Opinion: Dear Susi Q

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Here to Listen if You’re Grieving

By Lynette Brasfield

My father died of a heart attack in 1965 at the age of 39. I was nine years old.

My parents had divorced the year before, and my sister and I were sent to a boarding school hundreds of miles away from our home. I had written him an angry letter, blaming him for the separation, unfairly, as it would later turn out. That was the last he heard from me. To this day (and I’m 68), I feel the agony of knowing that he died not knowing I loved him.

At my graduation, at my wedding, and upon the birth of my two sons, I felt deep sadness that he wasn’t present. I continue to miss the parent I hardly knew, reliving, even to this day, happy memories of the times we cooked dinner together (okay, baked beans on toast…!), read The Wind in the Willows and set off sparklers on his birthday, which was also Guy Fawkes Day.

But my dad’s death, though premature, was at least in the natural order of things, a parent dying before their offspring. I cannot begin to imagine the terrible pain of losing a child at any age – or to miscarriage – and the emotions that must go with that loss every day for the rest of one’s life.

Grief, of course, takes many forms. Losing an adult child brings with it a particularly complicated kind of grief for older parents whose lives have been deeply intertwined with those of their sons or daughters, often for decades.

That’s why, beginning in June, Susi Q will offer a weekly “Between the Tears” Child Loss Support Group for Seniors, led by facilitator Basia Mosinski, MA. The group is intended to be a safe place for older adults to process the many feelings that accompany parental bereavement. It will meet on Thursdays from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at no cost to participants.

“While there’s obviously never a good time to lose a child, adults who have experienced close relationships over the years with their grown-up children are confronted with the loss of long-time shared experiences and a friendship that has evolved over time,” Mosinski explained to me. “With seniors, this bereavement can bring up other losses and sometimes leads to isolation as the parent retreats into depression.

“I understood this first-hand when I lost my stepson,” Mosinski added. “I decided to walk away from a career in the arts and turn to psychology as a way to understand grieving on a deeper level and to help others going through similar experiences.”

Basia later lost her own son when he was in his forties.

“Understanding grief processes in some depth didn’t necessarily prepare me. I had to put myself together again piece by piece, like Humpty Dumpty,” she said. “But I found that there was so much wisdom to be shared in a group, such as ways to get through anniversaries and holidays. Sometimes, just listening can help.”

Based on her own experience, Mosinski strongly believes that support groups are important in helping the bereaved find ways to cope – impossible though it might initially seem – often simply by providing a safe space to share stories or shed tears without any pressure to talk.

“Sometimes people feel like they’re literally losing their minds. Every individual deals with grief differently, of course, but being with others who have experienced similar losses can bring some comfort. Learning from parents who have survived the greatest tragedy of their lives and helping the newest grievers gives purpose to many of the participants.”

“Between the Tears” will be offered weekly as an open-ended group, with no requirement to commit to a set number of sessions.

“The idea is to offer a place to breathe, not to add stress,” Mosinski says.

Given my father’s early death, I’ve always emphasized to my sons that they need to take care of their hearts – in every sense of the word – but I held my breath as they reached the age of 39, somehow fearing that history would repeat itself. It hasn’t, thank God. Because I just can’t imagine losing them or a grandchild. I just can’t.

If the unthinkable has happened to you or someone you know, Susi Q is here to help as best we can, even if simply to listen.

For more details or to join the group, please contact Susi Q’s Director of Care Management, Martha Hernandez, LCSW, at [email protected] or 949-715-8104. The Susi Q Senior Center is located at 380 Third Street, Laguna Beach. Parking is free.

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