Losing a child — and wondering how others handle the grief

Staff WriterMay 14, 2014 

They have been called the shipwrecks of life — battles with health, broken hearts, unbearable loss — and each is a reminder.

We all grieve.

Linda Lawrence Hunt has had her share and more. Two bouts with breast cancer, the loss of a brother and parents.

None of it compared with what happened May 21, 1998. Two couples she and her husband knew knocked on their front door in Spokane, where the Hunts are both professors at Whitworth University.

“Jim thought they’d come to breakfast-kidnap us,” Hunt said. “But they’d come to tell us our daughter Krista was dead.”

Krista Hunt Ausland was born in Seattle, grew up in Spokane and went to college at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. After graduating from UPS in 1996, she married and stayed in Tacoma for another year, teaching biology and math at Wilson High School.

Krista and husband Aaron spent two summers working as Alaska bus drivers to pay off school debts, then volunteered to spend three years in Bolivia with the Mennonite Central Committee. She helped build latrines in a remote village, strived for literacy among the children and a sense of worth for their mothers.

Three months into that commitment, the bus in which Krista and others were riding drove off a mountain road. Three people were killed, including 25-year-old Krista.

That’s when Hunt began learning about grief.

“There are very good books on early stages of grief, not much written about the longer process of grieving,” she said. “Grief is messy. Friends or family can get impatient with someone else’s grief.

“Saying ‘Get over it!’ adds another layer of pain. I remember wondering, ‘Is there a year, month, day when closure happens?’”

Hunt read a book on closure that talked about the need to respect how others grieve.

“‘Closure’ is the wrong term to use. It causes people to try to get over death and move on too soon,” Hunt said.

After talking to friends and family members about Krista’s death, Hunt began a series of interviews with parents who had endured the loss of a child — 30 in all.

“I talked to those who’d lost a child by suicide, by murder, in accidents, through illness and at all different ages,” Hunt said. “I wrote about a woman expecting twins only to have them both stillborn. I spoke with a woman in her 70s who lost a son in his 50s.

“All of them grieved differently. Each of them found their own path.”

The result is a book published in February, “Pilgrimage Through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child.”

“It doesn’t tell anyone how to grieve,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t say what to do; it explains the pathways these people took.”

The book also deals with the ways friends, chaplains and caregivers help — and fail badly — in trying to assist people dealing with profound grief.

“Many people don’t want to hear someone say, ‘They’re in a better place now,’ or ‘God must have needed another angel,’” Hunt said. “That kind of thing can cause a crisis of faith.”

For some, Hunt said, grief can last a lifetime.

“The child fades a bit in your visual memory, though you always have photos,” she said. “I remember having an ‘Aha!’ moment, realizing that when you feel so close to a child through your grief, you’re hesitant to move beyond it for fear of losing that closeness.”

Next week, Hunt will come to Tacoma. She’ll read from her book and talk about what others have taught her.

“This isn’t one person’s story. It’s a collection of ideas families have found helpful,” Hunt said.

To date, she’s found that two groups come to her readings.

“One group comes to learn how to befriend others in grief — hospice workers, chaplains, hospital workers,” Hunt said. “They come to hear reports from the field. This isn’t a textbook, but it has tools others can find and use.”

And the second group?

“Those going through loss themselves. My hope is the insights others in grief shared will give them a hope and confidence that there are creative ways to live with profound loss.”

To go

Who: Writing professor and author Linda Lawrence Hunt

What: A reading from her book, “Pilgrimage Through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child.”

Where: Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 901 N. J St., Tacoma

When: Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Larry LaRue: (253) 597-8638

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