The death of a child is out of order. Parents are not supposed to bury their children, and it’s an event that shakes a parent to the core. Many parents are not only grieving the actual death of their child, but also the loss of hopes, dreams and a future.
What to Say…and What Not to Say
If you know someone who is hurting after the loss of his/her child, you may not know what to say. Although well-intended, sometimes a cliché phrase hurts more than anything else. Your experience may be different, but here are some conversations my husband and I found helpful.
Say “I’m sorry.” My husband and I agree that those who reached out to us with these two words brought us so much more comfort than if we’d not heard from them at all. When in doubt, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say,” is all you need to say.
Just be there. You don’t have to say anything. Just be there for a phone call, to sit and watch while I cry, to respond to a text when it’s a bad day. I’m so grateful for the people who offered their ears, time and arms whenever we wanted a friend.
Say “I’m here with you.” Not for you. It shows you’ll walk through grief together, no matter how long it takes, even though it can be uncomfortable and exhausting.
Remember Dad and other family members. I got a lot of the attention when Ashlie was born. My husband watched as I opened countless gifts and notes addressed to me. I know people thought of him, but they didn’t say it as frequently. He loved her as much as I did, and he’s hurting, too. Remember that fathers, grandparents and siblings also lose a child.
Say “I thought of you today.” If that parent crosses your mind, tell her. Send him a text and let him know. I can’t describe how comforting it is to still get messages that people are thinking of us. It means they haven’t forgotten, and to me, that’s the greatest legacy Ashlie could have left.
Talk about the child. Use his name. Talk about memories you have with her. A parent won’t forget, so please don’t be afraid you’re digging up a painful memory. Just acknowledge that our child was here and real. I love when people talk about Ashlie, even though she was here for just a short time.
Follow their lead. When I talk about Ashlie, I usually refer to “the day she was born,” or “before she was born.” I’ve chosen not to say “before Ashlie died,” because, to me, her life began the day I found out I was pregnant. She was alive before she was ever in my arms. It brings the hurt back all over again when people refer to her death.
“You’ll have other children.” Ashlie was our first child. We had hopes and dreams for HER and how she would make us parents. I pray we DO have other children, but one will always be missing. Another child will not take her place, nor will it make us “feel better” about her passing.
“Your child is in a better place.” This implies that our home and our arms weren’t suitable enough, that we weren’t competent to raise a child. We believe in Heaven, and I’m sure it’s pretty great, but I’d much rather have her here with us right now.
Everything happens for a reason. I don’t want to be part of whatever “the reason” is. I know I’m supposed to feel like God’s got this under control, but right now I’d give anything for our path to be different. I don’t want this to be part of our life.
God needed another angel. This correlates with the “better place” condolences. God has lots of angels. Why did he need our daughter, too?
I know how you feel. Even if someone has lost a child, a father, a sister, etc., it wasn’t OUR daughter, or in the same circumstances. While there may be similarities, and I sincerely appreciate the empathy, no one but me knows how I feel. You may be able to relate, but you don’t know how I feel. We all walk this path a different way.
Let me know if you need anything. To this day, there are still times I don’t even know what I need, except our daughter back. My answer is usually, “Don’t worry, we’re fine,” because I don’t want to burden anyone. I am so grateful for the people who said, “I’ll bring lasagna tomorrow at 6,” or “Send me your customer list. I’m calling them.” I could have said no if I wanted. Except I usually didn’t.
It will get easier. Especially at the beginning, I didn’t see us ever laughing again, enjoying life or being happy. It made me feel like I wasn’t “fixing” myself fast enough because it wasn’t getting easier. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t. It’s still as hard today as it was when we learned she was gone. We just find a way to deal with it, because the world keeps moving whether we want to or not. We never, ever forget–we adapt and ride the ups and downs of grief.
We’re never given more than we can handle. When we were in the throes of that initial grief, I didn’t feel like I was handling anything. We literally felt our entire lives come crashing down. I still wonder how we’re supposed to live the rest of our lives without her. Some don’t “handle” their grief and become destructive to themselves or others. I believe we all have a limit, but that doesn’t mean I want mine tested.