Tuesday, January 4, 2011

FROZEN with grief

by Jessica Lippman, PhD

Byron Lavery's most well-known play, Frozen, is set in present-day England and features three main characters: Ralph, a serial killer who kidnaps and murders a young girl; Nancy, the girl's mother; and Agnetha, a New York psychiatrist who is visiting London to do research for her thesis about whether serial killing may be considered a forgivable act. One of the main themes of the play is the mother’s 5-year search for her missing daughter and follows her journey from grief to forgiveness.

The emotions of all of the characters of the play are, in effect, frozen. The play is an examination of how they begin to melt.

The death of a child is a perversion of nature. Our children are supposed to outlive us. Grief combined with unimaginable tragedy is an added distortion of life. It raises questions such as; can forgiveness ease the pain of grief? Losing a child makes us feel disoriented. Losing a child can make us feel like Nancy, the character in the play, frozen, cold and unable to feel. Losing a child suggests the loss of hope and of a future. In the play these feelings of loss are intensified because of the pain and suffering Nancy’s child undoubtedly experienced. As parents we feel our first responsibility is to protect and shield our children. The viciousness directed towards the young girl in the play is the kind of senseless violence that is all too common in contemporary society.

In the play we watch Nancy’s ability to move forward from her brutal loss and begin to embrace life rather than death. She does not turn tragedy into triumph but is able to make a transition towards a future without her daughter.

There are no right or wrong ways to experience grief. It is very personal and people deal with their emotions as it reflects their personalities. No one is ever prepared for the death of a child. Death and the accompanying grief is something that people are uncomfortable with and is a subject we often avoid speaking about.

The following points are the observations that I would like to make in dealing with grief and the loss of a child.

Point 1
When a child dies suddenly, the parent is normally in a state of unexpected shock. Sudden deaths lead to a feeling of greater vulnerability to grief that is prolonged and more difficult to integrate and resolve.

Point 2
It is even more difficult when there is no preparation for a death of a child. Do not participate in a conspiracy of silence. Tell your children and people close to you in a simple, concise way what they are able to handle and comprehend developmentally. Euphemisms are not a good idea. They muddle, and do not clarify and children will inevitably find out what really happened and then feel betrayed and angry.

Point 3
The manner in which the parent and other adults, friends and siblings handle the death and respond to the bereaved makes an enormous difference in a person’s ability to cope after the event and later in life.

Point 4
Death of a child leaves person with a sense of powerlessness, and betrayal. After a death we must confront the sense of our own mortality - Up until now we have felt in control of our lives.

Point 5
As a first priority the adults, need to re-establish a sense of stability, predictability and successful functioning for the sake of themselves and those around them.

The circumstances of a death address how we see the safety and stability of our world. As adults we have to help our children and ourselves sort out the reasons and circumstances of a death: the implication and meaning.

Point 6
The profound loss of a child makes you different and sets you apart from peers. You have a sense that none of your friends understands what you are going through.

Point 7
We never contemplate having to confront the possibility of the death of a child.

Counseling can help a parent or child work their way through the miasmas of premature bereavement. The death of a child is a yawning loss And, if the loss is unexpected the loss will initially be even more difficult to bear. Sometimes, the untimely death of a child can be the motivation for greatness. Often we translate our guilt into a living memorial, foundations, scholarships and legislation.

Point 8
Encourages people who've lost a child to write about their memories, and to find the courage to go through old family photos and videos, even if it's painful at first.

“With all children murdered in the United States in 2005, three-quarters of
those murders were related to something other than gang violence, and over a fifth of the killers being a member of the victim’s family or an intimate partner. Yet, these are children killed senselessly at the hands of another out of anger, panic, revenge or in a desperate attempt to end perceived suffering. The bottom line is that factual accounts show that thousands of children are dying on our own soil every year for reasons such as abuse, neglect, murder, alcohol and drugs.”
In 2009, 8.1 million children under five died.


Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of FROZEN runs from Jan. 21 to Feb. 6.

Jessica Lippman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Chicago, Illinois for more than 30 years. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, IL and is the co-author of two books, “Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Parent: A Guide for the First Year” and ““Divorcing With Children: Expert Answers to Tough Questions from Parents and Children.” She regularly treats children, youths and adults who have lost a parent or a child.

Dr. Lippman regularly appears in media and has been interviewed and featured in The Wall Street Journal, London Times, Chicago Tribune, Sirius Satellite Radio’s Judith Regan and Out Q.

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