||[Jun. 30th, 2014|10:44 am]
Many years ago, I was happily pregnant. Then-husband John and I were excited about Baby Number Two. I'd had an easy first trimester and was well into my second when tragedy struck. Stung by wasps, I had a mild anaphylactic reaction and miscarried. We were camping with friends eighty miles from the civilization when I came back from the outhouse, bleeding profusely. There was a rush to the hospital, but nothing to be done. John and I were both heartbroken.|
My mother-in-law flew in to help with Erin. She took over cooking, kept my busy four-year-old entertained, and was generally great. Until the day she made what was supposed to be a comforting observation. "You know," she said, "sometimes when this happens it's because things went wrong. When I was working as a nurse, you'd see women come in miscarrying, but all that came out was a blob with teeth and some hair."
I know she was trying to comfort me with "maybe this is for the best." But all I could here was, "Your grief is invalid and you are foolish for having it. Stop being so self-centered."
I eventually got over the miscarriage, but I never completely got over the callousness of that remark.
I hear of, and read of, people attempting to console the grieving with remarks like:
--S/he is in God's hands now
--It's all part of God's plan
--S/he is an angel now
--Imagine how happy s/he is in heaven
--S/he now has the best parent a child could ever have (yes, I know someone who had to hear that)
You may THINK you are providing comfort by talking about the wonderfulness of an afterlife, but I guarantee you that, with few exceptions* the grieving parent or spouse or sibling or child is HEARING "You should stop all this silly grieving; it's selfish." Even if the deceased was old or suffered a long-term, debilitating illness, don't assume that the grieving are okay with having their pain treated as a self-indulgent triviality.
Only one person EVER has been able to say something like this and get away with it: Jesus. And Jesus only got away with it because the next thing that he did was raise Lazarus from the dead. If Jesus had just told Mary and Martha that Lazarus would rise in the afterlife and then gone on his merry way, they probably would have secretly thought he was kind of a jerk. So unless your next action is going to be raising the dead, then stop saying crap like this. You are actively wounding those already in grief when you say such things.
I hear the excuse of, "People don't mean to cause hurt; they just don't know what to say." So let's make this simple. Here is the guide of the things you should say:
--I'm so very sorry.
--I'm so very sorry. Can I come over on Tuesday and do your laundry?
--I'm so very sorry. Here is an easily-rewarmed dinner that can go in your freezer.
--I'm so very sorry. Let's make up your grocery list, then I can go to the store for you or I can take you if you want to come.
--I'm so very sorry. Can I take your kids on a playdate?
--I'm so very sorry. I'm here to spend time with you. We can talk, or we can just watch TV.
--I'm so very sorry. I'd like to tell you one of my wonderful memories of your loved one, if that's okay.
I hope by now you are detecting a pattern, and realize that this list is just a jumping-off point. Offer your condolences, and then offer something concrete by way of assistance. Accept rebuffs of offers as something that might seem too overwhelming for now. Check in again next week, next month, over the next few months. Don't just say, "Call me if you need anything." They never will, because they are too overwhelmed to know what they need
If the person who is grieving wants to talk to you about it, they will take the lead. If they don't, then stop after "I'm sorry."
*There are some people who find much comfort in faith. You should still only start with "I'm sorry" and let them take the lead on any talk of God or heaven.
When my brother died, now 21 years ago, he'd been ill most of his life. People said stuff like "well, he's out of his pain now." I did know they were trying to help, but it never did. As I get older I realize that - as you say here - I'm sorry is always the best thing to say first And sometimes it's the only thing to say. You (already know you) post great advice here. Always worth thinking about. People want to help and, in a case like this, just don't know what to say.
I'm so very sorry.
i know that this is especially timely in YOUR life, but thank you. there is never NOT a time to remind people how to talk to someone who is grieving.
i am so very sorry for your loss, and the Mayers'.
I love you, sweetie.
My nephew Sean died in an accident when he was 19. My sister said the hardest thing was that people thought that talking about him would cause her too much pain, but in reality she wanted to talk about him, to keep his name alive.
I'm sorry for your loss.
This should've shared with the rest if the world, as it's spot on and necessary learning. People can be so cruel without meaning to be, and sometimes on purpose.
But this is wonderful advice.
Thank you for writing this.
I'm sorry that so many people don't get it, and I will be more mindful of it myself.
Very well said. I lost a classmate once, and the religious figure leading her memorial service said something to this effect. I didn't say anything because I assumed (incorrectly?) that it was taken well by her family, but for me it was about the most infuriating thing I could have heard.
I've been very careful to follow your rules, above, ever since.
My mentally delicate cousin had a miscarriage several years ago. Just a few months afterward our Jesus freak stupid crazy aunt told a bunch of family members, WITH DEPRESSED COUSIN in the room, that God gave women miscarriages when they weren't going to be good mothers. If I had been there, crazy aunt would have several fewer teeth.
Considering the number of abused and abandoned children out there, God sure SUCKS at that job! What a hideous thing to say. As well as ignorant.
A close friend's family member lost a baby over the weekend. I told her about this post and asked if she'd like a copy of the text. She said yes, so I've sent it to her (without identifying info). Again, thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom here.
You are welcome to share, of course. I hope it helps her.