We have another wonderful piece from our friend, Kristin Jenson. Her experience is unique, special and beautiful. The grace in which she went through, (and continues to go through) life given the challenges she faced is completely exemplary .
Prior to my own experience with grief I was truly clueless about how to talk to someone who had experienced a loss. I very distinctly remember an experience I had where a friend of mine had lost her niece. My heart ached for her and her family. The next time I saw her I wanted to say something, I wanted to let her know how I felt, but I was at a loss for what to say. I didn’t want my comment to bring any pain or make her sad, but I also wanted her to know she was on my mind. Not knowing exactly how to navigate these waters made me uncomfortable and instead of saying something, I said nothing. I’m willing to guess that a lot of people have been in this situation. We don’t know what to say or how to say it so we say nothing. Speaking as someone who has been on both sides of this situation it is always better to say something. Hopefully some of my own experiences can help you next time you find yourself wondering what to say.
When I was 13 weeks pregnant I found out my daughter had a severe birth defect and would likely pass away before, during or shortly after birth. As people slowly started to learn of our situation the well-intended words of sympathy started to come. My daughter was born and spent six weeks with our family before she passed away. Then more well intended words of sympathy. During this time I received an outpouring of love from loved ones, friends, acquaintances and strangers. Everyone had the best intentions and truly wanted to comfort me, but sometimes I walked away upset, hurt, and in more pain than before.
1) Don’t compare situations
It’s just safer this way. I’m sorry you had a scare during your pregnancy where they thought your child might have a serious condition or birth defect. But if your child is healthy then it’s not the same. My child is not healthy, and the situation is not the same.
2) Don’t tell me the doctors might be wrong
Sometimes doctors make mistakes, but don’t you think I’ve gotten multiple opinions, done all the research I can, had several test, ultrasounds and MRI’s done to make sure this wasn’t one of those times? I have. The doctors aren’t wrong.
3) Don’t tell me you know how I feel
Unless you have held your child in your arms and watched them take their last breath you don’t know how I feel. Having lost a child, I still NEVER tell someone who has experienced a loss that I know how they feel. Grief, pain, heartache, everyone experiences these things differently. I don’t know how they feel, I just know how I felt during my experience.
4) Never start a sentence with the words “At least”
There is no “at least.” Nothing is better than having a healthy pregnancy/delivery/child.
5) Don’t tell me my child is in a better place
While I know they are in a better place, it’s not comforting to hear this. I want them to be with me.
6) I would die if I lost my child/ I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my child
No you wouldn’t. You would get through it. You’d have to. It sucks, it’s hard, I hope it never happens to you, but you’d survive it. Telling me you don’t know what you’d do just reminds me that I have to get through it. I don’t need that reminder.
Things to say. Here’s the thing. A lot of what you may say might sound too simple or insincere to you. That’s okay. Mean what you say and I will be able to feel your love, sympathy and compassion. Just say something, in doing so you are letting me know that I am not alone. You are also giving me the chance to talk about my feelings. Some people want to talk, talking helps, some people want to be left alone, but everyone wants to be thought of, so just say something, and mean it.
1) I’m thinking about you
2) You are in my thoughts
3) I love you
4) I’m praying for you. (But only say this if you really are. I need your prayers, I can feel their strength. Do it, don’t just say it.)
5) I’m so sorry
6) He/She is lucky to have you as their parent.
I always loved this because it reminded me that even though she wasn’t here she was still my child and others thought of her that way. Recognizing that child as part of the family, even once they’ve gone, is very much appreciated.
7) Call my child by their name.
If we are talking about my child and you call her by her name it will mean the world to me. Thank You!
One last thing I want to add is that parents who have lost children never “get over it.” There is no solution to this problem. Time does ease the pain, but it doesn’t go away completely. Here are a few things to keep in mind if someone you love losses a child.
-Every family will process and deal differently.
Some people will find a way to press on quickly. Others may stay in their pajamas for a few weeks. Be gentle, be loving, be sensitive.
-Check in on them.
So many people are anxious to help right after a loss, but after all that support goes away is when it can be the hardest. Let them know you haven’t forgotten them. We know life will go back to normal for everyone else, but it is so meaningful when someone acknowledges that it must be difficult for you to find your new “normal.”
-Triggers and Anniversaries
Remember even once it seems like they are “back to normal” they will still have “bad days.” There will be things that “trigger” their emotions and make the loss feel fresh. Baby showers can be a big trigger. Always invite them, no one wants to feel left out, but don’t be offended if they don’t come. We are still happy for you and your new bundle of joy, but being in an environment that is “all things baby” isn’t fun. Also, anniversaries are hard. Send them a text or a card, remembering their angel will mean the world. If you live close enough to visit the gravesite and leave flowers, a small toy, or even just send me a picture of you visiting my angel I will cry happy tears and know that you really love me.