Friday, April 18, 2008

When? Never, that's when

I have seen the question asked many times - and I have heard the very valid justification - and just want to put my perspective up here for anyone reading (and wondering). Of course, I think I can safely say that I am not just speaking for myself, even though what I've written here is littered with I's and me's, but I guess only the responses of others who have lost a child will really confirm whether anyone else feels the same...

NEVER is it the "wrong time" to ask how I'm doing.
NEVER is the answer to the question, "How often is too often to ask how you are?"
NEVER is the number of years that pass before I don't *need* people to remember to ask me what it's like now.
ALWAYS I am the mother to both of my daughters, so it goes without saying that she is constantly in the back of my mind (and sometimes in the front of of my thoughts, that I have to stop and give attention to her via those thoughts, just like any four year old would if she was commanding my attention standing right in front of me, I gather)

I just do not understand the widespread notion of "Oooh, I don't want to mention her name to her mother because what if she was going along finally having an okay day and then I come along and say something to upset her?"

With the greatest respect and sincerity, get real. This kind of thinking actually is more about you - exactly who it shouldn't be about, early on in the parents' grief process1, if you find yourself in the role of support person (whether that is friend, relative, loosely connected acquaintance who feels compelled to hold out a hand) to someone who has lost their child. It's fully understandable that if you say something like, "How are you doing today? You know, I think about Ella often and I wonder how it is for you now, now that you have Lolly", you are probably going to get tears, moist eyes, a softer voice or change in demeanour from the parent you are talking to (and again, I just used my girls' names - I'm not saying anyone in my life comes up to me and asks, not quite in that way anyway). It is a given that when that mother or father is not only so touched by someone actually asking how they are and therefore inviting them to speak, but they also get a chance to let a little bit more out to be healed, there may be demonstrative emotion. That's good! That's fine. That is not them wanting you to have not said anything.

I wish so very much that people who are so concerned about how they themselves feel when they are confronted with seeing unstoppable emotion, they could just stand their feet firmly on the ground. Stand in solidarity with that parent. And internally tell themselves this is not about them - if you start going into feeling guilty or immediately wish you hadn't said anything, guaranteed you will start to change your body language (shift your feet, talk over the top of the person you had just given the opener to speak a little more of their story, begin profuse apologies if you see tears forming in the parent's eyes, etc.) and this is actually the only damaging part of what you've done.

Give a gift to that parent. Be the safe place for them, even if it's just once on one day. It might be the only day that YEAR (yes, people YEAR) that they get to express how it is for them now.

Having the safety of other parents who have lost a child to talk to has been a life saver for me. But it is not the everyday reality. The everyday reality is me taking my healthy very-present daughter out. To play group. To Gymbaroo. To the park. To the supermarket. Amongst her wider family. She represents our little family. Where is Ella? Well, apparently it is up to me and Steve to remember that she is in the hearts of our family - for it is not up to them to "remember" to enquire how we are, and I am too fearful of heading into the real underlying cause of their not wanting to have us open up to them (for I might end up at the conclusion that some of them don't really want to know - again, more because they don't want that pain inflicted on them - although I know for absolute certain that it's more a generational thing and I can have THE most enlightening and energy-shifting and lifting conversations with some members of my family).

Anyway. For all I know, this might stay hidden here and no one who really needs to know how to navigate their way through this sort of situation with their loved one will ever read it. But, y'know, just in case and all that... well, I'll just leave it here. I've done the whole public forum posting thing on this subject and it seems to get me into all sorts of polarising messes. I figure, if you're here and reading, you'll make your own minds up and hopefully feel less confronted by what I say when I get all adamant and passionate and serious-like. Peace!

1 This changes over time, of course. The grieving parent is hardly going to continue to be all "me me me" for years on end. I was very shocked to find that after just a few short weeks (less than a month) after Ella died, I had someone on the phone saying half-joking - I can only hope - "I need to talk about me now"...... This was from one of the closest people in my life at that time. I very quickly learned the lesson of support coming from sometimes the most unexpected sources and not necessarily to expect the best and most consistent support to come from anyone who previously knew me. So there you go. You could be someone's saviour in future and you don't even know it yet! I've had my fair share of true saviours, they've since left my life again, but they lovingly came in, stayed, watched the tears fall, asked the hard questions, stayed for the very very dark early days, and then left. What a true gift from strangers I will never forget.

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