When someone has experienced tragedy, it is common to say, “I can’t imagine” how they are feeling. But the truth is, you can. Please take a moment and try.
Humans are hardwired to find points of comparison. It’s how we build community. It makes us feel less alone. In some cases, though, comparison feels minimizing. This is especially the case in loss. This is something to say instead.
When someone you love is in pain, it’s natural to want to comfort them; to reassure them that everything will be okay. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with permanent changes like death, sometimes this simply isn’t the case.
We are often asked to excuse hurtful behavior because the person had good intentions…An important corollary is that when someone has good intentions, they will want to make amends for any unintentional hurt. “Good intentions” are best revealed by changing behavior you’ve been informed is hurtful.
There is this trend in modern times, of building all these mental health resources and installing hotlines, but we don’t talk enough about how hard it can be for those who are struggling to pick up the phone. When I was in my darkest place, I didn’t have it in me, most days.
It’s hard to feel sad and helpless when someone you love is struggling after loss. It’s hard to sit there in the darkness and support them when they are most in pain. It’s hard, but if you can do it anyway; if you can accept your helplessless and move forward, you will be more helpful than you know.
One of the many aspects included in the loss of a child are the missing milestones—first smile, first kiss, and the years in between. These physical things that can only be done by doing. These missing memories. Telling me my child is with me in spirit is NOT the same.
It’s a hallmark of our culture that we like to share stories. It makes us feel less alone in the darkness & this is only good. What hurts, though, is when someone makes assumptions. Be cautious of projecting your experience or your feelings onto your loved one.
Simply telling someone not to feel a certain way will never have the desired result. Instead, ask questions about their feelings. Acknowledge and understand without trying to change.
Adoption is an inordinately beautiful thing. It is also often used as a generic straw solution to the “problems” of child loss and infertility. Please don’t push adoption on the infertile or the bereaved. Listen to their feelings. If it’s right for them, they will bring it up when it’s time.
I never really considered that question, “How are you?” until after the death of my son. And then it became the bane of my day. Please don’t ask me how I’m doing unless you’re prepared to hear the truth
If a loved one comes to you in pain, take a moment and acknowledge your own feelings about the situation. You are allowed to have these feelings. You are allowed to grieve this second-hand grief. But please be cognizant of not reflecting it back on the person who brought it you.
When I was new in my grief, I had a good friend tell me, “at least you can pregnant.” He almost immediately became my EX-good friend…There is literally no statement that can follow the words “at least” that is in any way supportive or gentle or kind. Nothing. It simply isn’t possible.
We default to these standard phrases when seeking to comfort others in pain. Unfortunately, these phrases actually make the pain worse..
I’m sure it’s not intentional. You hear my story, and things get awkward. You want to fill the space. You call me “strong,” because that’s what you’ve heard other people say. You call me “brave,” because it sounds inspirational…
“Why didn’t you…”
Have you ever said these words? Many people have. It’s a common question the bereaved experience after loss, particularly if or when a loss may have been preventable. It’s also a form of distancing; of inserting a barrier in the conversation.
Acknowledge the bereaved parents in your life in the same way you acknowledge parents of living children. Parenthood doesn’t end when children pass away.
If you know a parent with both a living and deceased child, it’s something to be aware of. Because the most supportive thing you can say in that situation is to acknowledge the work that goes into raising and grieving, simultaneously.
Before Adrian died, I had very little sense of the impact of death. It was an abstract concept to me. I had known people who had died, but nobody close enough to trigger intense grief. And so, when someone in my circle lost a child, I misunderstood.
Grief is hard, both for the bereaved & their loved ones. But however uncomfortable you feel, think about the impact of your actions & words. You don’t have to understand to support. And your support means everything. If a bereaved parent invites you to birthday party for their child, please come.
Often, when I share about my deceased child, that’s all I’m looking for: An ear. A person to open their heart to experience. Someone to take a moment in their day to read and acknowledge, without trying to analyze me.
I think something that isn’t realized about loss is that pain after loss is sometimes important; it’s a measure of the strength of the love that remains. Instead of wanting to remove that pain, consider giving it a place. Listen without judgement. Let your loved one’s complicated feelings exist.
Pregnancy after loss is one of the most beautifully life-affirming and also simultaneously terrifying events your loved ones can experience. If your loved one has shared this news with you, it is likely because they trust you to be there for them, in the bad as well as the good. Be worthy of that trust.
When the bereaved are deep in their grief, they often don’t know what they need. Please consider offering specific things:
I’d like to bring you dinner this evening. Is that okay?
Would you be interested in a walk in the park tomorrow morning?
A simple change in phrasing makes such a difference.
If a bereaved parent feels guilt or blame about their loss, simply telling them not to feel that way is not a solution. Feelings don’t work that way.
We are conditioned within modern society to look for the silver lining in every crappy day. For some things, this is fine. But when it comes to extreme loss and pain, there often isn’t a bright side.
Loved ones often want to cheer you up after loss, but sometimes, you don’t want or need to find cheerfulness. Sometimes (often!), you need to just sit and grieve. “Let’s cheer you up” can be hurtful after loss. Acknowledgement is so much more supportive.
Sometimes people “freeze” after tragedy; unsure what to do or say. And often, there isn’t any perfect thing. But please do SOMETHING; anything to show that you care. You may not be perfect, but your efforts are still appreciated.
There is a myth in our society that we need to “move on” and “heal” from loss and grief. But grief is eternal and no one understands that better than the bereaved. Acknowledge & honor this need to maintain connection even after death. Acknowledge that grief, like love, lasts as long as it needs.
Children are not replaceable. I know you probably don’t think they are…
I know you probably don’t think you can grab one baby out of a parent’s arms and then give them a different one with no consequence. (You DON’T think that, right?)
But this is what we are sometimes hearing.