You just got the phone call, email, visit and your world has changed forever. You've found out that your daughter/sister/aunt/friend has just lost a child. You feel so extremely helpless. You can't fathom her pain, and don't want to, it hurts too much.
As promised, here is part 2 to my series on Loss. What do you do when someone you love loses their child? What do you say? What shouldn't you say? What can you possibly do that will ease this tremendous pain? How can you possibly understand and offer any comfort at all?
These are common questions and feelings. I have not only been on the loss side, but on the comforting side. When Emma died I had someone that I could lean on completely. Jeremy lost the same child I did so sometimes I didn't want to weigh him down even more. Luckily I had my sister-in-law, Stephanie. So I asked Stephanie what advice she would have. She was so intimately involved in the grieving process for both Jeremy and me, but mostly me. She had this to say,
“Really the best advice I can give is to simply let the grieving parent feel whatever they are going to feel - don't try and fix it. It's really pretty scary because you're not sure what to say or do so I think the best thing was to just "let it be." That doesn't mean ignore the grieving parents - just don't try and justify the loss. Very simply just "be." I don't think I ever offered advice or anything like that because there was no way for me to know how you felt. I guess as for talking to you (because everyone always feel like they need to be talking through it when in all actuality I think simply sitting back and "being" quiet is worth it's weight in gold) I echoed what you were saying, whatever it was, even if I thought it sounded a little bizarre at the time (I'm not remembering anything specific). People feel so uncomfortable in this situation and sometimes they babble on needlessly - that's why I'm an advocate for just sitting back and listening and simply echoing what the parents are saying.”
She saved me. She was very important to me. I think that by telling you why she was important, you will learn how to help the person you love.
I called everyone I could think of trying to get a hold of my Mom and Stephanie. You see, Stephanie and my brother and their kids had just moved to Utah on Tuesday. It was now Saturday and my sweet baby girl lay dead in the hospital. They were staying with my parents. I called the home phone; no answer. I called my Mom's cell phone; no answer. I called my sister. She answered. I told her the terrible news and she couldn't believe it. She was in shock, as were we all, and drove to my folks house to deliver the terrible news. Stephanie was sick that day, very sick. However the next day, she and my Mom got on an airplane and flew to Kansas to be with us. She listened to me. She listened to me cry, scream, wail, bargain, weep. She listened to me talk about Emma – her life, what she'd done that week, that day. She listened to me talk about Emma's death over and over. I was trying to reconcile it in my brain and heart. She sat so patiently and listened to me. She continued to listen as much as I needed. She, at the time, was the Mother to 6 children. Six children who had just been uprooted from the life they knew and who just lost a cousin that was like a sister to them. She was the wife to a man who was watching his baby sister and her husband (who just happened to be his best friend) grieve the loss of their only child. She still made time to listen to me. For months and years she would listen. My sounding board. My best friend. She listened.
Remember the child who is gone. Remember important days. If the child died before birth, remember his/her due date, angel date (day the baby died) and birthdate. If the child died after birth, remember that birth and angel date. Those are really important days. Those are the pretty obvious dates to remember. But there are many other milestones that are difficult. The day that the child has been gone longer than they were here, all holidays, if the child had been sick for a long time, the day they found out the child was sick. These are all really important days to remember.
Talk about the child. Share your favorite memories, things you remember, what made you laugh about this child. Talk about what you think that s/he is doing now. What you think they would be like at a certain age.
Just remember them. Send a card to let your loved one know you are thinking of them. Anytime is a good time to send a card. Those of us who have lost a child never forget them, and we don't want anyone else to either. It means so much when people say, “I am thinking of you today”.
Never compare the loss of someone's child to any other kind of loss. I had someone tell my Mom (no joke here) that she completely understood what we were going through because her cat died. I'm just going to leave it at that.
No two losses are the same and no two people grieve the same. It always irritates me when people say, “I know exactly how you feel”. I'm sorry, but you don't. No one does. I have had several friends lose children since Emma died. I don't know exactly how they feel, I am not them. I only know how I felt and how I feel. That is the only comfort I can give. I can say, I know how I felt, how much it hurt and I am so sorry.
4.When in doubt...say I'm Sorry.
If you don't know what to say, and chances are you won't, just say I'm Sorry. It means more than you know.
5.Don't try to comfort with Religion.
This is a difficult one. Especially for those who have very strong faith. I know that I will see Emma again. I know that I will have the opportunity to raise her after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know that she is doing great and marvelous work in the Spirit World. I know that my family is forever. However when my arms are empty, my breasts are full and my heart is broken, none of that matters. Please do not say, “Well, at least you know you'll see her again”. Do not ever say that. It is of very little comfort and at times just makes the person grieving angry. If they don't know those things, wait until the time permits and they bring it up. It would be appropriate to say that if they were to ask you your thoughts on life after death. Or, if they are struggling and wondering if they will see their baby again. These are good times to bring it up.
6.Stages of Grief are not Linear
This is really important. Don't expect people to go through the Stages of Grief in order. It doesn't work that way. I can tell you that I have often felt anger, denial, acceptance, bargaining all within an hour. Don't expect that your loved one will get to acceptance and be done with it. They may go right back into denial in a heartbeat. The stages also don't manifest one at a time in a nice linear fashion. They are all over the place, just as their grief is.
I know that I said and did many things during the first year that were not kind. My family and friends very sweetly turned the other cheek and loved me anyway. Know that when someone loses their child, they are not thinking clearly. Their thoughts are dominated by those of their sweet children. They think of what their life could/would/and should have been like. Everything is about the child. Forgive them for things they may do to offend. They really don't realize it.
Food, cabbage leaves, sage and parsley tea, clean apartment, help moving, laughter, tissues, memories. These are a few of the numerous things that people did to help us. One of my friends, who lives in Louisiana, called a local sandwich shop and had a platter of sandwiches, chips and soda delivered to our house. My father-in-law went to the grocery store and stocked up on cabbage leaves (for my aching, swollen, milk-filled breasts), tissues and new towels (for all the milk I was leaking). Our dear friends cleaned our apartment when we were gone burying Emma, and filled our refrigerator with food so we could eat something when we came back. My Mom and brother came out and helped us move to Utah to be near our baby. The same friends that cleaned our apartment before, cleaned it again after we moved and we got our full deposit back. My sister-in-law found out that sage and parsley would help to dry up my milk. All of these people sat with us and gave us reason to laugh again, let us cry, and let us just be.
Encourage your loved to grieve in the way that works for them. For me, it was talking and writing. Whether it be a journal, a blog, or on a napkin, writing helped me. My Mom told me of one of her friends who, when her husband died, had a journal sitting in the living room. When different things happened, people could just pick up the journal and write in it. I am very grateful to have this. I couldn't dress Emma, so my Mom, Mother-in-law, sister and sister-in-law did it for me. To read their tender accounts of that experience helps to heal my broken heart. I am so grateful that they gave me that gift. Encourage your loved one through writing. Write down what is going on for them. Maybe they are not a writer, do it for them. Record this time, someday they will want to go back and read about it.
I know this one goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway. Love love love. Your loved one needs it more than ever right now.
I pray that no one ever has to go through this, but they do. More often than not, I am found by those who it has happened to. If you find yourself in this situation, print this off and give it to your loved ones so they can help you.