Afterwards I felt a little sick about it. In the moment, I felt good, but that's not what they really wanted to know.
A more honest answer would have been, "Oh, I have good days and bad days," or, "Great today, lousy yesterday."
I have moments and even days in which I feel...fine. I laugh, I chat about normal things, I play with Mary, I may even talk about Sarah with full composure.
Then I'll walk past the same picture of Sarah I walk past every day. Or I'll see a baby girl in the grocery checkout line. Or I'll walk past a bunch of women at the store...ALL pregnant. And a wave of grief will hit me with rather stunning velocity. Those days I'd prefer to curl up into a blubbering ball on the couch and stay there for a while, thank you very much.
Grief is weird.
Now all this may leave some of you wondering...
What on EARTH should someone like you say to someone like me?
Lest anyone start panicking that they're said the wrong thing to us, I want to first assert that almost everyone has been wonderful, tactful, helpful, and kind. Many of the examples I will list below of things NOT to say have NOT been said to me (thank goodness). But many have been said to others in my shoes and are worth mentioning.
1) Before you say anything, know this: Everyone grieves differently.
- Even if you've been there, things that helped you might not help someone else. For example, my aunt gave me a picture of Christ holding a baby. I love that picture. I find it comforting to think of my daughter safe and loved and happy. I know someone else that got a similar picture and put it in a closet and never looked at it again. Be careful projecting your own emotions or reactions on someone else.
- Along the same lines, every situation is slightly different. Losing my daughter at 4 days old is different than having a stillborn, is different than a miscarriage, is different than losing a baby to SIDS or drowning, is different than losing a 10-year-old, and is certainly different than losing a grandmother, a sibling, or a dear friend. All are sad. All are different. Tread carefully.
2) The safest words are the simplest: "I love you" and "I'm sorry". [Insert Hug]
- You don't have to fix it. You're not going to bring her back. You don't have to make me feel better. But feeling loved and just having you acknowledge the loss goes a long way.
- For ME another safe one is, "I'm praying for you." That means a lot to me. For someone else that's not religious, maybe not so much. Be considerate.
3) Kind gestures
- I can't list all the kind things that have been done for us. My mom and sister-in-law watched Mary. My dad deep-cleaned the kitchen and stocked the freezer. Two brothers drove up from Arizona TWICE in 5 days to be there for Sarah's passing and then for the funeral. Another brother stayed the whole time and kept all his kids out of school. People brought meals, sent flowers and cards, and helped with the funeral and luncheon. A thoughtful neighbor gave me a couple of necklaces with Sarah and Mary's names and initials on them. A friend named a star after Sarah. Someone else brought over a little dress-up skirt and wand she'd made for Mary, because she wanted to do something for us and didn't know what else to do. Mary loved them. (Plus poor Mary kind of got the shaft through all this, so doing something for her was brilliant). A sister-in-law paid for us to stay at a bed and breakfast and watched Mary overnight. Many donated to an online fund set-up by a friend and others just gave us money to help with funeral and healthcare costs. Family drove hours to come to the funeral. One aunt even came to the funeral despite being up all night with her husband who had kidney stones. And on and on and on. Even texts or messages on Facebook expressing love and support meant a lot.
- The lesson: doing anything, big or small, helps.
|Sarah's burial quilt and dress from Isaac's mom and aunt.|
A box of sunshine from a friend. A star named Sarah.
4) Offer specific services
- Grieving people are overwhelmed and indecisive. Also, in my case, I hate asking for help. (Let me rephrase that. I HATE asking for help). One of the best things that happened to me was when someone from church stopped by to announce that three people planned to bring us dinner that week. I was up and functioning at a basic level by that point, and could have managed mac & cheese or takeout to keep us from starving. So I never, EVER would have asked for meals. They just brought them anyway.
- "Let me know if I can do anything" is a nice thing to say and I really appreciate it. But it puts the responsibility on me to a) figure out what I need and b) get up the guts to ask for it, which I hate doing. Rather, look to see if there's a need you can fill and just fill it, and override my objections if necessary.
- Sure, grieving is unpleasant. But, believe it or not, I like talking about Sarah, even if it makes me cry (which it doesn't always). I love her. I miss her. Asking about her may be awkward because you don't know what to say. But it's better to say, "I don't know what to say, but do you want to tell me about her?" than to pretend nothing ever happened. When I went in for my 6-week postpartum check--a potentially sad experience--the MA, who I know pretty well, just asked about Sarah and then listened when I shared some of her story. I wanted to hug her I was so grateful.
- At the risk of being perverse, there may be times when I want to talk about anything BUT Sarah. While in the hospital, at first we didn't know what was going to happen and we kept getting bad news, and I spent a good amount of my time...um...crying. I had a cousin come visit and we talked a bit about Sarah at the beginning, and then went on to just shoot the breeze for an hour. She got me laughing about frivolous things and it was so refreshing to feel normal.
- The lesson: Listen if I want to talk, move on if I don't. But please don't pretend Sarah never happened.
6) Let me feel what I'm feeling
- Isaac and I each spoke at Sarah's funeral. We both wanted to. And we both worried that we'd be too emotional to say anything. The morning of the funeral, we felt super calm, and I actually felt guilty that I wasn't crying as I greeted people that morning. People are going to think I have no soul... I've learned that grief is up and down and unpredictable and utterly unreasonable. I'm just along for the ride. (And don't worry, I finally lost my composure at the funeral when we closed the casket. But I still made it through my talk.)
- Just about any sentence that begins with "At least..." is dangerous. "At least she didn't suffer," "At least you have Mary," "At least you'll see her again," "At least you didn't have her long enough to get attached," (Hah) "At least she's in a better place," etc. Here's the thing: some of those statements are true, but it's better for me to decide what I am or am not grateful for. Yes, I'm grateful I have Mary. But Mary doesn't have a sister now. And having another child means that I know what I'm missing. Yes, I believe I'll see her again. Yes, that comforts me. But my arms are empty NOW. The rest of my life feels like a long time to wait to be with her.
- Please never compare my situation with someone else that "has it worse." Hearing about someone who lost more kids than me, or that never had kids, or that had a child die in a horrible, tragic way won't make me feel better. Does losing one kid stop being sad just because I could have lost two? Am I only allowed to be sad if she died in some horrible way? Further, hearing horror stories only makes me afraid of also losing Mary or any future children.
- Please don't placate me. The phrase I haven't yet heard, and hope to NEVER hear, is "Don't worry, you'll have lots more children." There are so many things wrong with this. Sarah was a person, not a microwave. Even if I get another one he/she won't be Sarah. I miss a specific child, not a replaceable object. Secondly, I don't take my pregnancies for granted. Both were miraculous. While I hope to have more kids, I have to also consider the possibility that I may never get to be pregnant again.
- Last, don't be a victim. I appreciate it if you're sad on my behalf or sad about Sarah in general, but please don't be SO sad that I end up having to comfort you.
- There's no need to feel embarrassed offering condolences awhile after the event. We received the most support during the first few weeks after Sarah's passing. But grief doesn't magically stop after a week or a month or even a year. A few very welcome surprises have come in the mail even almost 2 months out, and I'm grateful they came late.
- Even Christ wept at the passing of his friend Lazarus. Grief is instructive. It is humbling. It is refining. It is part of life. Grieving doesn't mean that I lack faith. It means I loved.
- But regardless of the status of my faith, don't judge. If someone gets mad at God for "taking" their child, your job isn't to fix their faith. It's not your place to decide how a believer should respond or lecture them about repenting so they can see their kid again. Please don't add guilt to grief.
- I am still a mom, and every mom loves to hear that her child is beautiful. One sister-in-law mentioned what a beautiful presence Sarah had, that she could sense the purity of her spirit. And I thought, Oh good! You could feel it too! It was also encouraging to hear people say that we were strong. I don't know how a person is "supposed" to act or respond to something like this, but it's strangely comforting to have people think I'm handling it "well"...whatever that means.
- The single best thing to say to me is that Sarah's life touched you somehow--strengthened your faith, helped you appreciate your children more, inspired you to be a little better, etc. Every mother wants her child to be remembered. I think Sarah brought goodness and beauty into this world. Knowing that helps replace a little bit of my grief with gratitude.
And because poor Mary has been a little neglected on here lately:
|Making faces in the mirror. Profile at the zoo.|
New wings. Nerd glasses.