"I've been surprised by people's genuine kindness and empathy as much as I've been repeatedly shocked and disappointed by their lack of it."
This is a quote from a recent article that I read, which was written by a mother, Samantha Hayward, who had also lost her child. She wrote the article in hopes to help educate our society on how to address grieving parents. The subject is so taboo and there is clearly not enough literature on how to handle the topic or talk to a parent that is suffering the horrific loss of his/her child. I'm assuming that it is not talked about because others do not want to open that door for fear of what lies behind it. The pain is something they never ever want to feel or even want to try to think about. It's as if they FEAR the FEAR. This article really made me feel like I wasn't alone. Samantha made me see that there are so many other parents going through exactly what I'm feeling. (annnnnnnnd it makes me so sad to even type that sentence because that just means so many other children have left this earth way too soon...UGHHHH Why? Why do children have to die? It is not okay.)
After crying a whole lot and processing that article, I decided to take Samantha’s 10 tips and modify them to fit me and my personal opinions on the topic. She talks a lot about the things people would say or not say and how they both could hurt her feelings and ultimately lead to the end of some relationships. We all know that NO ONE intends to say the wrong thing to a grieving parent, but sometimes it may be better to say nothing at all. I understand that knowing when to say something, when not to, and what to say in this situation can be quite confusing. So, here are a few tips to help you decide whether to bite your lip or when and how to show the perfect amount of affection to a loved one who is grieving the loss of a child.
1. Please stop with the comments about how lucky I am to even have gotten pregnant in the first place. Of course it was a blessing, believe me I know what kind of miracle it is to conceive, carry, and give birth to a healthy baby, but must you throw it in my face that I "should" be feeling grateful when I just had to make a decision on whether to bury or to cremate my first and only baby? Also, for parents that have other children, I am sure that it hurts just the same when someone says how lucky you are to have your other children to come home to, as if that makes it easier to deal with such a loss.
2. There are still some times that I just need to take a day off from work and hide from the world, which I just did a couple weeks ago. Please don't assume that I've thrown in the towel or I've lost my mind because "it's been 2 years now and I shouldn't be calling out of work” or even WORSE, be so thoughtless to wonder "what's wrong?" Good LORD I would love to rage at someone when they ask me that! Like, are you serious?! My kid is dead, gone, like no longer on this earth and you are wondering why I'm crying or why I can't come to work? The ignorance blows my mind sometimes. So please don't assume that because two years have gone by that I should be "better" at dealing with my grief. I'm anticipating that I will still need some mental health days 5 years down the road and there is nothing wrong with that so please be aware that your loved ones have the freedom to grieve whenever and however they need to. It does not mean they've gone off the deep end. It's normal.
3. Grieving for a child lasts a lifetime. If you are wondering when your friend or loved one who has lost a child will eventually stop grieving, STOP RIGHT THERE. There is no such time. It is FOREVER and please recognize that and tell them they are allowed to grieve to the end of time or until they are able to see and hug their child again. (I recently told my hair dresser my story and one of the first things she said to me was that exact line about "grieving until the end of time." I just had to hug her when she said that because she made me feel incredible. I felt free from judgment as soon as she said that. THANKS AGAIN ELAINE.
4. The loss of a child can destroy a relationship instantly. Bill and I split 8 months after Micah had passed, and it was so incredibly hard to adjust to that new life. The thought of not being with the two most important humans in my life, for the rest of my life, was so UNBELIEVABLE. I felt like someone just took a bulldozer to my perfectly framed home that I had spent months/years building, and not to mention, I was about to decorate the shit out of that house with love, laughter, memories, and so much more. POOF! GONE! Even though relationships end, it doesn't mean that all ties must be severed. I mean how could you NOT talk to the ONE person on this earth that went through something so horrific with you. It's kind of like when someone saves your life, and you are forever connected to that person because in that scary moment he/she was by your side in your most vulnerable moments. Same thing happens when two parents lose a child, especially when they both hold their baby as she takes her last breath. It is a bond so tight that no one, not even God could break. Bill and I will always be there for each other. PERIOD. So please stop with the weird looks or the assumptions that Bill and I are getting back together or maybe the thoughts that one of us is leading the other one on. STOP. We are not getting back together and we CAN text, call, and see each other as much as we would like. We understand each other’s pain, and we want to grieve together some days. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
5. Acknowledging Micah's birthday or the anniversary of her death the first year she was gone was incredibly heartwarming and touching, but when you don't bother to acknowledge it year after year ( in my case the 2nd year) it is completely gut wrenching. It makes me feel like I should get used to nobody acknowledging the fact that I did spend 9 months pregnant, I did go through a long inducing process to end up having a c-section, I did have a beautiful daughter, and I did spend hours upon hours at CHOP taking care of my baby. That all HAPPENED and I'll be damned if I don't honor her life every single year. This is one of those cases that saying something is much better than not!! Acknowledging and celebrating my child on her birthday is essentially what every parent would hope for.
6. Feeling left out. I do notice when I don't get invited to certain dinner dates, events, or outings. Don't think that I haven't noticed the few people that dwindled away and couldn't handle the work it might take to stay along for the bumpy ride with me. I understand it is WORK to be friends with me now, I am not always a walk in the park, but I also don't deserve to be pushed aside because you are tired of my grief. Really??? Is your life so hard and busy that you can't make time for me anymore? Don't try and be friendly in the future because it's obvious what kind of friend you are. One not worth having. Good friendships are just as important as a marriage. For better or worse. They take work, effort and do not sustain themselves. If that seems like too much for you, then see you later…
7. Please don't say "I want the old Michelle back." Believe me, I want the old Michelle back, too, but that will NEVER happen and coming from anyone else, but me, sounds like a complete insult. It's as if I am currently not cutting it for your high standards, and if the old Michelle isn't coming back, then I guess you won't be hanging around any longer. My entire world got flipped upside down and left in a million pieces. Therefore, it is going to take me some time to put everything back into NEW SPOTS. At the same time, try not to forget that in the midst of all of that, I am grieving TWO losses: my daughter's life and my own, because I no longer recognize who I see in the mirror each day.
8. Please include me in mommy convos! Do not be afraid to ask me or include me in conversations about my pregnancy, birth story or things Micah did as a baby. I constantly hear other mothers sharing their stories with their other "mother" friends and for some reason, I am never included in those conversations, even though I am sitting right there. It hurts so much when I am left out of those conversations. It makes me feel like I am NO LONGER A MOM, which is not the case. Those conversations are definitely triggers for me. I've learned to barge in and say, "well Micah used to do that too," and I honestly get so many different reactions. It is not weird to talk about someone who has passed. You make it weird when you react like a moron and can't keep the convo going. My advice to someone who is in those conversations and is thinking "should I ask? No, maybe she is having a bad day?" You can always say "Do you mind me asking about Micah?" That right there could turn a bad day into the best day of the week for me!
I hope that I gave you all some helpful tools to take with you so that you can one day pull a grieving friend under your wing and say all of the right things.
Please don't fear us, as we do not bite! We might bark a bit, but we WON'T if you make an effort to be kind and considerate. We CANNOT do this alone, and we NEED your love and support, whether you believe it or not. Your words matter, A LOT =)