People say that grief is selfish. I say that it maybe needs to be. Sometimes being selfish is the most important form of self-care possible.
Notes for the Support Team
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.
“I’m here if you ever want to sit in awkward silence.”
As odd as it sounds, this is one of the most supportive messages I received after the death of my son.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you truly want to support someone who feels guilt, fault, or blame after the death of their child, then listen, acknowledge, and mirror back to them. This is so much more powerful and authentic than any glib phrase. Please don’t tell them “It wasn’t your fault”
Sometimes the most empathetic-sounding statements can be the most unintentionally hurtful. “I would never survive it” implies you would choose death or suicide over living after the death of your child. This is a flippant thing to say. Please don’t.
While on a retreat with fellow loss parents after Adrian’s death, instead of asking “How are you?” each morning, we asked instead, “How is your morning going? How did you sleep?” And while it seems like a minor thing, it made a difference. It took the pressure off. It gave us space for honesty.
“He wouldn’t want you to be sad”—This is ridiculously untrue. Instead of telling the bereaved how to feel, or worse yet, speaking for the deceased, consider honoring both the life and the grief. Like any other authentic emotion, it is ALWAYS okay to be sad, especially after a death.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes you don’t understand the impact of your actions, or your failure to act, until the same situation happens to you. And when some of my own friends disappeared like I disappeared on my cousin, I understood how much it was hurtful. And I was filled with regret.
When someone we love is going through hard times, it is natural to want to fix things for them; to make things somehow “better”. However, that isn’t always what THEY want. When we aren’t sure of what’s needed, the best solution is often the simplest: Acknowledge, Listen, Help.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.