This book was written to be a comfort and guide for bereaved parents whose adult child has died; to show by sharing our experiences that we are not alone in our responses to our child's death; that we are not weak, defective in character or otherwise inadequate because of the way we grieve; to spell out ways in which some of us have increased our understanding of our condition, found solace, dispelled guilt and anger, overcome depression, come to terms with survivors, and memorialized our deceased children. Questionnaires were sent to more than sixty bereaved parents of adult children who died and many anonymous examples from these questionnaires are used throughout the book.
Chapter 1 When Joey Died
A story about the author's ancestors whose loss of a daughter was followed by the death of her mother. Introduces the reader to the main theme: many parents of adult children who died share similar complex patterns of grief across the generations.
Chapter 2 Four Phases of Grief
Steps we go through as we come to terms and try to cope with our tragedy. Although bereaved parents of young children share many of the same responses, those whose child was an adult at the time of death face many hidden problems or pitfalls not encountered by parents whose child died young.
Chapter 3 The Condolence Call
Well-meaning friends, relatives, clergy, and other caregivers often give us bad advice and complicate our grief. Parental grief requires a longer time to work through than other forms of grief. Attempts to "fix it" right away are counterproductive.
Chapter 4 Fair-Weather Friends
Some non-grievers remove themselves from contact with bereaved parents because of the subconscious terror that their children, too, may die. Others may find bereaved parents too emotionally needy to be around, causing the "consolers" to desert their former friends.
Chapter 5 Crying at the Supermarket
Trying to resume simple daily activities after the child's death is fraught with difficulties as bereaved parents process the fact of their child's death.
Chapter 6 Why?
Philosophical and religious upheavals often follow the child's death, forcing the parents to look closely at their belief structure.
Chapter 7 Theme and Variations
As parents, we are supposed to keep our children alive. If the children die, the parents have failed in this most fundamental of all parental duties. They often subject themselves to bouts of irrational guilt.
Chapter 8 Whither Thou Goest
This chapter deals with a strange and almost overwhelming urge the parent has to join the child in death, which may prompt a parent to commit suicide, to withdraw from friends and family, or to neglect to care for him or herself promptly.
Chapter 9 On The Road to Damascus
The death of a child forces a complete reordering of priorities for bereaved parents, not only in day-to-day activities, but also in the things that formerly had meaning in our lives.
Chapter 10 Gender and Grief
A discussion of the sexual and other problems of bereaved parents who are married to each other and living together, many occasioned by the differing grief styles of males and females. Many anonymous examples from the questionnaire are used here.
Chapter 11 The Search
A common, but little understood phenomenon after the death of our child, is the constant search for him or her among the living, irrational though it may be. Attempts to fill the void brought about by the death sometimes bring about destructive choices: adoption when parenting skills are non-existent, resort to drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.
Chapter 12 Conflicting Agendas
Because some other survivors besides the bereaved parents are also adults, their needs may be in conflict with those of the parents. The latter need desperately to remember the dead; the younger survivors may need to forget in order to get on with their lives.
Chapter 13 Birthdays and Death Anniversaries
These special days belong exclusively to the dead child, thus focusing and heightening the grief and pain of the parents when the dates come around every year. The importance of planning in advance for these days is emphasized.
Chapter 14 Happy Holidays
Holidays often tend to focus on the family, and when the family is no longer intact, due to the death of an adult child, the holidays bring general sadness, the possibility of suicide or conflict with other survivors.
Chapter 15 Your Health During Bereavement
Stress-related illness and depression are common among bereaved parents. Because the symptoms may not show up right away, the connection with bereavement may not be apparent. Examples of illness reactions of the respondents appear in this chapter.
Chapter 16 Seeking Justice
A need to plead for the rights of our child if he or she died as a result of someone's error or culpability brings us into contact with the justice system. Examples of those whose child's death involved the military, the medical, or justice systems, show that most of the grieving parents were not well served in their time of need.
Chapter 17 I'll Never Forget You
Early fears that you will forget your child may make you cling to your grief. Memorializing our dead children is discussed, as are reports of those who feel they have been contacted by their dead child after death.
Chapter 18 A Summing Up: Special Problems of Parents Whose Adult Children Died
This chapter pulls together, reiterates, and elaborates on the peculiar problems faced by those whose child was an adult at the time of his or her death.
Appendix I: Questionnaire —A copy of the questionnaire that was sent out
Appendix II—Preceded by a short introduction, responses from some of those who answered the questionnaire appear largely in their own words