Things you should never say to a parent who has lost their child

This post was written last week.  I’m still not sure if it was my hormones, wrong time of the month, a sugar high gone wrong, or just legitimate sadness.  Either way, I’m feeling back to normal today, but felt that this was worth posting.  It’s a bit sappy, I know, not really my MO for blogging these days. Sorry.  

The only photos I've ever published of Kiera online

The only photos I’ve ever published of Kiera online

Today is what would have been Kiera’s 9th birthday. Each year, her birthday and her death day pass with increasing normalcy. I oscillate between guilt, relief and numbness around how ‘fine’ I feel. This year, the 8th year since her death, I feel like a truck is sitting on my chest. I’m hyperventilating at inopportune times, I’m quiet and I’m caving in my office. I feel it this year. I feel it for the first time in a long time. My daughter should be terrorising my life, but she’s not. Because she’s a packet of ashes in a box inside my mother’s cupboard, because I’m too cowardly to make a decision of what action would be appropriate enough to honour her life.
So instead, the feelings and memories I usually manage to keep well down below the surface have cropped up with a vengeance so fierce and unexpected, that I’m left entirely surprised and frankly, breathless. I’m angry all over again. I’m sad. I’m feeling like life is just not fair and I’m remembering all the things that made dealing with Kiera’s death so much harder.

So, with anger, I listed my top 12 things that people have said to me over the years about Kiera’s death:

  1. Everything happens for a reason
  2. Time heals all wounds
  3. Maybe it’s for the best
  4. Don’t worry, you’ll have another one
  5. You’re young – you’ll bounce back from this as soon as you do something with your life
  6. You’ll get over it soon, don’t worry
  7. It’s probably better she was so young, imagine how much more you would’ve loved her if she’d been older*
  8. One day you’ll look back and realise it wasn’t the right time
  9. God called back his angel
  10. She’s in a better place
  11. It wasn’t your time to be a parent
  12. You’ll learn a lesson from this, it’s probably a blessing

While some of these things may be true, it’s got absolutely zero comfort for the grieving parent. Things like this are said only to make the person saying them feel like they’re being useful. The mind boggles at how some of these things could ever pass for something ‘comforting’ but I promise you from first-hand experience, people seem to think they are. It kills me. I want to reach out and smack someone whenever I see comments like the above being offered up as platitudes.

If you find that you’re on the other end of having to watch someone you care about lose someone you love, listen up.
It’s not about you. You don’t have to feel useful. You don’t have to say anything. Just be there, hold their hand, hug them when they want you to. Don’t worry about social formalities and expectations. Be in the moment, let the bereft guide you on what to do in this situation.
Most importantly: it’s not about you. What you think and feel and want doesn’t matter. Keep it to yourself until you’re asked for an opinion. Nothing you say or do will make things better, except if you’re just there.
Take a lesson from my best friend. When Kiera died at 3am in the morning, it took us 4 hours to deal with paperwork and go home. I dosed myself with sleeping pills and went straight to bed. For three days afterwards, whenever I woke up, my best friend Britt was in bed with me holding my hand. She didn’t say a word in all that time. She held my hand while I slept, held my hair back when I vomited, held me tight when I cried. She didn’t say a word. Because she didn’t have to. She was there, in that most intimate and painful time of my life, she was there. I’ll never forget that. It meant so much that she didn’t make it about her.
I repeat:
Most importantly: it’s not about you. What you think and feel and want doesn’t matter. Keep it to yourself until you’re asked for an opinion. Nothing you say or do will make things better, except if you’re just there.

*has to be my favourite one

This entry was posted in anger.

14 comments

  1. Cath says:

    It’s not about you. You don’t have to feel useful. You don’t have to say anything. Just be there, hold their hand, hug them when they want you to. Don’t worry about social formalities and expectations. Be in the moment, let the bereft guide you on what to do in this situation.
    Most importantly: it’s not about you. What you think and feel and want doesn’t matter. Keep it to yourself until you’re asked for an opinion. Nothing you say or do will make things better, except if you’re just there.

    It’s not about you.

    It’s that lesson that I wish people knew.

    Love you, in a highly verbose manner. But, for the moment, I’ll be here, quiet.

    X

  2. Robert says:

    There are no words that you can say to a parent that has lost a child, quite simply that just shouldn’t happen.

    All I’ve ever manged is a hug.

  3. Sally-Jane says:

    I think the hardest thing for most people is how quickly the world goes back to normal and everyone just seems to have moved on and forgotten, and you are left knowing you will never ever be the same again.

    My GP’s husband died of cancer and her pet hate phrase was about having lost her husband. She said it made it sound somehow like it was her fault, like she did something wrong and misplaced him. She said she used to say ” no I have not lost him, i know just where he is, in the cupboard in an urn”

  4. Angel says:

    Darling Shebeeliciousness, should I ever spew such lame platitudes I do hope you will take a swing at me.
    You were in my thoughts and prayers all day long.
    Love you madly.

  5. Anon says:

    I just want to thank you so much for this – it is so similar to what I have always said and felt on the subject.

    I, too, spend each and every day missing my beautiful baby girl and have had to restrain myself when people have said the exact same things to me. Time does not heal this wound; you simply become more practiced at living with the pain and sadness. Your age and your baby’s age have absolutely no bearing on the soul destroying misery that comes with the death of your child. It is unnatural and that is why there is no name for a parent who had watched their child die. My daughter died seven years ago and there is not a day that passes without me feeling the pain anew. Yes, I do have years where her birthday and deathday pass a little more easily, but the feelings often have a tendency to simply creep up on me on another day instead.

    I have also been told that it was better that she died “before I got a chance to know her”. This is a load of nonsense. I knew her from the moment I found out she was growing inside of me. I knew her as no one ever got the chance to, and I pity them for that. Less time in this world did not mean there was less to miss when she was taken from me. The opposite is true – I was not given the gift of making enough memories with her. Each day that passes is another day with her that I have lost out on. I don’t know what she would look like now, I don’t know what it would sound like to hear her call me “Mommy”, I don’t know what foods she would refuse to eat, I don’t know how it would feel to watch her go to school for the first time, I don’t know if she would be outgoing like her father or shy like me… I don’t even know if she knows how very much I love her and that I will miss her with every part of me for the rest of my life.

    Her ashes are my most precious possession and I could not go through with my original plan of placing them in the ocean as I could not bear to let go of the only part of her I have left. I know those ashes are no longer my little girl, but I am so scared that if I no longer have them as a physical reminder, it will begin to seem like she never existed. That is something I could not bear. It is true that everyone else has seemed to move on and this hurts terribly at times. I understand that she will never mean as much to anyone else as she does to me, but it still hurts. It feels as though the world should have ceased to turn and the stars should have fallen from the heavens in that moment that she stopped breathing. But the only world that ceased was mine.

    I will never be “fixed” and I will never again wake up without a tear in heart. I do try my best to carry on with life and find happiness where I can, but the pages of my life are stained and that is something that I, and everyone in my life, just have to accept. I am changed forever and I would give absolutely anything imaginable to feel my daughter in my arms again, to be able to give her a kiss and tell her that “Mommy loves you more than anything that ever was or ever will be”.

    • Shebee says:

      Hello Anon,
      Thank you so much for your honest comment. You touched on so many things I’ve always been too afraid to admit to myself, let alone write about.

      Big, big, big love to you.

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