Sunday, October 3, 2010

What We Really Need


When I was pregnant, both times, I read this really good pregnancy book. It's from the Rough Guide series and has a good bit of humor in it. One of the first things that the author points out is that when it comes to pregnancy advice, remember it's about them, it's not about you. People tell you things that were helpful for them. It doesn't mean that it's going to work for you.

I think a lot can be said about that in terms of grief, as well. Sometimes, people say things to you because it makes THEM feel better. I think this might be one of the reasons why people are trying to push Wendy into "getting over it" and why a lot of people stay away from us, or choose to analyze us in even the simplest of conversations. Our friends, families, and co-workers want us to get better because being around us right now makes them feel uncomfortable. They don't know what to say or do and they're afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. As a result, they tend to just stay away, feeling as though they can come back in a few months or a year and we'll be "normal again."

It's kind of a Catch 22. On one hand, we need people around us. We want to feel normal and go out with friends and talk. On the other hand, sometimes we want to be alone and wallow and we don't want to socialize. And then there are those people who are usually pretty good friends but now that you've lost someone they have gone totally bananas and keep making the situation worse.  

Here are a few more things regarding what NOT to say to a grieving person:

1.    You can always have another child. OR you’re young; you can get married again.
2.    Don’t worry. You’ll see him again.
3.    At least he didn’t suffer long.
4.    He is in a better place.
5.    Be thankful he died at an early age. He doesn’t have to experience pain and heartache on this earth.

Okay, so what's wrong with these statements?
1. Let's start with 1. You CAN always have another child, but it won't be the child that you lost. That one is gone and isn’t coming back. You will love your subsequent child (and that is actually what they are referred to as) but while they might feel a void they will never replace the one that you lost.

On the other hand, you might NOT be able to have another child. Maybe your husband had a vasectomy. Maybe you had a hysterectomy. Maybe you're like and have so many issues down there that it's a wonder that you got pregnant at all.

2. This is a little insulting, but here goes…not every person believes in a Heaven. Some people believe strongly in soulmates, reincarnation, an afterlife, and comets that are going to take them away to magical places if they shave their heads and wear the right kinds of tennis shoes. The person that you are talking to might not actually believe that they will see their child again and you shouldn't be the one to try to change their mind. Besides, even if they were devout Christians and believed in Heaven and Hell then that still wouldn't take away from the fact that they want to see their child NOW.

I have my own issue with this. People kept telling Pete that it was okay when his mother died because she would be in Heaven taking care of Toby. I had issues with this on several levels. For one thing, I hate to think that Toby would be a baby in Heaven (or let's use afterlife here since it's not an actual Heaven that I believe in). That means that if someone died when they were 80 they would remain 80 for eternity. That doesn't seem fair. And if Toby is always going to be an infant then he never really will get a chance to do anything. I like to think that souls are ageless and that while he might appear to Alison or Nana or Jim as an infant at first, eventually his spirit form will come out and he'll be walking around like everyone else.

3. At least he didn't suffer long? In my book, any amount of suffering is bad. It doesn't matter how long it went on. And the aftermath is, he's still dead.

4. He is in a better place. Better than what? Better than with a family that loves him and takes care of him and wants him here? And this is just assuming that it's a Heaven you believe in. Some cultures believe that when a baby dies so young they are automatically reborn into something else. So right now Toby could be starving in Ethiopia. We do not know that he is in a better place.
5. Okay, we have actually gotten this one a few times. Yes, we feel so much better now that we know that because he died young he doesn't have to suffer heartaches. You know what else he won't get to experience? Movies, walking, running, eating ice cream, falling in love, going on vacation, picking out a favorite song, dancing, opening Christmas present…It's not ALL bad.

So, what do we really need for people to say to us? How about the following.

1. That's awful. I am so sorry.
2. I get off work early tomorrow. You want me to bring over a pizza or something?
3. I don't know what to say or do but I want you to know that I'm here for you.
4. How about we both sit down and have a good cry?
5. I have wine and Jack Daniels. You pick first.
6. Would you list a friend to come with you when you visit the burial site/go to the funeral home/go to the insurance office, etc.
7. Are there any phone calls I can make, thank you cards I can feel out, or any laundry or dishes that I could get done for you?

You might notice a common theme here. The reason for that is, a lot of people have great intentions and find themselves saying things like,  "Let me know if you need anything." Whether they know it or not, when they say that, they are actually putting MORE pressure on the person grieving. Because then the person has to think about what they need (and they probably don't even know at that point what it is they need), they have to make a phone call, and they have to feel guilty about asking for help, even though you offered it.

The people in my life who were the most helpful were Becca, Desha, Rob, Ashley, Melissa, Liz, Brandon, and the Ruckers. Although Becca was more or less in charge, these people came over and played with Sam, made dinner for us, helped me make decisions such as what he would be buried in and what kind of music I wanted at the service, and even cleaned our bathrooms and did our laundry. We didn't ask them to do any of this, they just jumped right in. At first it felt awkward but then as exhaustion crept in, it didn't matter. We were just glad that they were there.


Katerina Lewis said...

Wow is all I can say. I wish I had thought to post something like this when I had my misscarrages. I was told so mant dumb things like....Well at least its easier since you never got to know ur children, and they will never have to suffer here on earth and so many other BS stuff that makes u just want to slap a person and then you feel bad bc you wanted to slap your best friend for being so insensitive. I think sometimes when friends have to deal with their friends greiving that the oxygen in their brains decrease and they say something dumb to just try and help bc they cant even imagine being in our shoes. I have no idea what ur going through bc I didnt know my children, but I do know the pain I fely losing them so i do understand the pain that comes with losing some one that you love whether you ever got to meet them or not. My prayers are with you and I hope that as the days go by that life gets easier.

Anonymous said...

In otherwords, people putting a "positive" spin on death is the most unhelpful. trying to make a tragedy into something good is belittling your sadness, trying to stop you from feeling sad, inadvertently telling you to just be happy and forget about it. That's why I always say I want people to wear black and cry their eyes out at my funeral. Feel sad. It's ok. It's normal. In fact, if you weren't sad and you acted like everything was just a fun ride, I'd be a little concerned. So yeah, I'm saying I agree with you. Empathy and support is really the most helpful and "fixing" and potting a positive spin on tragedy is unintentionally belittling. - Cathy

Rebecca said...

I think most of the time people truly are trying to make you feel better when they say things like that. But sometimes it backfires. We live in a society where we're not really allowed to grieve or feel sad. We have drugs to keep us happy, counselors to keep us sane, and lots and lots of work to keep us satisfied. In the old days, you were supposed to mourn for at least a year and if you stopped mourning before that time period ended people thought that there was something wrong for you. Now the time period seems to have decreased to a few weeks and then you're supposed to be "normal" again.

There are times, though, when I think something good CAN come out of death. In Alison's case, for example, she was very sick, was not her usual self, and while she was living it had to be difficult on her because she was unable to be the lively, active person that she had been. I know she had to be unhappy and even though nobody wanted her dead, nobody wanted her to live like that , either.

I don't know why we put such an emphasis on being happy. In order to be happy at some point you must also be sad. You can't have happiness without sadness. But being sad and being in mourning seems to be taboo. It's not right for other people to put time limits on you or to push you into feeling something that you're not comfortable doing or feeling. It has to be a natural process.