The Language of Grief

Woman's Online Journal Helps Her Endure

[Deborah Raven]/[The Image Bank]/[Getty Images]

“Children are not supposed to die,“ write Joan Hagan Arnold and Penelope Buschman Gemma in A Child Dies: A Portrait of Family Grief. “Parents expect to see their children grow and mature. Ultimately, parents expect to die and leave their children behind.”

The two nurses collaborated on the book to help parents and medical personnel as they move through the stages of grief following the death of a child.

They note, “The loss of a child is the loss of innocence, the death of the most vulnerable and dependent. The death of a child signifies the loss of the future, of hopes and dreams, of new strength, and of perfection.”


Unthinkable Road

The mother-child bond is a lifelong one, and the grief isn’t necessarily less when the child is a teenager or young adult. Following the death of Emmitt Owen Riley, whose body was discovered in the Petaluma River in June 2007, his mother Linda keeps a journal. She writes to “find a path on this unthinkable road, through an unimaginable forest of grief.” She talks about the past and the present, her memories of the young man everyone called Owen, and his unexplained death following his disappearance on May 29th, 2007, just shy of his 21st birthday.


”A Blog I Never Wanted to Write”

But her journal isn’t private. It’s a blog she shares with untold numbers of other parents and readers.

MysteryORiley is “a blog I never wanted to write,” she says in a sidebar on the site. “Losing our 20-year-old son isn't the way it's supposed to be, as we always hear people say. But, for some of us, it is the way it is.”

Siniard painstakingly records the way it is “to honor Owen’s life….Owen was a musician, writer, and entertaining conversationalist, who chose to stay quiet much of the time….He loved wordplay and made up his own words regularly…I think often, just to see if we were listening.

He challenged us to keep up with him, and tested us regularly.”


Few Know How to Respond

Linda is also aware that other grieving parents are surfing the internet, looking for solace and support. She writes to throw out a lifeline, “a glimpse of how we’re making it from day to day, to take you on this journey of unbelievable grief, loss, and mystery. Not something everyone will care to do. But, there are other families who have experienced similar losses, and few know how to respond. Perhaps we can help in some way, just by sharing our thoughts and feelings.”


Healing Words

Linda’s decision to write down these thoughts and feelings is a method that can help women recover on many levels. “Life-based writing is one of the most reliable and effective ways to heal, change and grow,” says psychotherapist Kathleen Adams, author of The Write Way to Wellness.

“Scientific research shows that brief, intense bursts of emotional release writing -- only 15 minutes a day, for only four consecutive days -- is correlated with increased immune system functioning that can last for several weeks. Since grief often compromises the immune…these writes can help your physical as well as your emotional health.”


”The Death of a Child, The Grief of the Parents: A Lifetime Journey.” National SIDS/Infant Death Resource Center 2005.

Arnold, Joan Hagan and Penelope Buschman Gemma. A Child Dies: A Portrait of Family Grief The Charles Press, Publishers Inc April 1994

Adams, Kathleen, LPC, RPT. "Managing Grief Through Journal Writing." The Center for Journal Therapy.