I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m doing on this blog anymore. I’m not sure it’s been very helpful as I’ve been a ranting, angry, sad mess lately. I started this to educate people on what grief after child death looks like and to let those going through it know they aren’t alone. I suppose if I’m going to educate others, I need to acknowledge your hurt, pain, and helplessness as well.
You see, I’ve been the person on the outside, watching so many people I love and care about grieve the death of a child. Brig and I watched our 13th wedding anniversary come and go through glassy-eyes last December as we waited for Caleb’s MRI results. For 11 of those years, we’d been in direct contact with grieving parents or saw dear friends or loved ones assume that role while we knew them. Now, I’m the grieving mother and my point of view has changed.
So, to those of you on the “outside”, I’m sorry and I feel your pain.
Yours is a different pain. Yours is a different hurt. You feel so helpless as you watch those you love flounder glassy-eyed through the days and nights, like fish out of water unable to breathe or move through life. You don’t understand our pain. You try to, but you know you can’t. Deep down you know you never will be able to unless you experience the same loss and you pray constantly that it will never be you. You watch our strength and think you’d never be able to handle it. You mutter a thank you at that knowledge under your breath every now and then because you think it means you’ll never actually face it. We did that, too.
Talk of how our child died makes you uncomfortable. Thinking about a dead child makes you uncomfortable at times. You know you can’t fix it and you want to so very badly. You know no words will take away the pain. It’s a wound that knows no adequate bandage and time will not heal. You wish it would. You scramble to find a cure, some miracle. You have so many thoughts constantly running through your mind when you think of us (which is far more often than the grieving realize), grasping to find something that will help. It all feels so overwhelming to you because you know none of it will truly fix it.
This makes you feel so defeated before you’ve even begun. You don’t know what to do, what to say, how to respond. Some of you retreat because you feel it’s better than saying or doing what you think could be the wrong thing. You’re afraid of inflicting more pain. Some are just far too sad and uncomfortable to even think about us while others tell themselves that someone else is better equipped to handle us. You’re in your own kind of survival mode.
Sometimes, the grieving mistakenly lump you in with that group of people who truly don’t care and think the ongoing grief is selfish or some cry for attention. We’re sorry for that. Those spiteful, unkind people don’t qualify as the support system I speak of. They’re some special kind of selfish that seem to be jealous of the attention paid to the grieving. Even the smallest gesture of love and support will let us know you aren’t one of them. It can be hard to tell sometime. Most of us who are grieving are more than happy to give you the benefit of the doubt, though. We know all too well how precious life and love are, so we tend to cling to them more.
I know that may sound odd because we seem so bitterly angry and sad sometimes. You wonder if we’ll ever be the same, if we’ll ever laugh the same, look the same. The answer is no. You’ll eventually come to terms with that and learn to love the new us with a deeper love and appreciation than before because you’ll have been through hell fire with us. You are being formed into your own kind of sea glass right along with us, but you need to stick with us to really smooth those edges.
It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry for us, with us, for our child, and for all that once was. We do the same thing. Your pain and path is different from ours, but it’s still real and it’s yours. Just please don’t leave us alone in ours. We need you.
It’s better to say the wrong thing than nothing. It’s okay to ask questions about how to best handle the situation and support the grieving. There is no blanket road map for all of us. This is a trail each of you will have to blaze for you and your own relationships/situations. Here are a few stops you may want to think about making.
Be present. I know this can be so difficult. Grief is lonely. It’s not lonely because others don’t care. It’s lonely because so many fear saying or doing the wrong thing, no one comes around or says anything. Drop off a cupcake, send a note, stop by, pick up the phone, just try anything. It’ll mean the world.
Be a doer. Don’t say, “Give me a call if you need anything.” Don’t even ask what the grieving need. So often, we can barely figure out what to wear, much less what we may need. See a need feel a need. You’ll have to be present to do this. Going to the grocery store? Send a text and ask if we need anything. Shovel a driveway. Mow a lawn. Bring a meal. And not just in the first month or two. That’s when everyone does it. The first 3-6 months for us are a blur. We’re in a fog, on autopilot. After that, it get’s harder in its own way as reality sets in more. Before, the pain would hit as we’d wake up each morning and remember all over again that our child died. As time goes on, the pain worsens as we adjust to the new normal and we’re hit with the reminders time and time again that they lived, but don’t anymore. I hope that makes sense.
Be a listener. Don’t be afraid to hear our child’s name. Don’t shy away from conversations about him/her. Don’t change the subject or leave. More important than our child’s death is their life and we need to hold onto that part. We need to talk about them, share stories about them, and even relate their life to your child’s. We don’t do it to be socially awkward or make you uncomfortable. We do it because they lived and that’s a light in the darkness for us. It can be for you, too. And please, share stories of your kiddos with us. Let us know how your children reminds you of ours. Let us know you think of him/her, too. Which brings me to…
Be secure. Know that your pain is okay, too. Your grief is okay, too. You can’t expect us to be your support system for your grief over the death of our child, but you can grieve with us. You can even grieve for us and who we used to be. This isn’t a competition. It’s not about who is hurting more at any given moment. We all know that. It’s okay to cry with us. It’s okay to be honest about what you’re thinking or feeling.
At the end of the day, our child’s death has changed us all. We’re all different people because of it. I just hope we can honor them all by all becoming better people, more compassionate people, people of action and love, because of their memory. I understand your pain. I’m sorry you hurt. Just know, that hurt and pain is okay.
Thanks for tumbling through the waves with me.