Educating People – Educating Others

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.

Andrew Greg Todd Hugging

Hugging your best friends.

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.

Andrew Nicole KateDon’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.

Andrew smilingIf 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.



11 thoughts on “Educating People – Educating Others

  1. Joanne Frizalolne

    The evolution of your writings shows your own transition over the last two years. There is a sense of understanding and hope in your more recent posts. Best to you and Dorothy.

  2. Marcia Sklar

    Thank you is all I can think of to say at this moment. I am sorry I never had the chance to meet Andrew, but your words, stories,
    and pictures you lovingly display give a glimpse into a beautiful soul. Howard and I think of you and Dorothy often. Marcia Sklar

  3. Kathy

    Thank you for this beautiful message. Is it possible to post this on my Facebook page? If so how would I do that? We are bereaved parents also.

  4. Susan wallace

    Beautiful and very eye-opening. I know that I have avoided people because I wasn’t sure about what to say in certain situations. Reading about the perspective of the “injured”, I realize that just a few words can make a difference. Thank you, Perry, for continually opening my mind…

  5. Dawn

    Excellent Perry and you should write a book. God has given you.the ability to write.words.of wisdom and comfort through a cup.that no parent wants to.drink from yet so many have I know parents all over the world need to read your.writings. Im praying for you and your family

  6. Graham's Mom

    What you write is so true! Especially the part about people telling us a story about our child! However, it is difficult when people casually ask how I’m doing, since they typically want a positive answer (and I wish I could give them one). I prefer when people just say hello and don’t ask how I’m doing unless they are truly willing to listen.

  7. Sally Klein

    So well put, Perry! I have been having such dread about the upcoming holidays and missing my daughter more than ever and your post has made me feel better knowing I can rely on you and the other TCF who understand only too well what I am going through as we are all suffering through it this time of year.

    Thank you!

  8. Jen

    Dear Perry,

    I, too, am so sad about your loss of Andrew. What a gorgeous boy!

    We have both experienced such terribly tragic losses. In a few days it will be 3 1/2 years and I’m still in shock and disbelief. I’m hoping that someday the pain softens, but right now it still feels like I am being crushed under the weight of a boulder that I have no choice but to carry with me wherever I go. No one can carry it for me, but it does help to know that I can communicate honestly with other bereaved parents.

    Thanks for writing your blog about Andrew. You’re doing all the work, my comments are just my 2 cents worth. I also appreciate hearing a father’s perspective, since few bereaved fathers are writing blogs.

    By the way. I am also Jewish and Graham was a Bar Mitzvah (although later he considered himself an atheist).

    Hugs to you, Jennifer

  9. Harold Tepper

    Hi Perry: This is really helpful to myself and many others who will read it. All of your writings have been excellent, meaningful, helpful and moving. Harold


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