Annnnyway... to the old post (below). It's yet another very looooong one. But given my lack of daily posting, I hope that's okay. I also hope it is of some use to someone, currently. Let me know your thoughts. I will also add it to my Highlighted Posts page.
Originally posted on Sunny Side Up, January 22, 2010
(in which she finally gets around to answering the question posed by a commenter over a week ago...)
"So, is it getting any better, love?" Dad asked. He had phoned to say he was thinking of us, after also sending a really beautiful card, 'remembering our Spirit Girl, Ella.' So simple, yet majestic in its offering. My Dad is a masterful card-writer and his secret, really, is to be short and sweet and coming from a place most heartfelt, without even seeming like he's tried or searched or struggled for the right words.
It was an interesting question he posed to me on our daughter's sixth birthday.
"I have to say, it is... and it isn't," I fumbled in reply. How was I going to catch my father up to speed about how much more I had worked on myself [my attitude, my sense of self-centre, my further acceptance about what has happened to me in my life, learning to tailor my responses to people even further so they were real me responses, the genuine ones - after much time and understanding had passed, I would finally feel safe to be me in 2009] when he only asked this every year or so? Beautifully posed cards aside, I don't get checked in on at any other time of year. Not by anyone in my family. Save for my sister in-law sometimes, bless.
"Of course, it's easier in some respects," I continued on, with a real 'comma-but' implied in the trailing off of my sentence that indicated I had more to say.
"Ah, well that's good. I'm glad then," Dad said. He sounded relieved of his post. I left it at that.
There's no way to "nutshell" this process, really. At the end of the day, I'm now beyond needing to hear words of solidarity or comfort from my family and friends. But it's so good to have them delivered on us randomly - it's actually more poignant to be reminded, on any ordinary day during the year, that someone was "just thinking about you and how you're doing" or "had a moment, thinking about Ella today." Those gestures are priceless, this many years on.
So, to the question that was posed in the comments section of a post I made last week. I have to preface my attempts at answering this by clarifying that I am just one of many millions who have suffered the loss of a child over the 'lifetime' of this world. And I don't claim to definitively "know" the answers to these sorts of things. But, of course, without sounding too simpering, I know that I - and so many others like me - have more of a grip on this reality I'm in because of my strive to seek clarity and information and understanding for myself. It is this understanding and perspective only that I can share. And each person's will be different, even if only slightly, because we are all individual. Yes *say it together now* We are all individuals.
Years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I was cheerfully chatting to a lady in my workplace and I asked her how many children she had. Two, came the reply. I then asked how old they were, she replied that one was three and the other had died as a newborn.
It totally floored me, I didn't know what to say or where to look. Did I ask what happened and seem nosey? Or should I say something like 'I'm sorry for your loss' and sound glib or insincere, even though I most certainly wasn't? Or should I just bring up the latest episode of Friends and seem uncaring... It all got really awkward and I started babbling about how terrible it must have been and felt like such a clumsy idiot.
In all honesty I'm still not sure I'd know how to react tactfully to the news a person had suffered such a terrible loss. So please, do you have any hints? What is a sensible, tactful response to the news that a person has lost a child?
Firstly, I can't answer this easily. I need to give a bit of background "depth" to this, for it is a situation that happens on a daily basis, I'm sure.
I think the most important thing to remember here is that.... at the end of the day, the woman gave birth to a gorgeous baby. Are we all not very proud of this achievement, as women and mothers, when this happens? The very moment that bubba passes, it's as if all of that joy and wonderment and empowerment gets sucked out of you (the parent) - and mostly, it pains me to have to break it to you, this process happens at the hands of others. Well-meaning they may be, but those who • change the subject, • go straight for the pained or tragic slant on the whole "thing" without properly acknowledging the (albeit short) life of the child, • ask only questions relating to what happened (why the child died).... feel very vampirish. Now, I know vamps are all "in" at the moment. But when you feel like your catastrophic event is being sucked on, it really isn't pleasurable. That joyous moment, the euphoric post-birth high gives way to.... nothing happy. Nothing rewarding. Which urges me to point you to this post (the tulip flower link on the right of this page) about miscarriage and the deep and lasting effects it can have on a woman's body. If people around the parent/s begin to reinforce the fact that theirs is a taboo, ugly, dark, too-hard-basket situation, then the parent/s will eventually have not many places in which to proudly talk about their baby and the experience/s (and life journey, however short-lived) they shared. SO.... my point about all of that paragraph is, what a blessed gift you would give a parent, if you were to provide them an opportunity to talk about the joys, the hope, the blessing they saw/see their child to be, their memories as a normal parent, basically - it is far more rare to receive this welcome opportunity, let me tell you.
All of that being said, one of the hard lessons of becoming a bereaved parent is the difficult realisation of "a-ha, I really DO have such a great duty of care here." When you start to lift yourself out of your own fog of grief - which can literally take years - and see that the responses you've been inflicting, on members of the general public or workmates, etc., who are completely unaware of your situation, are actually really affecting the person in front of you - reactions vary from visible crumbling, instant tears in the eyes, avoidance of meeting your gaze and so forth - that parent then has to become very quickly sound in their delivery. As if to buffer the receiver of the information. So bereaved parent becomes the comforter, if you will. It's a strange dynamic.
What to say, though, in far fewer rambly words than I've just unleashed from the depths of who-knows-where? Well, for starters (see - I can't be succinct with ANYTHING), I'm not a huge fan of directing anyone towards The One Ideal Sentence. There actually isn't one, if truth be told. Because the 'ideal' response is as varied as there are dynamics between personae - both the bereaved parent and the person who is attempting to offer some words of sympathy. Suffice to say, a great start would be - absolutely - "May I ask what happened?" Note that this is very different from asking "What happened" without the "may I ask", for you are giving the parent the choice to decide whether they will or will not go into it.
It takes much energy to explain, for me, even this many years on, and dependent on how interested the person is and how many subsequent questions they ask, I could be drained for the remainder of the day (without properly focusing on why that might be). So be mindful too that whatever you ask, you really are extracting memories that the parent may not be feeling up to delving into at that moment in time. Remember too, then, that that too shall pass (the moment of not feeling up to it) and it shouldn't be taken as read that you should never again attempt to enquire or seem interested. If your relationship with the parent is longer than a fleeting passing in the street situation, it would pay you well to perhaps revisit at a point in the near future - if indeed you have been thinking compassionately about the parent - and say something like, "I've been thinking about you and your baby, I can't possibly imagine what you've been through. But I would be interested/would like to learn some more about your experience with him/her sometime." And leave it at that. You may be pleasantly surprised at the appreciation you receive, if in fact you are genuinely interested.
You could also try:
(totally dependent on timing - both of asking the question and how recently the baby passed - and on your familiarity with the person AND not least in importance, being sound in your own agenda: why do you ask, why do you really want to know... a rhetorical question worthy of some consideration)
• I'm very sorry to hear that. (And leave that as your last sentence.... don't trail off into "But at least you've got one child" or "Are you planning to have any more" etc. etc.... these are extreeemely personal questions that I have never ever heard as being useful or received inoffensively in all my years of reading and talking with bereaved parents)
• Did you spend some time with him/her. (Again, VERY dependent on your comfort level of receiving the answer, your reason for asking in the first place, the nature of your relationship with the parent, the nature of the passing - although, in saying that, I think it is fairly standard these days for parents to be given the choice to determine how long they stay with their child after he/she has passed away... I stand to be corrected if anyone wants to weigh in here)
• Don't forget, the very simple "I cannot imagine."
Mostly, if you really would rather not know "details" and just want to back out without causing harm or offense, the first and last response are fine and would be suitable in pretty much all circumstances as a quick pull from your Memory File marked Social Etiquette Techniques.
It's an extremely important question that has been asked - What is a sensible, tactful response to the news that a person has lost a child? - and one that has no really short answer, as I've *aherm* illustrated. It's also something that can really blindsight a person, asking a seemingly obvious and simple question as "How many children do you have" and receiving the reply that one of the counted is no longer living. I'm unsure if I would be gracious and unflappable in response, had I not now experienced the journey I have.
So you'll find, by and large, that the mother or father you are feeling very inadequate in front of (in terms of a fitting reply, I mean) is going to be very forgiving of whatever response you give. Either way, I always maintain, one must act from the heart. To truly communicate and convey from this very private place within yourself, you have to first really know yourself - the Self you are today, forgetting tomorrow because things are going to happen today that could change that truth and standing of 'tomorrow', aren't they - and from there, that's when the giving and connection (between parent and innocent bystander) can truly begin to unfold the magic. Depending how you do it, you could deliver on each other a most astounding gift for the future, without either of you even realising. I think it's called........ unconditional, Universal love, in that brief moment. Remember this post and its story.
Don't know if that makes anything clear at all. I'm pretty satisfied with my response. But I know I've probably disappointed some by not being dot-pointy. I tried! I did. See the dot-points? I just don't do abbreviated, though..... Hnnngh.
But I guess, in closing, I have to refer back to the beginning of this post and my comments about my father's card: an honest, sincere and simple gesture is probably almost always going to work best.
By the way: please excuse any inappropriate Google ads that may appear beneath this post... they change at random and sometimes aren't offensive, but the one I just saw was about as poorly placed as a Libra oddspot.