‘The grief following the death of your child lasts a lifetime’

Jimmy Edmonds and Jane Harris needed film and other grieving parents after son’s death

Lean into your grief in whatever way works best for you was the strong message from the documentary, A Love That Never Dies, shown by the Irish Hospice Foundation and the Good Grief Project in Dublin this month.

Made by filmmakers, Jimmy Edmonds and Jane Harris, the documentary charts the grieving process of the filmmakers following the death of their son Josh in a road traffic accident in Vietnam in 2011. As a way of dealing with their huge loss, the couple went on a road trip across the United States and Mexico, speaking with other bereaved parents along the way. The result is a powerful, honest and sincere portrayal of the different ways parents cope with the death of their child.

"The grief following the death of your child lasts a lifetime and there is a need for enduring support. It's difficult to know what to say to someone in extreme pain and trauma following the death of a child and for those grieving, it's difficult to find the words. We are showing this film to start that conversation," said Sharon Foley, chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation before the screening.

I became defined by my bereavement and didn't know what to do about that

“We made the film to talk about love, loss and hope, to share stories so the language around grief is more comfortable and less fearful,” said Harris, who also works as a psychotherapist. “We lost our son, Josh, eight years ago and he has taught us so much since he died.

“We were so traumatised. I became defined by my bereavement and didn’t know what to do about that. It’s more comfortable for other people if you are quiet and don’t express your grief but it’s not good for you. Not talking about it can make you ill,” she added.

This is the third film in the Good Grief Project that Edmonds and Harris have made together since their son, Josh died. The first, Beyond Goodbye was filmed during Josh’s funeral which Edmonds and Harris organised themselves. The second, Say Their Name, examines the grieving process of UK parents following the death of a child.

In A Love That Never Dies, the American parents speak openly about their experiences of grief. One mother whose daughter died aged 19 of heart failure said that she too wanted to die. “Anything that would stop the pain. But, I decided not to take my own life because of my son. I was depressed, sad and pissed about everything. There are no armbands or black clothes to wear so society doesn’t give you the respect of grieving,” she said.

Edmonds and Harris also share moments of their own devastating grief process in the documentary. “I buried myself into looking at photos of Josh and I wore his clothes yet it got harder and harder to mention his name in public,” said Edmonds. “I needed a neutral space to grieve. I felt claustrophobic. I couldn’t expose my grief so I would go running and then stop and bawl my eyes out in the middle of a field,” said Harris.

Two years after Josh’s death, Edmonds and Harris went to Vietnam with their son, Joe and daughter, Rosie to see the place where Josh died and meet the people who came to help him. “Going to the place where Josh died wasn’t about finding closure but it was about wanting something more real. We walked up and down the road where the accident happened and people spoke to us about what they remembered,” said Edmonds.

Some people need to know all the details of how their son or daughter died while others don’t. One mother whose 17-year-old son, Jessie died in a motorcycle said, “I want to remember how he lived, not how he died. But, I had to go face to face with my grief and feel whatever feelings that were there. Grief needs to be honoured and expressed.”

It's a gradual acceptance. You realise that you're not unique but you're not alone

Another mother whose 19-year-old son, Max died in a road accident, set up a charity, Team Max, as a legacy to her son’s volunteering work. “We call it vigilante philanthropy. We go to people in need say if their house burned down. I find it cathartic working through my grief in this way. The loss of a child is too big to bear alone,” she explained.

One father, whose 14-year-old son died when playing with a gun in the family home, said, “it was a tragic accident and I blamed myself. You feel like you’re at war on every front afterwards but [the fact]that my wife didn’t blame me strengthened me.”

Another father spoke about how he went back to work three days after his 22-year-old son died in a road accident. “Part of me wanted not to show emotions and have a stiff upper lip. The larger part of me wanted to bawl and cry but I couldn’t do that. No one said anything or asked me how I was doing.”

Speaking after the documentary, Harris said that now she is full of hope and a lot stronger. “I’m very happy in many ways. I appreciate every day and that’s all because of Josh. He taught me what’s important.” Edmonds added, “It’s a gradual acceptance. You realise that you’re not unique but you’re not alone [either]. Talking to other bereaved parents became the important thing to do and to see that what we were going through was quite natural. This was the hardest film I have ever been involved with but it was a lifesaver aswell.”

Organisations that offer support to grieving families

Anam Cara – a countrywide organisation which supports bereaved parents.

First Light – A support group for families who have lost a baby/child/teenager. Members visit families in their homes, provide one to one/couple counselling and bereavement groups.

Hugg – A peer support group for anyone who has been bereaved by suicide. Free open meetings are held fortnightly.

Irish Road Victims Association – A support organisation which offers free information and support to those bereaved or injured by road traffic collisions.

Jacinta's Smile – A bereavement support group for siblings of someone who has died. The group provides adventure days out and subsidised therapy.

LauraLynn – A charity which supports children with life-limiting conditions by offering respite, home care nurses, family support, end of life care and bereavement support.

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