Dealing with someone who has experienced an unspeakable loss (of a baby or child of any age) is often difficult for friends and family. Here is a quick guide for dealing with those who are suffering. These are my experiences, all are true. My son died  of gM1 Gangliosidosis after 15 months and three weeks of life. 

PLEASE DON’T SAY:

  • “Are you trying to have another one?” -As if a replacement will help.
  • “What did you do to your HAIR, I HATE it!” -shouted at me  the day after my baby died, as I opened the door to a now departed relative. She had avoided me while my son was dying.  This was in response to a short, dark hair cut. My hair was not a priority at that moment. Apparently, it horrified her and she just had to let me know. In short, use your brain.
  • “Oh, I forgot. The rest of us have NO problems compared to YOURS.” -a relative’s favorite response to any attempt by me to put any problem in perspective, even if I don’t mention my late son.
  • We KNOW!” in an exasperated tone, when expressing grief or your new-found (or old) pain at attending (or refusing to attend) baby showers or infant/toddler’s birthday parties. Sadly, very close family were the worst offenders.
  • “Maybe God meant for you not to have a child . . .” (after a death of a 15 month old and many years of frustrating, failed infertility treatments.) Again, a close relative.
  • “At least you didn’t have time to become attached.”  (Blink)
  • “You are so lucky you don’t have kids!”
  • “You can have another one, can’t you?”
  • “Oh, you can’t? Why don’t you adopt!?”
  • The disease (that killed your son) only hits 1 in 100,000? You should play the lottery!” {THIS WAS SAID TWICE}
  • “Wow, you have the worst luck.”
  • Nothing. The pain of people simply dropping out of one’s life as if their child’s illness  and death is contagious to their children is horrible. 
  • “Are you still upset about that? It has been # months/years.”
  • “You really should keep your grieving private. Just between you and  your husband.” (said to someone I know)

BONUS: If a child is dying: DO NOT SAY THE FOLLOWING:

  • Have you gained weight?  – another relative. Ignoring my child, who we brought to a family function because nobody wanted to come to visit us in the city because of the parking. We had to bring our nurse and a portable oxygen pack, but really, my weight was the REAL issue.
  • If you are an MD at a teaching hospital, please don’t make guesses at the baby’s life span to your med students as if he were livestock in front of his 23 year old mother.
  • Again, if you are an MD, don’t say, in response to a missing immunization card, “it’s not like he is going to be going to kindergarten!” Dr. Lynne Karlson of New England Medical Center‘s Floating Hospital said both comments to me. I was stunned at her lack of humanity. I still am all these years later.
  • Just keep praying for a miracle. (in a tone implying that we haven’t prayed hard enough–not helpful)
  • And my personal favorite: “You should be happy you will have an angel in heaven now!”

It has been a long time, but I still bristle at the thought of those comments.

I learned that the people you THINK will stick by you might not, but God always puts someone else in your life to take his or her place. I have seen it happen over and over.

Don’t Discourage Talking About the Loss

Sometimes, people who think that they are doing the grief-stricken a favor by urging them NOT to talk about the death are thinking about themselvesTHEY don’t want to be uncomfortable so they attempt to make the one who had to bury their loved one feel guilty for sharing their feelings. If you don’t want to listen, read a blog, or look at a photo, don’t. But, keep your feelings of discomfort to yourself and thank GOD that you only had a millisecond of it, and not a lifetime.

The last thing someone dealing with grief needs is guilt about how their feelings effect YOU. It is not about you. You will be dealing with grief someday yourself so try a little empathy.

Sometimes just acknowledging that the grieving woman is having a bad day is enough. Birthdays, death anniversaries, holidays are often very hard for someone who has lost a child. Some people go overboard, but most don’t. Tact and kindness go a long way here.

If you are dealing with grief yourself and don’t like the way someone else is dealing with their grief, recognize that people grieve differently and keep your negative comments to yourself.

DO SAY:

The best thing to say in almost all situations like this is “I am so sorry.”  A hug is nice, too. Or, if you are so inclined, “. . .tell me about your son/daughter.”  It won’t make your friend worse. If she cannot talk about it, she won’t. More likely, she will be delighted to tell you about her child. One of the worst things about losing a child is the fear that he or she will be forgotten, even to the parent herself. Talking about it at times, helps.

How are you getting along? If you need to talk, I’m here.

And mean it. Like almost everything in nature, feelings need to be let out. If they don’t, they fester and explode or worse, back up and become poison. Listen to your friend. Ask her how she is doing physically. Encourage her to take care of herself. Sometimes, grieving can lead to depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or even suicidal thoughts.

Keep an eye on your friend. You can kindly steer the grief-stricken friend to talk about other things if you think she is stuck. Or maybe get her a book like How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, by Therese Rando. 

Isolation makes everything worse. If you care, listen. It will do wonders. Invite your friend to do things to get her out of the house. Scrapbook parties, exercise classes, shopping, comedic movies, walking your dogs–anything is better than sitting in an empty house.

Keep asking. Sometimes she won’t accept an invite. But she will come around. Don’t give up.

Take it from someone who knows. Losing friends along with a child just adds to the tragedy. Don’t let it happen.

I love you. Everyone needs to hear that. ❤

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