Things I Didn’t Get to Say

Grief - Bench in California (Miranda Hernandez)
Bench in California (Miranda Hernandez)

Grief is exhausting. And often in grief, we are so mentally overloaded we don’t have the words to respond to the things people say. And some of those things are incredibly hurtful. These are things I wish I’d had the presence of mind in the moment to say:

To the family members who asked me if I wanted to go to Disneyland or Comic-Con or the festival down the street:

I am in mourning. I am sad. My son just died, and the things that used to excite me feel meaningless right now. Please don’t ask me to ignore my grief. Grief is where I find meaning. I will feel excited again, someday, but that feeling won’t be forced. Please leave me be.

To the co-worker who asked if I wanted to attend our formal event, and then suggested I wear a maternity dress when I said I had nothing to wear:

It pains me just to come to work, and the thought of a formal and “happy” event is far too much for me. But worse yet, why would I want to wear a maternity dress when I am both no longer pregnant, and I also have no living child? Your words were so insensitive. I hope you learn to think before you speak.

To the co-workers disappointed in me being “just” okay:

“Okay” is here. “Okay” is working. “Okay” is only crying sometimes. “Okay” is so much better than devastated, and screaming on the bathroom floor. “Okay” is okay. “Okay” is all I have to give you today.

To the woman at the milk bank who told me with a smile, “I’ve lost babies too. Don’t worry; you’re still young”:

What world do you live in that those words are remotely okay? I will never smile when telling people my son is dead. And I’m not young, and you don’t know if I’m even physically capable of having another child. You are a representative for the one thing I was trying to do to help, but your words are so hurtful. You of all people should know better.

To everyone who talks to me about healing, and time:

Please stop speaking in clichés. Time doesn’t heal anything. The passage of time only brings me further away from the point where it’s okay to not be okay. My greatest wish, beyond turning back time, is for time to just stand still.

To the stranger who stopped me in the hall on a particularly bad morning and said, “It can’t be that bad”:

Screw you. Your words are so incredibly painful, and you don’t even know. I could drop this bomb on you, and you would sputter apologies. I could drop this bomb, and you would apologize, but you probably wouldn’t change.

So what I want to tell you most is this: you don’t know. Every person you meet is going through something. And it could be that bad. Maybe they lost their job. Maybe their spouse left them. Maybe they’re dying of cancer. Or maybe it’s “just” that they have a really bad cold and they’re out of sick leave and they had to come to work anyway and life really sucks today. It honestly doesn’t matter, because whatever it is, it’s real. And it’s so much more important than your desire to make everything around you superficially okay.

You don’t know, and your words are minimizing and hurtful and just plain wrong. And I honestly hope you never have to experience this moment of walking down the hall and someone telling you that your world is not falling apart when you know for a fact that it is. But sometimes, I also hope that you do.

And in these moments, I recognize that these are my own issues coming to the surface, and my issues have nothing to do with you. And because of this, I say nothing. And I wish you would too.

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