by Aly Elliot
“Were you still exercising?”
“Were you taking medication?”
“Did you raise your hands over your head?”
“Must be some genetic problems in your family, right?”
The questions that bereaved families hear when their child dies are endless and, often, careless.
It seems to me that they’re searching for a way to blame me for my child’s death. They are grasping for a reason.
I remember waiting for my daughter’s pathology to come back after her unexplained death. I desperately wanted answers.
Then, when it came down to hours that we might know, I suddenly didn’t want to know.
I worried that the reason would haunt me, my husband, my other child, our future children.
Maybe I shouldn’t know. Every time someone asked me one of those questions, a tiny part of me wondered if it was my fault somehow.
Did I do something wrong, unknowingly? Could I have done something differently or better?
Did I want to know that? Could I live with the answer?
Today is 13 years since my daughter’s death. Time and perspective have taught me a lot. As news around me flutters back and forth about COVID-19, I see those questions take different forms.
The questions explain away each death with an excuse as to why:
“They were old.”
“They were stressed.”
“They had diabetes.”
“They went on a plane after the pandemic started.”
“They didn’t go to the hospital soon enough.”
It sure sounds like blame to me. If those people had done something differently, they’d be alive.
But here’s what I’ve learned in these 13 years: those questions about how and why someone died don’t have anything to do with the dead or the bereaved.
They have everything to do with the person asking them.
Those are the people explaining to themselves why it won’t happen to them – a selfish and very human response.
To those of us who’ve been on the losing end of statistics, the reasons don’t matter as much as the outcome.
To people who haven’t, they are talking themselves off a ledge of anxiety. They’re making sure they know they’re bulletproof.
They’re making sure the dead and bereaved have slipped somehow because that way if they don’t, they don’t have anything to worry about.
I found a lot of peace after understanding that my answers to them don’t matter. They’ll hear what will bring them peace.
And what brings them peace – doesn’t have to take away mine.