Photo take by Little Bean Photography
Well, autumn is in full swing. The leaves are changing colors, the air is crisp, porches are adorned with pumpkins and hay bales, and like most families, our schedules are overflowing with sports practice and Fall festivals. I made sure to get involved in as much as humanly possible. My fears of having too much time on my hands before school started have officially been erased. Instead, I find myself longing for a moment to catch my breath and just pause. In those moments, though, I find that Christopher is on my mind. Actually, he is always on my mind, but in the quiet moments I think of what he might be like now, six months later. What milestones would he have reached? Could he say all of our names? Would he still be carrying around his giraffe Wubbanub?
I’ll never know…
I hate to say it, but losing a child is still defining who I am. I haven’t figured out a way to answer the inevitable questions of “how many kids do you have?” or “how old are your boys?” without bringing up Chris. As much as others are probably tired of hearing about the whole thing, I, too, hate how I bring it up… and yet, I can’t help but saying his name and sharing my sweet boy with people. He existed. Christopher was mine…the only child of three that looked exactly like me and the perfect finale to our family unit. A child that love and prayer created. Now, he’s just gone.
I don’t intend for all of this to remain my master status…what defines me. I do hope to, one day, be able to introduce myself to someone new and for my title only to be “mom of boys” or “wife and mother”. For when I bring up Christopher and his untimely death, in their discomfort, people have advice or words of comfort to offer me and despite their best efforts, these words are not really very comforting at all. I do my best to nod, smile, and thank them for their “kind” words as I know this to be their best intentions. Something has to change.
There are countless articles on “what not to say to a bereaved parent”, but honestly, that list is long. Really long. I think the thought of saying something wrong deters people from wanting to speak to a brokenhearted mother at all. So, what, then, should people say to a bereaved family? The SUDC Foundation sent out a wonderful message just this week that touches on this very topic. The SUDC Foundation states that in order to break the silence surrounding child loss, we [bereaved families] need to communicate our needs of what others can say and/or do. We need to educate society on what real empathy is. This got me thinking.
What is empathy? According to Psychology Today, empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.
What does empathy look like to a bereaved parent? What words bring me comfort?
1. Ask About Him
Please, ask about my child! How old was he? What was he like? Do you have a picture? (Why yes, several hundred!)
Just make small talk. I can’t begin to describe the JOY I get in telling others about Christopher. Simply showing his messy face or naughty grin to others brings a happiness I could never describe. Never. I can’t think of a time in my life that I will ever not want to talk about Chris and when others talk about him, it reaffirms how important and special he was/is. If you hear a song and it reminds you of him, TELL ME! If you smell something or eat something that makes you think “Chris”, I’d love to hear about it. If you find a picture of him, you sure as hell better show me. No, seriously. Show me the pictures.
Just because our child is gone, doesn’t mean we don’t want talk about them. In fact, we want the world to know they existed.
So, please, talk with a bereaved parent about their child. They’ll love you for it.
2. Happy Birthday!
Now, this has not happened to me yet but I assure you, his birthday is coming up in January and it already gives me anxiety. How should I react? What is the protocol for celebrating a dead child’s birthday? Do we have cake?
I guarantee that David and I have differing opinions on this as each of us has grieved different from the other. One thing I feel very confident in saying is that neither of us would ever want it forgotten. A simple text, call, or even a cheesy card would suffice. January 13th will forever be a beautiful memory in our family. A day of joy. (A little pain). Lots of laughter and lots of joy. Every parent wants to celebrate the birth of their child. Even if the child is no longer here.
So, please, acknowledge our missing child’s birthday. Tears will be shed, but joy will come in knowing they are being remembered.
**Should you not know what to say when you call, refer to #1.
3. We Still Have Fun
Its hard to believe that with all of the sadness 2015 has brought our family that we still can find ourselves laughing… usually at the expense of, well, ourselves.
David and I love to spend time with each other but like any married couple, we need some space. Not just from each other but from our house. I think the best medicine I have found through all of this madness is not in pharmaceuticals, but in friendships. Each week I look forward to my time with friends whether it be a quick coffee, a sweaty gym date, women’s bible study, greasy lunch, or the ever necessary trip to Hobby Lobby. No experience is any less special than another. I think people tend to avoid bereaved parents as they don’t want to crowd or overwhelm them but honestly, what we need is company. And, when we turn you down, and we will, just show up at our doorstep with coffee in hand.
Grief does some weird things to people. Don’t take our isolation, our tears, or our CONSTANT zombie face personal. We promise, it has nothing to do with you.
So, please, invite us out or come spend some time with us. We need it.
**Should you fail to remember what to talk about over coffee, refer to #1.
Most importantly, remember: when our child died, so did a little part of us. We are not the same person. We have changed and our world is different. Our outlook on life is a little different. One thing remains the same and that is our love for our child. Even with subsequent children, we long to hold the one we lost.
Instead of avoiding that friend at Target or saying something that may hurt, practice empathy.
What would you want someone to say to you?