We’re coming up to the third anniversary of Jessica’s death. This time of year is a tough one. This time three years ago, Jessica was already struggling with the viruses that ultimately caused her death. The memories looking back are intensely painful and come with a hefty side helping of guilt that I didn’t react enough to her being unwell; that I didn’t do more to save her. This time of year is full of triggers – some of them expected; others which just come out of the blue and hit hard. I’m a mess emotionally.
Nearly three years into life as a bereaved parent, there are times when other people seem to think they can give their opinion on whether my grief, or my coping reactions to life with grief, are appropriate. To tell me how they think I should feel or act.
Don’t tell me how to feel.
Don’t you dare tell me how to feel. You do not walk in my shoes; nor do you live this life. You don’t wake up every morning and have to live another day without a child that you loved more than life itself. You do not get to tell me how to grieve.
Don’t tell me that I “mustn’t feel that way”.
Telling me that I mustn’t feel a certain way doesn’t stop me feeling that way. It just tells me that I’m not allowed to talk about it. It tells me that you are not someone I can confide in. All you have done is silence me and make me feel even more alone than I already feel.
Don’t tell me that I need to move on or “get over it”.
Every morning I wake up, and every morning Jessica is still dead. Every little milestone that her siblings reach is a reminder of all the milestones that she will never reach. I will live my life as best I can with this huge hole in it; I might learn how to carry grief with grace and dignity, but this isn’t something I will “get over” – just something I will learn to live with.
Don’t tell me “you know how I must feel”. You do not know how I feel. You might be able to imagine it, but you do not know. Even if you’ve lost someone you loved dearly, you do not know exactly what goes on in my head. Even those closest to me don’t know that.
Just be there. Tell me you’re here, that you’re listening. Talk to me about Jessica. Tell me your memories of her, tell me when she pops into your mind. Let me know that I’m not alone. Tell me that it’s okay to fall apart, that it’s okay to struggle, that it’s okay to grieve. And forgive me on the days when I am prickly and just want to lash out at the world in anger at the unfairness of having to live without my beautiful daughter. Bear with me on the days when I just want to hide away. Respect the fact there may be particular subjects I want to avoid talking about.
It isn’t easy to support someone who is grieving. Please know that there is nothing you can say or do to fix it, but just being willing to be there and to listen makes living with grief a little easier to bear.
Just don’t tell me how to feel.