S1E28: Child Loss through the Eyes of the Sibling with Michele Benyo
Updated: Oct 25
Embracing Grief on the Journey of Motherhood
Motherhood undoubtedly brings plenty of joy and can also be a wild ride filled with endless surprises and challenges. This ride becomes even more tumultuous when you are not just a mom, but a grieving mom, navigating through the various stages of grief whilst still having to care for your children.
Meet your hosts, Rashida and Cara. Both are grieving mothers, masterfully juggling the demands of motherhood and their personal grief. Each episode of their podcast, the Grieving Mamas Club, is dedicated to creating a safe space for other moms going through the same situation.
A Dialogue with the Grieving
While the year that was 2022 was testing for all, it posed an even greater challenge for those dealing with the loss of a loved one. Rashida and Cara discussed various aspects of the grief journey throughout the year, hosting various insightful guests who provided different perspectives on grief and loss.
An especially insightful episode involved an enlightening conversation about grief twofold. This is the dual experience of being a mom grieving the loss of a child, as well as being the sibling of that lost child. This discussion highlighted the unique experiences and challenges on this grief journey.
Introducing Michele Benyo
One of the standout guests on the Grieving Mamas Club podcast was the inspiring Michele Benyo, a certified grief recovery specialist, an early childhood educator, a parent coach, and the founder of Good Grief Parenting. After losing her six-year-old son to cancer, Michele's life changed forever, leading her onto the path of grief recovery. After witnessing her three-year-old daughter's heartrending reaction to the loss of her brother, Michele's mission became twofold: to help parents grapple with the unthinkable challenges of parenting while grieving the death of a child, and to equip parents to meet the unique needs of a child who has lost a sibling during those precious early childhood years.
Michele's journey through grief and out the other side culminated in the founding of Good Grief Parenting, a resource she wished she had had when she was grappling with her own grief.
Confronting Grief Head-On
Grief can manifest in different ways for different people, and one size genuinely does not fit all when it comes to the grieving process. Some grievers might experience what's recognized as the traditional 'stages of grief', while others will have a unique journey all their own. Regardless of the path, it was Michele's belief that each individual's journey was valid and deserving of respect.
Her approach to grief also highlighted the importance of moving forward after a loss, of using the pain to build resilience, and ultimately striving for a future filled with possibilities and joy. Grief isn't linear, and there isn't a pre-set route or timeline for recovery. Each person's grief is personal, and each person's process will be unique.
What Michele wanted to stress, especially when it comes to how we approach grief in children, is the importance of validating their feelings and allowing them the space and time to process their loss in their own way. It's crucial that we are there for them, providing comfort and reassurance and helping them understand that, over time, they will feel better.
The Grieving Mamas Club podcast serves an important role in the grieving community: offering support, reassurance, and a voice for mothers grappling with great loss while still engaged in the demanding role of parenting. With candid discussions and empathetic hosts, the podcast continues to provide a lifeline for listeners everywhere.
# The Power of Empathy and Understanding
Empathy and understanding is at the core of being able to help others navigate their grief. This is especially true for children, who might not have the vocabulary or understanding to express their feelings of loss. As Michele Benyo, the founder of Good Grief Parenting, powerfully stated, “She knows how to be a caring person in society who doesn't turn away and avoid someone else's grief because she has dealt with it herself.”
Grieving parents play a significant role in how their children manage their own grief. It is crucial for them to be emotionally available to these children, constantly affirm their emotions, and create an environment where they feel safe and comfortable expressing their feelings. This can manifest in simple acts such as speaking the name of the individual they've lost or retaining mementos of their loved ones—actions that can have hugely positive impacts on their process.
Through these small but significant gestures, grieving parents can help their children foster lasting bonds with the loved ones they've lost, promote healing, and inspire them to be change makers, contributing positively to society.
The Journey of Grieving
Grief rarely comes alone; it brings drastic changes within a family's dynamic. This can be especially challenging for young children who may lack the ability to completely comprehend what is happening. The struggles that Michele Benyo and her family went through as they tried to process their son’s cancer diagnosis highlight this.
Michele explained that her daughter, who was only 15 months old when her brother was diagnosed with cancer, was highly affected by the sudden changes in their family's dynamics. Michele noted her daughter’s distress and her attempts to understand her brother's sudden absence, which led to Michele realizing that even very young children can comprehend and be impacted by such drastic changes.
Recognizing this, Michele decided to involve her daughter in her brother’s journey, instead of shielding her from it like most families did, by allowing her to spend time with her brother at the hospital.
This heartbreaking period elicited a powerful realization within Michele; she had the power to decide how to handle this devastating situation. She chose to live forward, a concept that proved to be immensely helpful, not just for her but for her daughter as well.
Live Forward: A Personal Choice
Living forward involves making the conscious choice to reorient your life in a positive direction following a loss. According to Michele, "the first part is loss, and the second part is the remaking of life." This perspective can be incredibly empowering for those dealing with the agony of loss.
As Michele narrated her experiences, she highlighted the importance of personal choice in the grief journey. She came to terms with the fact that she couldn’t change her circumstances; however, she had the choice to create the best possible scenario out of the grim situation for her and her surviving daughter. The hard-earned lessons she learned throughout her grief journey allowed her to establish Good Grief Parenting, offering a support system and the resources necessary for families in similar situations.
Despite being a universally shared experience, grief often leaves individuals feeling isolated. One of the ways to overcome this is by normalizing conversations about grief and loss. Societal perceptions often force grievers to suppress their emotions and hesitate to remember their loved ones openly.
By normalizing grief, we can enable individuals to validate their emotions without any apprehension and promote healthier coping mechanisms. Remember, grieving is not about moving on from the memory of the loved ones, rather it's about finding avenues in which we can incorporate their memory into our lives and choosing to live forward.