inherent vulnerability is not always at the forefront of our thoughts—it simply cannot be. To feel okay enough in the present moment, we cannot also be so terribly consumed with what might happen in the next moment, or tomorrow, or next month or year.

The burden is so heavy that we cannot sustain carrying it so much all of the time. Sometimes we have to put it away and change our focus to something else—ideally something uplifting, something that deeply soothes and nourishes, whatever that is for you (nature? connection with self or other? a sense of something bigger than yourself? something creative? something fun?). 

COVID-19 and its consequences are still going to be there when you return to thinking about it, and your time away will not change anything significant, so we can surely all afford a good, well-deserved, full break from it every now and then.  

The helplessness of all of this is a common theme that I am hearing people struggle with the most. We want to protect ourselves; we want to fix it, and we want to be safe. To this, I offer some food for thought:   

  1. There is only so much that we can control. If we trouble ourselves with trying to control it all, all we end up with is despair. Learn, through credible sources, what we best understand for now as being some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones, and take these actions, and then speak to yourself directly to remind yourself: “I have done everything I can.” 
  2. Because we cannot control everything, there will be things that upset or stress us, that we cannot directly do anything about. In moments when these feelings strike, try to embrace them, and try to embrace yourself as you experience them. Speak to yourself again, this time to remind yourself: “this is hard—really, really hard—and we have to get through it. This will come to be okay, somehow, someday. It will pass because nothing has ever lasted forever, so nor will this”. 
  3. There is a harsh reality that none of us can truly ignore right now: even though we have done all we could, and coped as well as we could, sometimes, things still go wrong or not as planned. Sometimes all that we can do is not enough, and the worst happens anyway… And even as we work to accept this harsh reality, I am here to tell you—because I now absolutely know this to be true—that even when the worst thing imaginable happens, we can still be okay. We still get to wake up the next morning, coax ourselves out of bed, and choose to find or create the meaning and purpose that keeps us going. We can make it through, and we will make it through. 

Suffering is relative. Many of you have already survived so much. Some other hard thing you lived through before this might have already felt like “the hardest thing ever.” This, right now, may or may not be harder. 

Remember that you are strong and resourceful and have a lot, already inside of you that can help get you through this. You have come this far, and you will keep trekking forth. 

Remember that you are not alone and that we are globally in this together through our common humanity and shared experience. 

Remember that we can choose to approach this current crisis with the goal of simply trying to make the most it that we can while trying to minimize negative impacts as best we can. 

Remember that the brain and the body respond to the demands that we place on them. Whether or not you can imagine this, you can and will grow in incredible ways as you live this extreme experience that is capable of stretching you, far beyond the confines of your previous self that didn’t yet have to deal with all of this. 

Remember that we can and that we will. 

Take good care. 

Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P. is an Associate and registered psychotherapist at CFIR (Ottawa). She has a doctoral degree from the Saint Paul School of Psychotherapy & Spirituality and works in private practice as a registered psychotherapist. She works with clients hoping to develop a more integrated sense of self as a means to well-being and meaningful, lasting transformation. Reesa is also involved in the teaching and supervision of psychotherapists-in-training and advanced knowledge through research in her specialty fields.

Weathering the Grief Storm Well: What is grief, and when will it pass?

by: Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P.

What is grief?

Grief is the emotional, bodily, cognitive, spiritual, and/or relational impacts of any important loss. The loss can be obvious, like the death of a loved one, or subtler, like a small or big shift in life circumstances. 

Lots of people find grief to be very difficult – if you feel unable to function normally in the aftermath of losing someone or something that you cherish, or are very used to, know that this is a common feeling. Some people react to the intense emotions of grief by trying to ignore them or push them away. This strategy rarely works in the long-term though, since grief is a process that we just cannot run from – like a storm, it cannot be derailed, but instead, has to run its course. 

Why is grief so hard?

Grief can be like a storm also in the sense that it rushes in – sometimes by great surprise – and ravages some or all of what we had previously known as ‘normal’. The grief storm can bring crashing waves of anger, sadness, and guilt. These emotional waves can be big, and frequent, and unpredictable. During and after the storm, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and disoriented. 

To get through the grief storm, we have to actively care for ourselves in it, which takes work. There is a decent payoff for this work, though: if we can manage to do this, then those big, crashing waves of emotion can gradually become less intense, less frequent, and more predictable. While the loss itself never goes away, the pain it brings can become easier to tolerate. Over time, we can begin to find ways to re-build a new normal. 

So, how can we weather the storm well?

Striking the right balance between connecting to difficult emotions and also taking regular breaks from them, is key. 

To connect with the difficult emotions, you can try any strategy that will help you feel and release the emotions, such as taking in a moment of silence with yourself either in stillness or while moving, journaling or drawing about the feelings, or sharing the feelings by talking to a good friend or a therapist; find ways to let it out. 

To take a break from the emotions, you can try any strategy that can re-resource you, remind you of a different perspective, or shift your experience, such as engaging in hobbies or activities that you typically enjoy. This might include social, creative, active, spiritual, or deep experiences; find ways to be a bit more okay, even just for a minute or two. 

Remember that everyone grieves differently and that your needs are likely to vary from moment to moment, and situation to situation. The process of learning to weather the grief storm well is less about doing any one specific thing, and more about exploring, and learning about yourself and what you might need. While the balancing of feeling emotions and taking breaks from them can be important, how you go about balancing these will be specific to you. Grief storms can be hard, and anything you do to get through them, that also supports your overall wellness (or doesn’t take too much away from it), can be absolutely okay

Take good care.

Reesa Packard is an Associate at CFIR. She has a doctoral degree from the Saint Paul school of Psychotherapy & Spirituality and works in private practice as a registered psychotherapist. She works with clients hoping to develop a more integrated sense of self as a means to well-being and meaningful, lasting transformation. Reesa is also involved in teaching and supervision of psychotherapists-in-training and advanced knowledge through research in her specialty fields.

Support in The Aftermath of a Miscarriage

Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.

Pregnancy loss can be associated with a significant amount of emotional distress for a woman and her partner. Individuals may feel alone, frightened, angry, sad, grief-stricken, guilty, and shameful as a result of such an experience. The physical recovery process may occur more quickly than the time it takes to heal emotionally from a miscarriage. The loss can further negatively affect communication and intimacy in your relationship. Sexual issues may emerge due to complex feelings about the possibility of conceiving again. Working through these challenging feelings is important for healing and moving forward.

Supporting couple partners to comfort and support each other during this time is essential to emotional recovery and sustaining a strong relationship in the aftermath of loss. Moments of loss activate a deep need within us to have close emotional and physical proximity to our loved ones. We promote partners to develop closer relationships to journey through these difficult emotional experiences together. 

Psychologists and clinicians at CFIR provide a compassionate and caring therapeutic relationship to support women, men, and couples to come to terms with the inner emotional reactions and meanings that can emerge during these moments of loss.

Read more about our Fertility Counselling Treatment Service.

Accompanying You Through Your Losses and Grief

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Life can be a symphony of losses. Many of us struggle to cope with unresolved losses from either the past or present day. We can experience loss as we transition through various life stages (i.e., childhood onward toward the end of life). Some individuals will experience loss as a result of unmet needs, separation, divorce, or death of loved ones, or unfulfilled goals and potentials. Some of us will experience a deep sense of loss as we inevitably experience changes in our physical and mental abilities, health status, and roles and identity. The emotional residue and grief associated with these losses, when left unaddressed and unprocessed, can evolve into anxiety and depression.

In terms of overcoming your grief, we help you to understand the meanings of your losses, and to process the unresolved or complicated emotional residue from these losses. Unprocessed grief and loss can affect our emotional well-being, our functioning in everyday life, and our interpersonal relationships. We support you throughout your grieving process so that you may move forward with your life with a renewed sense of meaning, purpose, and hope. Psychologists and clinicians at CFIR employ psychodynamic and experiential approaches to support you through the process of dealing with past and present-day losses.

Read more about our Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.

Depression: The Role of Unprocessed Feelings and Emotions

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Do you find yourself struggling to cope with the intense feelings and emotions associated with depression?

In this second post of our four-part series about depression, we’ll provide you with a few of many psychological views of how unprocessed feelings and emotions might lead to depressed feelings. In the following post, we’ll provide you with various strategies you can use to deal with depression on your own, or in your relationships with others.

Feelings and Emotions Associated with Depression

Depression involves different types of difficult emotional experiences, including chronic negative feelings and emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, anger, worthlessness, guilt, shame, irritability, restlessness or lethargy, detachment and numbing). Depression is, of course, a broader mental health diagnosis that consists of many different features, as outlined in this series’ first post in which we addressed what is depression. Depression is different than normal grief in which we feel sadness for a prolonged period of time in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one (i.e., loss of a parent, child, sibling or friend).

Unprocessed Feelings and Emotions as Signals of Need in Depression

Our feelings and emotions provide us with important information about our self, others and the world around us. Depression is a signal to us—a calling for us to listen to our feelings, emotions, desires, and needs.

Some of us are unable to clearly identify, label or express our feelings and assert our needs. Being able to figure out our feelings, emotions, and needs is, however, critically important. It is important because our feelings and emotions guide us by providing us with a sense of what is significant to us in our environment both at home and work. Emotions signal to us that we have concerns, goals, and needs and that some type of action may be required by us to deal with these concerns, goals, and needs in our environment. When we do not attend to our feelings, emotions, and needs, we can create a world that feels false to us. We can become disconnected from what’s really important to us and in our relationships, which can result in hopelessness, anger, or detachment and withdrawn feelings.

In our relationships, it’s important to process our feelings, emotions, wants, and needs. Depressed individuals may have difficulties managing their emotions and figuring out what they need from others. If we can’t figure out our feelings, emotions, wants and needs, we won’t be able to approach our friends, family members, partners, or even employers with our concerns or needs. Some individuals become out of touch with how others can sometimes provide us with responses that can be valuable to us—-only if we actually know what it is that we need from others, feel entitled to ask for support, and risk expressing our vulnerabilities and needs to others (i.e., to listen to us, help us sort out our feelings, verbal reassurance or physical reassurance through a hug etc.) can we realize how others can be a source of contact-comfort, and soothing to assuage the distress in our everyday world.
When we can’t sort out our feelings, emotions, and needs, we can’t get in touch with ourselves and how others might be able to respond to us in ways that can make life better for us. Depression sets in as hopelessness grows—with depression, it becomes more and more difficult to reach for support and increasingly we withdraw, detach, or are irritable and angry, which pushes people further away from us.

Loss and Grief, Meaninglessness and Purposelessness

Life can be a symphony of losses. Many of us struggle to cope with unresolved losses that are accompanied by grief, and possibly a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness. We can experience loss in many ways—loss of loved ones in our close relationships (i.e., death, separation), and the loss of self and identity as we transition through various life stages or as a result of unexpected changes to our mental or physical health.

We may experience the loss of a parent, partner, child or friend through death, separation or divorce—and experience normal grief. Some individuals will grieve these types of losses and eventually return to feeling better—albeit life is never the same with the loss of a loved one. Some individuals, however, will not recover as well. The loss may create a deep sense of loss and grief about the relationship with the loved one—this loss may also remind you of various other past losses in life in which your emotional needs were unmet—increasing a sense of loneliness, pain, guilt, shame, and isolation. When we have not appropriately grieved our losses, the pain and sadness of previous losses can accumulate and surface unexpectedly—prolonging your recovery time.

Loss of a loved one might also leave you with a shattered sense of your self, identity, and future—if so many of your life plans were associated with the lost loved one. Re-discovering who you are separate from your lost one can take time. Hopeless despair, sadness, and anger can also emerge when it is difficult to reconnect with others, and re-create a renewed sense of meaning and purpose after these types of losses.

We also experience loss and grief as a result of changes caused by normal lifespan changes (i.e., change in roles and identity), changes in our physical and mental abilities, and health status. When these changes occur, some individuals have to face loss related to unmet expectations and unachieved goals—the lost hopes of what we thought our lives would be. Changes in our life circumstances (i.e., children leaving home, loss of employment etc.), health status (i.e., mental and physical changes associated with illness or aging), alter our capacities and possibilities of functioning in ‘old’ ways. When we experience loss or a lot of change, we can lose our bearings and struggle to find meaning and purpose in life again. Over time, we can begin to feel hopeless about ourselves. You can lose a sense of vitality as you try to re-define what’s of importance to you in the aftermath of all of these changes.

How Psychotherapists at CFIR Can Help

Psychotherapists at CFIR can support you to deal with your emotions, including helping you to get to know your feelings and emotions, label them and figure out what they might mean to you. Some of us of have strong emotions that need to be dimmed somewhat but still understood. Sometimes strong emotional reactions come from unprocessed feelings, emotions and needs from our past relationships, and losses, or from losses in present-day life. Psychologists at CFIR provide cognitive-behaviors, existential-humanistic, emotionally-focused and psychodynamic therapy strategies to support you to deal with your emotions, understand what these important signals mean to you, and to help you to take action in the world that will promote self-growth and recovery from your losses.

In the next blog post of the series, we will be providing you with strategies on how to deal with your feelings of depression. We’ll be outlining strategies for ‘yourself’ and strategies for ‘your relationships’. Aside from seeking psychological services to help you with your symptoms, there are many things you can do to feel better on your own.

Read more additional posts from the ‘Depression’ series:

Learn more about our Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.

Grief and Loss of a Child

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Parent’s Grief Process in the Aftermath of Loss of a Child

Parents vary in terms of how they deal with loss—most parents will cycle through a wide range of emotional reactions. 

All parents face profound painful feelings and absorbing experiences of grief when a child dies. There can also be intense shock, confusion, and even denial about the loss. There is no loss more devastating than the loss of a child. This loss leaves parents disoriented and disorganized. Hopeless despair can immobilize parents from dealing with the tasks of everyday life, connecting to each other or other children. In hopeless, despair states, parents can experience existential distress—finding life to be meaningless and purposeless.

Parents will also vary in terms of how long the grieving process takes. Some parents will move toward sadness and grieving the loss, trying to make sense of the loss and what life will be like with the loss of their beloved one. They will reach out and connect to others (i.e., their partner, support systems), memorialize the loss of the loved one (e.g., scrapbook, rituals), and re-organize themselves and create a new sense of family identity with the remaining children—although the loss will continue to be felt, the intensity of the emotions will lift. Some parents, on the other hand, will hold onto grief for longer than others—remaining disoriented and disorganized in the aftermath of the loss—not being able to make sense of the loss in the present and the meaning of the loss in terms of the future. Some parents will be over-consumed by guilt and self-blame–feeling that they didn’t do enough to protect or care for their child, and even possibly feel shame and a sense of inadequacy and failure. Many parents will have an increased sense of fear about the surviving children, and a deep sense of isolation and loneliness in feeling disconnected from others who they feel may not understand their experience.

Others may experience intense anger at themselves, their spouse, hospital staff or whomever as a reaction to the loss of a loved one, and even resentment toward those who have children—while experiencing deep sadness and deep fears underneath. Some will enter into a state of numbing, withdrawal to escape the pain, and even turn to other maladaptive soothing behaviours, such as increased alcohol or substance use. Being stuck in guilt, shame, anger and resentment, or numbing withdrawal can prolong the grieving process and block a parent, couple and family from re-building a renewed sense of hope for the future and reshaping a new family identity in the aftermath of the loss of a beloved child.

Parents might express and deal with emotions differently—which will affect the grief process and how parents will journey through this difficult period. Parents who are able to express themselves and journey through this painful experience together can help assuage each other’s distress, make sense of the loss together, deal with the changes to the family, and re-build a sense of hope and future for themselves and remaining family members. A renewed sense of family identity can be created while holding onto the loving memories of the lost child.  Parents must re-define their family identity together. Parents who are emotionally isolated or withdrawn block the necessary engagement to deal with emotional distress and to engage in this meaning-making process that allows the couple and family to re-organize their sense of family identity and future in the aftermath of a loss.

The hardest part is when partners are in different places emotionally and cannot be present for each other (e.g., one is disorganized and the other sad). It is important to be able to reach out to other family members at this time as well for emotional and practical support in dealing with everyday tasks.

Strategies to cope with the loss of a child

1.  Express your emotions and needs to supporting, caring others. It is important to authentically express the wide range of emotions and reactions that are experienced in the aftermath of loss to maintain an emotional connection. It is important that parents take turns expressing their feelings, acknowledging each other’s emotional reactions and listening to what each parent might need. For example, Sara might be feeling hopeless, despair. It is important that she express her needs to her partner, Paul. She may need contact-comfort (e.g., a hug) or verbal reassurance from him (i.e., that the family and the rest of the children will be okay and that they will get through this together). Expressing needs for support and care when distressed is important in sustaining the connection and taking care and soothing each other’s emotional distress.

2.  Reach out for support and care. Isolation increases emotional distress. Ask loving family members and caring friends for practical support for tasks (e.g., helping with other children, home tasks etc.). This allows parents to deal with their emotions and other tasks related to the loss.

3.  Prepare yourself to deal with questions about the loss. Telling the outside world about the loss of a child can bring up emotions. Find a way to tell your story in a way that is comfortable for you (i.e., the amount of details that you feel comfortable sharing). If you feel others are asking too many questions, it is okay to let them know your limits (i.e., I only feel comfortable sharing this amount of information). 

4.  Healing takes time. Expect strong emotional responses for a sustained period of time and accept differences in how you are reacting to the loss. It is important to acknowledge emotions and accept that the intensity of these emotions will diminish over time. In the midst of painful emotions associated with loss, parents might benefit from reminding themselves that these emotions shall pass over time. It is important to accept that there will be moments in which you are both experiencing different reactions and will differ in your grieving process. Talk about your child and use his or her name—avoiding names does not allow you to come in touch with your feelings. Eventually, parents will be able to talk about their child with less of a reaction.

5. Ensure all family members emotional needs are addressed, including other children. If there are other children in the home, it is important to ask them about their sadness and help them along with their grief. Children can feel a wide range of emotions and have several needs at this time for contact-comfort, reassurance and physical affection.

6. Don’t make any big decisions in the immediate future (i.e., doing anything with clothing or toys of your loss child, returning to work, moving, making big changes to family routine and structure). During the initial phases of grief, the disorganization and disorientation may lead parents to make decisions that may not be beneficial for themselves or their family in the long run. Take time to deal with your child’s personal items. 

Some parents will want to return to work soon to restore some sense of normalcy in their lives, while some will return too early without having  healed enough and completed their grieving process—with dire consequences on their family and work life. Making big changes creates further disruption and emotional distress that may block the grieving process from unfolding. Other children will require structure and routine to hold them emotionally through the turmoil of loss—routine and structure allows for a sense of normalcy and provides children with a sense of safety and security.

7.  Rituals and honouring memories of the child. It is important to make sense of the loss and to create a narrative about the beloved child—the meaning of the child to the family and the positive experiences of love, joy, and connection that were experienced in the relationship with the child. Creating a scrapbook or ritual to construct this narrative will allow parents to hold onto the positive and loving memories of the child. Involve children, if appropriate developmentally, in this process. Also, plan on how you are going to deal with birthdays and the anniversary of your child’s death. Planning ahead of time can minimize distress. Creating a ritual around these dates can be helpful to deal with the emotions associated with the loss and remind parents and other children of the positive joy and loving memories of their beloved one.

8. Join a support group. Isolation makes emotional distress harder. Being able to share your feelings, and learn from others who have experienced the loss of a child can make the healing journey less isolated.

9. Consult a psychologist.  Psychologists can support you to understand your own, your partner’s and other family members’ emotional reactions to loss. Some parents, couples, and children will need extra support to move through a grieving process. Couple and family problems can emerge when the residue of unprocessed grief persists. 

What types of programs does the Centre provide to parents who have experienced the death of a child?

CFIR has several services that can support parents in dealing with the impact of loss of a child on the individual parent, the couple relationship and the family (i.e., other children and family relationships).

The Grief and Loss Service offers psychotherapy services to individual parents to support them through the devastating and intense emotional experiences in the aftermath of significant losses of loved ones, such as the loss of a child. Psychologists who are part of this service are experienced in supporting individual parents to deal with the different, and sometime complex, emotional reactions experienced in association with the loss of a child (see grief process below). Individual parents will vary in how they will deal with their own emotional reactions and how they will respond to their spouses or other children’s emotional reactions to the loss. Over time, and as the grieving process unfolds, most parents can expect that their emotional distress will lighten—although the loss of a child can continue to trigger emotional reactions upon reminder of the loss in future years. Loss of a child can be extremely disorienting, especially since a parent’s sense of self and family identity was so closely tied to the child who has died. For some parents, the emotional reactions and distress will seriously affect their ability to return to work and affect their sense of connection to their partner and/or other children. Some parents will have complex grief reactions that will be accompanied by symptoms of traumatic stress, depression and anxiety that are unremitting over time and that affect their capacity to function in their relationships at home or at work. One’s sense of self and the future can be shattered when the hopes and wishes held for a child and one’s sense of self and family identity is altered as a result of the death of a child. Psychologists at CFIR accompany individuals through their grieving process and support them to cope with losses and minimize the devastating impact of loss of a child on emotional well-being, relationships and occupational functioning. 

Psychologists in the Child and Family Psychology Service can support parents to address the emotional needs of other children in the family to adapt to these circumstances. Children grieve deeply as adults do—and sometimes they are blocked by their inability to put words to their complex emotional experiences. Helping children make sense of loss is a challenge to parents undergoing their own grief process, yet other children in the family will need more support than ever to make sense of the loss of a sibling. Losses of a sibling can create deep sadness and fears about future losses, create a sense of unpredictability, and increase insecurities that require increased parental emotional attention to their children. Psychologists in this service support children through their own grief process and support parents to deal with their children’s emotions and the impact of the loss on the entire family system. Children will deal with grief in developmentally appropriate ways—a psychologist can help you to understand how your child’s grief process varies depending on their stage of development and the types of strategies that should be used for connecting to them emotionally. Sustaining a healthy emotional connection with a partner and other children is important in supporting all members to grieve, make sense of the loss, and re-build a new sense of family identity and future in the aftermath of the loss of one member of the family.

The Relationship Service provides services to individuals and couples who are experiencing relationship difficulties. The loss of a child can have an impact on a couple’s emotional connection with each other. For some couples, each parent will be able to express their grief and respond to the other with nurturance, warmth, care and support that will decrease the emotional distress of loss. A parent’s connection to the other parent and their other children can be an antidote against the painful emotional distress associated with loss.  Connecting with a partner and children at a time of loss can buffer us from the distress of these painful emotions. The loving responsiveness and the accessibility of partners to each other’s emotions and the deeper meanings associated with the loss of a child helps each partner cope better with the intense emotional experiences in the aftermath of loss. When one partner shuts down, or withdraws by numbing and emotionally withdrawing to deal with their painful emotions, the other partner can feel rejected and abandoned during a critical moment of need for connection, support and care. Emotional distancing can create relationship distress and have a negative impact on the couples attachment bond. Psychologists at CFIR support couples to deal with loss together in a manner that deepens each partner’s capacity to express their emotions and needs to each other in the aftermath of loss, and to enhance each partner’s responsiveness to the other’s emotional reactions during this painful experience of loss.  

Read more about CFIR’s Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.