A friend of ours lost her son a few months ago – which happened to be over the summer. She is a school teacher and has decided it is time to return to work, now that we are in November. The school year is in full swing; it’s been three months and she is ready to face her colleagues, her friends, and her students. Without consulting her, the principal sent out an e-mail to the staff about how to treat her, how to greet her in the hallway, how to react to her. It was a very thoughtful gesture on his part. He had great intentions of educating the staff about how to deal with a bereaved mother. I do applaud him.
What he is doing is something that all bereaved parents have to do – educate others. We cannot rely on common sense – there is no common sense when it comes to the loss of a child. We cannot rely on a book or an article – there are so few of them out there. We have to do it ourselves – for our own sanity and for our own sake. We have to let people know that they can interact with us, and that we need that interaction – but the interaction needs to be on our terms and our needs.
There are so many other parents who tell me that their friends don’t know what to say, they don’t know if they should hug them or just smile. Many of our friends and family don’t know how to react when they see us, and even wonder if it is better to avoid seeing us to avoid the potential crying. I know from my own experiences with family and friends that many people just don’t know how to approach me – if at all. They are at a loss as to what to say, how to act, to mention Andrew or not. So it is up to me, as well as the other parents in my situation to educate those whom I care about. How do we do that?
Unfortunately, I will not give you the answer, there is no answer. There is no right or wrong. Everyone and every situation is different. What I can do is offer you some guidance that I have learned over the past two-plus years, not just from my own experiences, but from the dozens of stories I have heard from other parents in groups I attend.
Some time during our first year Dorothy and I were shopping at the local supermarket. As we were a few feet down an aisle, we noticed an old acquaintance/friend enter the aisle from the other side. We didn’t make eye contact, and I am sure she did not realize we saw her. She slowly and purposely backed out of the aisle and went on her way. We did not see her the rest of that shopping trip – nor since. That, my dear friends, is not the way to deal with us. I have also heard very similar stories told at least a dozen times by other parents, so this friend was not alone in her loss for what to do.
All we ask is a simple “hi, how are you doing?”, “I am thinking of you.” Something nice and sweet, that is all we ask. If you want to hug us, that’s great, we live for meaningful hugs these days. “I wish I had the right words for you, just know that I care.” That works. You can tell us that we are in your thoughts and prayers – we always appreciate that. There are so many positive sentiments that we enjoy hearing.
Silence is golden. That’s crap. Silence is the last thing we need now. We have a deafening silence caused by our children that we will never hear again – we don’t want that from our friends and family.
Giving us our space. Another crap thought. We don’t need our space. The space that exists now between us and our child is more than we can bear. We need to know that people care. We need to see people and to talk to them. We need to hold your hand and feel your love. If we are uncomfortable and need some space, we can walk outside, or go to our room. But that is our choice. We have all the space we need, come into it and show us you care.
Don’t imagine how we are feeling. Don’t think about how we are doing in our situation. Just ask us. We might not give you the answer that you are looking for. The answer might not be a happy one or a positive one. That is who we are now. But please ask, and truly listen to our answer. As time goes on, our answer will be a better one. As time goes on we do start to heal and we do start to smile. And we need you there then as much as we did in the beginning. We need people to help us heal and to be there for us, to share in our lives and to share in whatever joy or happiness we do have.
We know that you don’t know what we are going through – and we never want you to know our pain. We know that you are lost in how to treat us and how to talk with us – your are not the only one who doesn’t know what to say or do. We know all this. And yet we still want you near us, we still want you to be our friends, we still want you to hug us. We might cry at times, and if that makes you feel uncomfortable, we are sorry. But you also make us smile, and so few things make us smile these days.
If you are ever with us and the air become stale, the tension is great, and you are at a loss as to what to talk about – mention our son or daughter’s name, talk about our children. Tell us a story – even if you told us the same story a hundred times. There is a saying of Facebook i read and it is so meaningful – “I heard the sweetest word today – someone said my son’s name.” That is true. You can always ask about my son, I love to talk about him. Or you can talk about him, we love that as well. Mention his name and we light up.
That’s all we ask – just be there for us, reach out to us, and let us know you care.