I am often asked my opinion on what people should say to someone who has just lost a child or baby. Not because I’m some kind of specialist or professional, but because of my personal experience on the issue.
My usual response is that while there are No Magic Words to say to someone who has lost a baby, “I’m here for you,” or “I’m so sorry,” or something to indicate that you acknowledge that child as important and you are willing to listen if they want to talk, are good responses. But they should certainly say something because avoidance can be very hurtful.
Today I’d like to approach this topic from another angle. I have some ideas about when it’s better for you to just keep your thoughts to yourself. Cue the Allison Krause tune: “When You Say Nothing at All…”
I was recently scrolling through my Facebook feed and I saw a post by a friend of mine who also lost one of her twins from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. The post broke my heart. A family member wrote her a message and told her they were very concerned for her other children because she continues to keep her dead child alive in conversation. And that perhaps it would be better for her to close that chapter, let it go, stop talking about him, and move on. Her other children would be better off. In the opinion of this person.
This made me irate. For a number of reasons.
First of all, who are YOU to determine if something is right or not for someone’s child? Did you birth them? Were you awakened night after night by them? Did you care for them when they were ill? Do you spend every day with them, talk to them, hold them when they are hurting, ask them questions? Do you worry over feeding them and clothing them and teaching them good from bad?
Were you there when the doctor told you that your child would die? Were you there when you birthed one live child and simultaneously said good-bye to that child’s literal other half?
Truthfully you have no idea what is best for that family. You have your own preconceived notions about what is happening based on your life, your beliefs, your values, and your experiences. Not HER’S. And not her children’s.
Yes, you may be part of the family. Maybe you know her better than some other people. Maybe you don’t really know her at all. You may see some posts on social media. Sure, you’ve seen some pictures, or heard snippets of information. But you are not on the inside. You are not in a position to make decision that are in the best interest of the other children.
Especially if you’ve never walked the road of grief like this. You have no idea if any issues the children are having is a direct result of the deceased child being included in the family. You. Have. No. Idea.
Secondly, it goes against all that the grief and loss community is working toward with the “Break the Silence” campaign. Advocates in the grief community are trying so hard to encourage mothers to acknowledge their losses and their grief, which is a tremendous step in the healing process. For you to tell someone that they need to just get over it, put it behind them, and move on further erodes the progress toward compassion and understanding we are trying to grow.
Third, this is only one of many, many incidents I have been told about/seen/heard/read about lately. We seem to be in a place where people feel it is their mission in life to tell you how to run your life. It’s not. Unless a child is in danger because of their mother’s actions, consider keeping your opinions private.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand from the person’s point of view who felt the need to “advise” the mother in question. I have often looked at the way other people handle their grief and their own personal situations and wondered if they were handling it in a healthy way. It’s human nature I suppose.
I am certain there are people amongst my friends and family who wonder if I have gone to far in keeping Kathryn’s memory alive. I will never forget how badly the words stung when someone close to me once told me,
“Your family would be so much happier if you spent half as much time focusing on your living children as you do on your dead child.”
How does that help anyone?
Compassion. Have some. Show some. If you think that someone’s family may be in a bad place, rather than tell them what you think they should be doing, why don’t you spend a little more time trying to understand why they are doing things that seem crazy to you.
Maybe they need help.
Maybe they just need someone to listen.
I guarantee what they do NOT need is for you to pass judgement on them.
If you feel strongly that you need to say some things to a grieving mother about how she is or is not handling the situation, I do have an idea that might work.
I encourage you to hand write a letter and put it away someplace safe. Think about it for a few days. Think about what they are going through. Maybe call her and ask her how she is doing and how the family is doing.
You might save yourself from ending a relationship with a person that you care about.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.