Ann Mroz

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

For teachers and celebrities alike, there is no option to keep a lost pregnancy secret – so try a little tenderness, suggests Ann Mroz

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

When model Chrissy Teigen took to social media last week to share the news of the loss of her third child halfway through pregnancy, reactions were split.

Many people praised her for her openness and courage for talking publicly about a pain so raw and so deep immediately after the event, and even publishing a photo of her weeping on the edge of her hospital bed and another of her and her husband musician John Legend cradling their child. Others thought they should not make public what they considered to be a private misfortune.

But when Teigen had shared every joyful step of her pregnancy with the world, why should she not share the sadness and the pain too? For a public figure, pregnancy is hard to hide anyway, unless, of course, the expectant mother locks herself away for nine months.

For women who work in schools, their pregnancies are public too, albeit in a smaller world. It’s hard to hide a bump from inquisitive little (and big) people. And when things go wrong, they do not have the luxury of saying nothing. Students have to be told, which brings even more stress. One poster in the Tes Community forums who lost her baby at a similar point to Teigen asks heartbreakingly if there is a right time to go back to work after the death of a baby, whether there is a “norm”. She says she is scared to face her GCSE students, because “some will be understanding and supportive, but others well, who knows?”

There is, of course, no right time. For some, it is to return to work as soon as possible, to get back into a routine and to sometimes have a little cry in the stairwell or the loos. For others, it is to stay home until they feel ready to face the world.

And some people, like Teigen, want to do their grieving publicly because it’s how they cope. It’s their sorrow; how they express it is their choice. And whatever your own thoughts and opinions, it’s a time to bite your tongue.

It’s an important point when grief is all around us, reaching deep into our communities. Covid-19 has touched every school in some way. Even in normal times, death is a part of school life. According to charity Winston’s Wish, on average, one in every 29 children will be bereaved of a parent. That’s the equivalent of one child in every class. But Covid has amplified that. There will be children – and staff – who have lost parents, grandparents and other loved ones. Some will have been unable to attend their funerals and process their grief.

Current restrictions mean that these grieving children may be cut off from their usual networks, so the support they get from teachers and schools is more important than ever.

And they need all the help they can get. Writer and educational speaker Ian Gilbert, in his book on loss, quotes statistics from the 1970 British Cohort Study into family life and outcomes. These figures paint a bleak picture: they show that children from bereaved families do less well in exams and have higher rates of depression, poorer health and are more likely to be unemployed.

His daughter Phoebe, now an adult, was 9 when her mother died. She writes about how that loss affected her throughout her life, from primary school to university. She asks teachers and lecturers to “allow us to find a reason for our pain and choose happiness again”.

And that is all anyone asks for: to work through their sorrow and to choose happiness again. Everybody grieves differently, everyone looks to find reason for their pain in their own way. There is no right way. There is only the way that is right for them.

@AnnMroz

This article originally appeared in the 9 October 2020 issue under the headline “Teacher or pupil, there is no 'right' way to grieve for lost loved ones”

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