1. Don’t Tell Me How Strong You Think I Am
I didn’t choose to be strong. I didn’t pick this path for myself. Being strong is not the badge of honor you’re implying it is when you’re trying to compliment me and my efforts at not completely falling apart. I’m just doing my best to carry on. If there are others in the same position who didn’t make it as far or couldn’t handle being strong that day, don’t demean them by telling me how well I’m doing. It doesn’t change anything, for them or for me.
2. Don’t Tell Me My Child Has Survived So Long Because I Take Such Good Care of Him/Her
The cemeteries are full of people who were “good fighters”, and children whose parents took just as good of care of them.
3. Don’t Tell Me You’re Glad You’re Not Me
Duh. I wish I wasn’t in this position either. Thanks for pointing out how crappy it is, I didn’t realize…
4. Don’t Tell Me You Could Never Be Me Or Do What I Do
That’s a nice thought, again intended to compliment or praise, but the truth is that none of us ever thought we could handle something like this and more realistically still…you’re only saying this because just don’t want to imagine having to. It’s a natural defense, the inability to conceive of such a notion, but unfortunately I don’t have the luxury myself.
5. Don’t Talk About How Things Will Be “When This Is Over”
I don’t know how things will be, so you certainly don’t know how things will be. Furthermore, I can guarantee, that for any parent living through the terminal illness of their child “this” being over is unfathomable because that means their child will be gone.
6. Don’t Tell Me He’s/She’s In A Better Place
Assuming you know me well enough to know my religious beliefs, even so, please refrain from offering this useless platitude. For a mother facing the loss, or impending loss of her child, even one who believes in the idea of a better place, this does not help. What the mind can logically process the heart can never truly understand, and for that reason it will never feel ok that our children are not here with us and in our arms.
7. Don’t Tell Me You Understand
Unless you’ve lived the same life as me and suffered the same loss that I have, please, don’t ever tell me you understand. It doesn’t matter to me that your cousin, or parent, or dog died. It’s not the same. Even as another mother, your mind may allow you enough logic and reason to comprehend what the loss of a child is, but I tell you truly, you will never know what it is I feel.
8. Don’t Tell Me It Will Be Ok
You don’t know that, and for some of us it isn’t. Don’t downplay the magnitude of this trial.
9. Don’t Tell Me It’s Time…For Anything
There will be no “moving on”, there will only be moving past. Don’t tell me, based on your narrow outside view when it’s time for me to stop crying, start working, laugh more, yell less, go out, be social, or act “normal” again. I can’t predict when I’ll be ok doing those things, and you don’t have the authority to decide for me.
What you can do is:
1. Just Be There
Don’t stop coming around because it’s difficult for you. I’m sorry that it’s a sad situation. I’m sorry you don’t know how to talk to me. I’m sorry you’re sorry. I may not be best company, or the funnest party goer, but I don’t want to lose the people around me on top of losing my child just because it’s hard for you. I don’t want to be forgotten about.
2. Let Me Be, Let Me Feel
Don’t try to cheer me up or lighten the mood. Sometimes a mood shouldn’t be lightened. I need to process my feelings and get through my grief in my own way at my own pace. Sadness is a big part of loss, I won’t be happy all the time. Conversely, if I am happy, please let me feel my way through that as well. These emotions may change very quickly and I may experience them at inconvenient times, but it’s all part of the challenges of my learning to live life in a new way.
3. Tell Me About Your Problems
I still care about what’s going on in your life. I still want to be included in what’s happening around me. Yes, I’m dealing with something big, but it doesn’t meant that I don’t recognize struggles of any size. You don’t have to keep things from me because you think I already have enough to worry about
4. Don’t Ask What You Can Do For Me, Just Do
Yes, my laundry needs done, yes my grass needs mowed, yes, dinner needs to be cooked…no, I won’t ask you for any of it. And chances are that when you ask if I need anything, I say “Oh that’s ok, I’m fine.” Just bring a meal, come mow the yard, make arrangements for my husband and I to have a night out, give me a gift certificate for a massage, take me to get a pedicure, include our other children in activities. Show me that you care about me even when I can’t reciprocate.
5. Don’t Forget About Us Down The Road
When a crisis hits people tend to rally, and fast, but ever so slowly they taper off and the large group surrounding you offering support diminishes. A year or two or even more on we still need to know that you think about us, that you remember our situation, that you still care. As time goes on our trials may be different, but trials we will still have. No one ever wants to look up and feel deserted. Keep checking in with us, and keep showing us you’re still there for us.
6. Say My Child’s Name
It will not upset me. I will not be hurt. I did not forget that he/she died. Show me that you didn’t either. Say their name, it’s music to my ears. Give me a reason to talk about him/her. I need to know that’s it’s ok to say his/her name to you. I think about my child as much as you think about yours. You may have already heard the stories and seen the pictures, but please let me keep sharing his/her life with you. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, but he/she is a person who existed, and I need to know that you remember that.
If you’ve lived through the loss of a child yourself, I invite you to respond to this post with information regarding what experiences from friends and family helped you, as well as what didn’t.
Miss Elliott, age two, in her mother’s arms. October, 2010.