To all of our friends, family, relatives, co-workers, peers, distinguished alumni;
We know you mean to say something meaningful, sympathetic and meant to ease our grief and pain. We know you are reaching out to us in our time of need. We know you are trying to be our friend and our comfort.
In our bereavement groups we talk about what our friends and family say to us. And as nicely as I can put this, for all the grieving parents, please think before you speak. Think about what you are really saying. Think about the real meaning of your words. Think about it for a moment before you say it.
This is not a rant, or a bitching session, or letting off steam. This is one of the many topics we discuss in our bereavement parents meetings, and sometimes it hurts. We are strong enough not to respond to these phrases the way we would like to, but weak in that they really do hurt us. We are strong enough to make it past these conversations, but weak because we cry alone.
This is meant for anyone who is the friend of a bereaved parent. Many, many of us want to say what I am writing here, but don’t have the forum to say it – I do. So please, after you read this, and if you relate to it in any way, please share it. Please let others who are much more fortunate than us and have not experienced the grief we carry each day read this as well. You will be doing a great favor to so many people, and maybe sparing a grieving parent the pain of hearing what I am listing below.
1. “I know how you feel.” Are you serious? Do you really know what it is to lose a child? Do you know what it is like to lose the most precious thing you have ever held in your arms? Maybe you have lost a mother and/or father, even a sibling. But as we all know, that fails in comparison to the loss of a child. We don’t even know how we feel much of the time. Between the grief, between the crying, between the constant struggle to get out of bed every morning, we are at a loss for feelings much of the time. Please, no one really know how we feel but ourselves.
2. “He/She is in a better place now.” Really? Do you feel that our children that have been taken from us are in a better place now? Do you think they are better off there than here next to us? And I quote this from another grieving mother – “then tell me which one of your children would like to go to this better place tomorrow and be with my son.” I know is sounds a little harsh, but if my son is in a better place now, as some people believe, then is there a child of yours that you would want to join them? There is no better place than right here, right next to me, right in my arms, right here sleeping in his bed every night instead of where he is now.
3. “G-d only gives a person what they can handle.” I am not really sure what this means, or is meant to mean when it is said to someone. Most people can “handle” the loss of their child, as most people can handle just about anything. But to think that one person can handle the death of their child better than another, or that G-d makes a conscious decision that this person is stronger and can handle such a devastating loss is just nuts. We are not “handling” the loss of our children, we are simply living and dealing with it the best we can. When a devastating flood hits a certain region of the country, does G-d do that because those people can “handle” it better? Probably not. And we don’t handle it well. We cry, many of us stop working, most of us stop living our lives – that is not handling it. That is surviving.
4. “At least you have other children.” So the child that was taken from me was of less value, less love than the children I have left? I should be grateful that I still have my daughter and that minimizes the loss of my son? I know grieving parents that lost one of their three or four children, and it hurts just as much as the parent that lost their only child. You cannot put a value on each child, and when one is taken, the value of the remaining children goes up to compensate for the lost child? It does not work that way unfortunately. We love each and every one of our children, as everyone does, equally. We treat them the same, we love them the same, we try to make each of their lives unique. When one is taken it is devastating, and it actually hurts the other children that remain behind more than you can imagine.
5. “Everything happens for a reason.” Everything happens. Period. Is there a reason why it happens? Probably not. When the father of a family of four dies in a car crash, or the doctor working on a cure for cancer dies, is there a reason? Is the reason that our children died part of some divine plan? How about when someone loses their job and their life is ruined – is there a reason for that? There is no reason my son died – or none that I can accept. It was an accident, and that’s it. For someone to say that there was a reason behind it hurts. How would you feel sitting in the hospital with a broken back and someone comes in and tells you that your fall happened for a reason? How would you feel?
6. “You’re so strong.” No, Not really. We are not that strong. We are surviving. That’s it. We cry every day, usually more than once. We see our children’s rooms and their prized possessions and our knees give out and we lean against the wall for support. We rely on the calls and e-mails and the support of other grieving parents to get us to keep moving forward in our lives. When we smile, we are trying to be happy. When we laugh, which is rare, we are laughing because our children want us to laugh. When we are with others and appear to have a good time with them, we do so because we know our children would want us to have a good time. Then we leave, and cry in the car the whole way home because our children are not here with us.
7. “You make it through the first year – the worst is over.” And your basis for knowing this pearl of wisdom is what? You’ve went through the loss of a child and have some insight that we do not have, or that other grieving parents do not have. As a matter of fact, the second year is worse than the first – or so we hear from so many in our situation. The one year mark is a milestone. We have had the first Thanksgiving without Andrew. We have had the first New Years Eve, a night we have always spent together, without our son by our sides. We have celebrated his birthday last year with our friends and family, but Andrew was not there. And you know something? We are going to celebrate it this year as well. We are going to toast him on New Years Eve, and we are going to miss him at Passover reading the four questions. All this is in year two, as it was in year one, and it will be just as hard, if not harder. And in year three and four and five. Yea, we made it through the first year, but the worst is yet to be.
8. “Are you better now?” Actually no. I will never be “better.” I will move ahead with my life, I will work when I can, I will one day go out and have a good time – but I will never be better. I lost my son, how can I ever really be better? I might be good one day, the whole in my heart will be bearable to live with, but it will always be there. I will never be the person I was before I lost Andrew. None of us will ever be better. We have all changed. This goes the same with “are you over your grief now?” No, we are never over our grief. Our children are gone, forever. We will never be over grieving for them.
9. “I didn’t want to bring up your son/daughter because I didn’t want to remind you of him/her.” Please, don’t worry about reminding us of our children. They are on our minds from when we wake in the morning with a tear in our eyes to when we fall asleep crying at night. We think about them when we sit at our desks, when we are at breakfast and when we eat without them at dinnertime. They are always on our minds – more than anything else, ever. What would be nice is if you did talk about our children – if you are comfortable and strong enough to do that, we would like that. It shows us that you care, that you are our friend, that you, too, miss our children. My closest friends talk about Andrew with us all the time, and mostly in the present tense. The help us remember him and remind us that he will never be forgotten by anyone.
10. “I don’t deal well with death.” Neither do we. We hate the fact that we have to deal with the death of our children, but we have to. We deal with it every day. We know there are many people don’t deal well with death. They will come to the funeral, come sit shiva, go to a wake. But then they disappear because they can’t deal with death. Maybe they are afraid that it will effect their children, maybe they are afraid to be uncomfortable during a conversation, I don’t know. Some people who don’t deal well with hospitals and won’t visit friends when they are in the hospital. Maybe because of infections, or because they can’t look at sick or ill people. That is pretty understandable. . .almost. But not having the ability to overcome your fear of dealing with death to comfort and help a friend who desperately needs it in their time of sorrow? There are still friends of ours who we have not spoken to much, if at all. Now a year later, because we are told that they can’t deal with death. We’re sorry that the death of our child makes you uncomfortable.
“I am sorry for your loss.”
A gentle hug.
That is all we seek.