When you suffer the loss of a child, your life will take you down an uncharted path as you begin to face grief. One of the things you’ll encounter along this path are unprepared comforters — those whose intentions are to make your grief more bearable. Unfortunately, this group of comforters are at a disadvantage in the know-how, thus their words fall just short of their intended target. It would be easy to label these less-effective comforters as hurtful, but let’s not act to hasty. For the most part, everyone you interact with, who is aware that your child has passed, has good intent, well-meaning wishes and wants the best for you as you face your new broken world.
With the variety of people who are in your life, you can expect all sorts of clichéd one-liners, awkward hugs, speechless communicating, moments of uneasy silence mid-conversation and blank stares. Of all the things we learn as we go through life, learning how to express grief and sorrow is not among them until you are face to face with it.
While we who have lost a child are learning to deal with life after the child is gone, it is vitally important to remember that friends and family are also learning how to deal with the new you after the child is gone. It is an incredibly high learning curve for both sides. As desperately as you want your child back, they want the old you back. Their eagerness to obtain that goal can be where things begin to unravel. As the ones hurting, we often unknowingly place high expectations on those around us. When they fail those expectations (and they almost assuredly will) we can get hurt, sever ties and experience secondary losses as the collateral damage piles up around us.
My wife and I heard a wide variety of seemingly insensitive remarks. While still in the hospital after delivering our stillborn daughter, there were already suggestions from friends saying it was time for us to begin moving on. Why couldn’t we just shake it off and let the grief go already? They supported this charge by comparing our progress to those who had allegedly handled a similar loss better.
We were shocked and angered. We began to isolate ourselves. We let the bitterness of someone’s misdirected words fester and begin to take root in our hearts. We spent much of the time, that should’ve been directed towards our grieving process, rehashing hurtful words. The double-edged sword of emotion was only injuring us. It took many hard months to learn this lesson and more importantly realize we couldn’t get the lost time back.
As if dealing with our loss wasn’t a big enough assignment, we had another difficult task to add to our to-do list. It was solely our responsibility to educate, engage and give the benefit of the doubt when dealing with others who were unsure of how to react to our loss. Taking on this new responsibility can be extremely difficult in the beginning. After all, we are the ones hurting. We are the ones who need to be catered to. It seems so wrong to think that it is our responsibility to make others comfortable.
If you have found yourself in this situation, I challenge you to change your outlook. Motivation to connect with others, and consider their side of your grief may seem backwards. This isn’t an easy task, but easy left the moment we said goodbye. In the end it will be worth it. For those of you fortunate enough to have a strong, understanding support system — never take it for granted.