Monday Mournings: The Death of Two Children

My name is Jennifer Forbes and I’m 53 mother of 5. I’m a transplanted New Yorker currently living in Virginia with Bill my husband of 31 years, we are empty-nesters. I'm committed to the community in which I live and am an avid volunteer. My two favorite and longest commitments were when the kids were young and I volunteered in their schools and then later working with The Daughters of Charity, an Order of Vincentian Sisters serving the poor in our community from our Parish Church Outreach Office. Now I am currently caring for my elderly mother.

DW: Who were the people that died?
JF:  Our youngest daughter Gretchen and our youngest son Eric were the ones who died.

DW:  How old were you at the time?
JF:  I was 47 when they died.

DW:  How old were they?
JF:  Gretchen was 30 and Eric was 23. Their deaths were sudden and the result of an accident.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before they died?
JF:  Yes I've experienced many deaths of loved ones starting at the age of 6. This included my grandparents, three aunts, two uncles and my father, various friends and neighbors; not to mention many pets.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
JF:  We received tremendous support and understanding, most especially in the early days and months when we were particularly numb and suffering from shock. Family (with one exception) and friends were very sensitive to our needs. But I have to say it continues even to this day. It is so meaningful when people remember the children by sharing stories or photos they might have recently recollected or found.

DW:  Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with them?
JF:  No

DW:  Were they buried or cremated?
JF:  They were both cremated.

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
JF:  The first time I saw my regular doctor after the kids died he cried and I remember being so touched by his emotion. I had lost many close relatives but this grief was so heavy and I believe he could see that. Then he immediately tried to medicate me and I remember being annoyed, I wanted to feel everything I was feeling I felt like it was my only connection to the kids.

Speaking for myself, I believe that grief is a natural process best felt and experienced drug and alcohol free. So I declined his medication and found a good therapist instead. In our first meeting I learned why the professionals call grief work. And for me the deaths of my children was a constant whirlwind of emotion going from one stage to the other and back again, frequently getting stuck- first in anger then in depression then finally acceptance after a long 4 plus years.

And for our family; the death of Gretchen and Eric was a life changing event but it was not a people changing event. What I’ve learned is that despite moments of intense closeness and family peace due to shock and grief; in the end we’re all the same people. This tragedy didn’t change any of us to any great degree; there were no light bulb moments! People only change if they want to and like grief that takes work. We all still disagree like we used to, the kids still complain mostly about each other, and still to this day nobody ever takes responsibility for stinking up the room. Now sadly there’s just two less people in it. But we're all OK because not only did we survive but there's still love there.

DW:  Were any songs played at the memorial that were important to your children?
JF:  At the funeral we chose Catholic hymns such as You are Mine, Be Not Afraid and Here I am Lord.

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