Dealing with someone else’s grief is something that many people are uncomfortable with, especially when it comes to child loss. Many people don’t really know what to say, or to do. As a bereaved parent, I’ve been on the receiving end of a whole range of comments and reactions. Some of them are helpful, some are unhelpful. Some have been incredibly insensitive.
Although it is hard to deal with some of the insensitive comments, I know that they generally aren’t meant to be hurtful; they’re just thoughtless. Most people want to be helpful, but they just don’t know what, if anything, is the right thing to say, or do. Here are some of the things that I want my friends and family to know when it comes to making my grief a little easier to bear.
1) Talk about Jessica
If there is one thing that I wish people were more comfortable with, it is being able to talk about Jessica with me. Talking about Jessica does not “remind” me that she died. I never forget it. It tells me that you remember that she lived; that her life mattered; that she is still loved and remembered.
If I get a bit tearful when I talk about Jessica, it isn’t because talking about Jessica made me sad. It’s because I miss her. You didn’t remind me that I miss her – I never stop missing her. It’s just that sometimes my heart and head fill up so much with my memories that they end up spilling out of my eyes and down my cheeks. The people I love most to be around are those who still talk as easily about Jessica now as they did when she was here.
It hurts me when people look awkward when I mention Jessica’s name – or worse, change the subject. It makes me feel that talking about my daughter is taboo – and yet, why should it be? Why shouldn’t I be able to talk about her as easily as I do my two living children? Jessica is my child, she will always be my child and I will always be proud to be her mummy.
2) There is nothing you can say or do that will “fix” my grief
I know people mean well when they offer what they think are comforting platitudes. Platitudes are rarely helpful or comforting though. You can’t fix this, or make it better. All you can do is be there for me, and to be willing to walk alongside me in this grief journey. “I’m sorry,” “I’m thinking of you,” or just simply a hug is enough to let me know that you care.
3) If your sentence starts with the words “at least” it is almost certainly better left unsaid
“At least” doesn’t make the pain of losing Jessica any easier to bear. If I choose to look for a silver lining in the midst of my grief, that is for me to do. You can’t find it for me.
4) The hole in my life is Jessica-shaped
Nothing else can fill it this emptiness other than Jessica. Sophie and Thomas have their own place in my heart. They bring me joy, and comfort in their own way, but they cannot fill the empty place in my heart that belongs to their big sister. I could have a dozen children, but I would still miss Jessica every bit as much.
5) There is no time limit on my grief
I will love Jessica until the day I die. I will miss her for the rest of my life. This is not something I can, or want to, ever “get over”. Time is often more hurtful than healing. The passing of time reminds me that I am moving further and further away from life with Jessica. Every morning I wake up, and every morning Jessica is gone. There is not a day when I don’t long to see her, hold her, hear her laugh once more. Grief is now a part of who I am.
6) “How are you?” is a difficult question to answer sometimes
Trying to find words to describe how I feel can be difficult at times. My emotions these days are never unmixed. I can laugh, I can smile, I can feel happiness but the sadness is always there beneath the surface. I can go from laughing to being utterly distraught in a split second.
I have often described grief as being like a stormy sea. Some days the sea is calm or I am able to let the waves carry me along. Other days, the storm rages around me. Sometimes I can anticipate the storms but often they come with little or no warning.
If you ask me how I am though, chances are I will tell you I’m okay. Sometimes I am okay in that moment but often it’s just easier to tell you I’m okay than to open up. If I’m feeling able to be more honest, I’ll probably say I’m “struggling” or “surviving” instead. If all I do is shrug, it almost certainly means I’m barely holding my emotions together. A hug is likely to make me cry at that point but it’s still appreciated all the same.
7) Grief is lonely, and yet I will often choose solitude over company
Sometimes being on my own is easier to cope with than having to put on a brave face or deal with well-meaning but hurtful or insensitive comments from others. If I decline a social invitation, or seem aloof it doesn’t mean that I’m avoiding you or that you’ve offended me. It’s just that some days, I don’t have the energy to be sociable. Some days, it takes all my energy just to hold it all together. There are days when I want to scream and shout and cry and rant. It’s easier to let it all out when I’m alone or with one of the few people I can completely let my guard down in front of.
8) How I cope with my grief is down to me
I am carrying this grief with me as best I can. What works for me; how my grief manifests itself is not for anyone else to decide. You have no right to tell me how I should grieve. As my friends and family, your role is to simply be there and to walk alongside me. Ring theory is a concept which explains this quite well. It puts people into different circles depending on how close they are to the centre of a traumatic event. Those closest to the centre can react however they choose. The concept is simple – comfort in, dump out. Basically, this means providing help to those in circles that are smaller than your own, and only complaining to people in larger circles than yours. This article explains it a little more clearly.
9) Share the photos
I love seeing photos and videos of Jessica popping up on my timeline. If you have them, please do feel free to share them. Sometimes it means I get a “new” memory to treasure as a result.
We have been surrounded by so much love in these past eleven months and knowing that we have that love and support does help make our grief a little easier to bear. I hope that the list helps when it comes to knowing what are the “right” things to say and do.