There is lots of information out there dedicated to the stages of grief and the feelings that come with loss, although few of them are specific to the loss of a child. While I do have some issues regarding the stages of grief since the model was originally designed for someone facing a terminal illness I do think the general idea isn’t too far off. I have run into people on many occasions, however, that are more than anxious to tell me how I feel.
Sometimes, I give them a pass. I’m guilty (very guilty) of commenting on other people’s blogs and leaving both comments that are specific to their entry as well as specific to my own grief. But hey, we’re actually a very small community and sometimes those comments are the only occasion that I have to bring Toby up. So I figure that occasionally people will do something similar to me.
There is a fine line, though, between commiserating with someone and telling them how they feel.
If, for instance, you are coming up on your child’s Angel Day and someone writes you or says to you, “I wanted to let you know that I remembered what this day meant for you and that you’re in my thoughts” well, that’s one thing. But if someone writes instead, “I know that this day is going to be extremely hard for you and you might not know what to do or even want to get up in the morning but just know that everything will be okay…” well, that’s a little different.
This might be a better example: “Merry Christmas! It’s probably not easy for you to celebrate the holidays right now because you’re sad and depressed and it doesn’t feel right having your child here with you. Do try to find some happiness, though, okay?”
Whatever happened to just ASKING the person how they felt?
Here is Lesson #112 (approximately) when it comes to dealing with someone who has lost a child: You will probably NEVER know how they are feeling. In fact, you might not even know how they’re feeling if you read their blog. The entry that they wrote could have been minutes, hours, or even days ago. Grief is a seesaw. What they felt at that time might not be the same as what they are feeling now. You’re certainly never going to know how they are feeling if you don’t ask but just assume.
Losing a child is complicated business. Something that few people talk about (but most of us experience at least a few times) is the guilt associated with our feelings.
Yes, we ALWAYS miss our child. We are ALWAYS a little sad. We’re all at different points in our grief, though, and that’s on top of the fact that not all of us experience or feel grief in the same way. Sometimes, we feel really guilty over the fact that we are not as sad or as happy as we should be. Or as YOU think we should be.
For instance, I may have just had a really, really crappy day and cried over Toby for half of it. Then, I might pull myself together the next day and (gasp) he may only fleetingly cross my mind a few times because I’m focused on trying to have a good time with Sam and see to his happiness. But then, during that day, if someone stops me and tells me that they know that I must be feeling horrible and that they know that I MUST not be enjoying myself…well, it’s back to feeling crappy again. Only now it’s crappy because I wasn’t feeling horrible and I WAS enjoying myself and now I feel guilty about it.
On the other hand, I might be having a really, really hard time and feel like I’m sinking a little bit. But, I’m out with my kids and trying to put on a happy face. Then, someone will see me and write me later, or eve say at the time, “Wow! You look soooo happy! You’re doing such a good job of overcoming your sadness and you’re not feeling down at all. Good for you!” There’s that guilt again because the face I am putting on is decidedly NOT the one I feel I am covering.
That’s not to say that people shouldn’t ask questions. In fact, I wish they would. Ask the person how they are doing and mean it. Don’t tell them how they’re doing and assume that you know.