Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Not To Say To Someone Experiencing Grief - Part Two

   Please don’t say any sentence beginning with the words, "At least..." We do this all the time in other circumstances, trying to look on the ‘bright side’ of whatever is happening to us. However, there is no 'bright side' to loss. When you begin a sentence with "at least," it trivializes the person’s loss, minimizes their pain, and invalidates their feelings. You are saying that this individual has no right to hurt so deeply because it could have been worse (in your eyes). Many of these comments are specific to the loss of a child, but “At least…” sentences should be avoided no matter the age of the lost loved one.

   "At least he is in a better place," or, "At least she is in Heaven now." – I personally believe that Katie and Lilly are both in heaven and that I will see them there some day. However, even knowing that they are both happy in heaven with Jesus does not make me miss them any less. We still wish our lost loved ones were with us, here, now, always. Yes, Katie went through a lot while she was with us. She endured more as a newborn than anyone should ever have to endure. However, she also got to experience many good and happy moments and part of me will always wish she could have experienced so many more positive things over the course of a long, long life. Lilly lived long enough to experience the comfort of the womb for a time. But there will always be so much more that I wish both of them could have had in this life.

   "At least you can have more children," or, "At least you know you can get pregnant." – Nope, nope, nope. So much nope. Don’t say it, don’t even think it. This is not a test run. My child is not the first pancake in the batch. My daughters are not a loaf of bread that failed to rise. They are human beings. They are people. They are children. They are irreplaceable, precious, and loved.

 Also, the ability to get pregnant does not ease the fear of being unable to have healthy, living children. For me, it took a lot of help to manage this fear. This comment doesn’t help.

 "At least you lost it early." – Having experienced both an infant loss and a miscarriage, I have known two different types of grief. Notice I said different. Not better. Not worse. Losing a child (not an it) in the womb does not hurt any less than losing a child at any age. It hurts differently. Children are special and unique individuals and I mourn all of the things that Lilly didn't get to experience just as I mourn all of the things that I miss about Katie. Dismissing someone’s grief because they suffered an early loss is not comforting at all.

   "At least you have other children." – Again, children are not pancakes, eggs in a basket, or loaves of bread. You cannot seriously think that just because someone has a few left over, that it’s ok to lose one or two. They are children, and they are irreplaceable, precious, and loved. The ones that remain are also children, not Band-Aids or Prozac. They are not there to make the family feel better. In fact, they are experiencing the loss of a sibling at the same time that their parents are experiencing the loss of a child. The parent does not need their loss to be trivialized, and the surviving children do not need to feel burdened to make anyone else feel better. This statement is so, so harmful and should be avoided.

   "At least you got to hold her." – Even with the best of intentions, this comment only serves to highlight all of the things that we did not get to experience with our loved one. When I received this comment, it was not said with good intentions in mind at all. A close relative said this to me when we lost Katie. “At least YOU got to hold her! I didn’t even get to hold her!”

   This was said about my critically ill, heart baby. My newborn baby, who had so many tubes, wires, and lines hooked up to her for the first few weeks of her life that even I was unable to hold her. When I was finally able to hold her, it took at least one nurse to help move her and all of her tubes and wires into my arms and we were only able to do it once or twice a day for a short time. Even after most of her lines were out and she was off the ventilator, she then had to have a feeding tube placed, which was incredibly uncomfortable for her. In addition, we were told by her medical professionals that we should limit her exposure to germs and other people because if she were to fall ill before her second heart surgery, it would not be good (they were right). So no one held her other than me and my husband. We enforced strict policies about hand-washing and disinfecting for our visitors and the list of allowed visitors was very limited.

   All of this happened during what is referred to as the fourth trimester, a period of time after birth when a newborn is still adjusting to life outside the womb and needs the comfort and closeness of her mother. My first daughter didn’t get to have a fourth trimester because of her medical needs, but we gave her what we could. Even my husband didn’t get to hold her very often. However, this person felt that she was entitled to this experience with our child. Even though what was best for my daughter was to be germ-free and have all the limited love and cuddles she could get with mommy and daddy, this person felt it was her right to take one of those few precious moments away from us as the parents.

   Let me be very clear. The feelings, wants, and desires of a grown adult will never, ever, ever be more important than the health, safety, and physical/emotional wellbeing of a child. This statement is best avoided even if you are trying to be comforting by pointing out the good experiences that were shared with the person’s lost loved one. If you are making this statement out of anger, entitlement, or hate, then stop and take a look at your motives. Are you trying to comfort the bereaved or are you trying to inflict more pain? If it is the latter, then perhaps you should rethink saying anything at all.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What Not To Say to Someone Experiencing Grief – Part One

  This post is a difficult one to write because it may offend you or make you uncomfortable. If you are reading this from the perspective of someone who has not suffered grief, my hope is that you will still take it to heart and remember it when talking to loved ones or friends who are experiencing something that you (hopefully) will never understand. If you are reading this from the other side of the coin, my hope is that it brings you comfort to know that you are not alone and it is normal to feel hurt, offended, or even bitter when on the receiving end of any of these well-intentioned (or not) comments and perhaps it will save some of us from having to listen to them in the future. This also ended up longer than expected, so I will be discussing each comment separately.

 There are many types of grief. You could be grieving the loss of a parent, a friend, a spouse, or even a child. You could be grieving an estranged family member. You may be grieving an unwelcome diagnosis, either for yourself or someone you love. You may be grieving an expected loss or an unexpected loss. Not all grief is experienced the same. When Katie was first diagnosed with a heart issue, my husband and I suffered grief knowing that she would have to experience many things that we did not want her to go through. When she passed away, we suffered her loss. When we miscarried Lilly, we suffered the loss of never getting to know our child while on this earth. Each of these experiences was different in its impact, which has taught me that grief is a profoundly personal experience.

“God has a plan.” – Don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I KNOW that God has a plan. However, this is not it and therefore it is inappropriate to say to a person who is experiencing grief. 

Let me repeat that. My loss, your loss, is not God’s plan. In the beginning, God did not think to Himself how awesome it would be to let my babies die. You know how I know this? Because the Bible says it straight up:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

God’s plan is for us to live with him eternally, to experience His perfect love together with Him forever. However, He loves us so much that He also respects us as autonomous people, and much like we do with our own children He allows us to make mistakes. And Adam and Eve done messed up God’s original plan in the Garden of Eden, when they allowed sin and suffering and death to enter the perfect world that God had created. It is because of that sin and suffering and death that we now have to experience grief and separation from God.

Now stop for a moment, because I am by no means saying that we did something wrong so God takes our loved ones to punish us. When Katie was born with HLHS, I took comfort in the following verses:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” John 9:1-3

Even though the man’s sins (or his parents’ sins) were not at fault for his diagnosis, Jesus was still able to use the man’s condition for His glory. Not that that makes it any easier for those of us whose loved ones are not instantaneously healed on the side of the road as we are traveling to Starbucks. Sometimes our loved ones die and we suffer grief because we live in an imperfect world where death and suffering exist.

Thankfully, God also loves us so much that He made another way for His plans to succeed (because they will… I read ahead and He wins). He decided that He was willing to endure a double whammy of grief Himself… for us. He allowed Himself to personally experience rejection, torture, and death to pay the price for our sins. He also (since He is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit at the same time) simultaneously suffered the loss of His only begotten child, Jesus. That is a sacrifice that not one of us would willingly make ourselves, yet He did so that we could again be reconciled to Him and be part of His plan to spend eternity in love and joy with Him. It does bring some comfort to know that even though Katie and Lilly’s deaths were not a part of God’s plan, their eternal life in Heaven IS part of His plan so I know that I will see them again eventually, even though it hurts while we are apart.