Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let Me Tell You How You Feel...

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. 


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, this happens to me ALL THE TIME!!! I had someone send me a long ass email over Christmas about how they knew that I was "struggling" and how it must be "an awful time" for me and that I might want to talk to a therapist if I was "having trouble." Well, gee, thanks!! I was actually having a pretty good week til you told me I wasn't! :-P

I think that many times people use kind of textbook things to say to you. I have also noticed that when I post things about SIDS research I will have people comment and say to me, "This is great news because..." and then explain to me WHY the thing that I posted is good. Like, no shit, that's why I posted it! Why are you explaining that to ME?

Thanks for your posts. Just when I think I'm going crazy for thinking something you write it and I feel better.


Rebecca said...

I think one of the hardest things is that people want to show support but just can't figure out how to do it. It's like those that completely ignore the fact that you lose a child under the assumption that it will upset you to talk about them. (When, in actuality, we like talking about our children.)This is just a different way of doing it.

A lot of people, too, are under the assumption that they know what's best for the grieving parents so they base their words on that.

For a long time people wold excuse these things by saying, "Well, so-and-so doesn't know what to say so you can't blame them." Well, I've been in situations where I didn't know what to say, either. So I said either nothing or very little.

Rebecca said...

You know, that should actually be a separate entry. I'll do one on what NOT to say.

Anonymous said...

I recently went to get a massage with my husband. I am ten weeks pregnant so I told the massage therapist, who went on and on about what a blessing pregnancy is. Then she asked the dreaded question -"is this your first?" and I responded, "no" and she said, "are your others so excited?" and I said, "my son died five months ago". And she said, "stop! You are going to make me cry. Wow! You are doing so well!". Now, WHY would she think I am doing so well? Because I was at the spa, getting a massage? It was my first time out of bed in weeks. "No", I said, "I am not doing well". She had literally met me less than five minutes before. Just thinking about it makes me tense. Can anyone refer me to a mute massage therapist please?

Rebecca said...

I had to chuckle a little bit when I read this. I hate that question "How may children do you have?" My husband tries to avoid the question and usually answers "two." I don't. I say, "I have two living children and one that passed away." I don't say, "I have three" anymore because it makes me feel like Toby doesn't get the respect he deserves. While my husband rarely brings up Toby, when when asked, I have been known to volunteer the information to random strangers.

Congratulations on the pregnancy.Being pregnant with the "rainbow baby" was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. It was exciting, but so scary. Not only was it a complicated pregnancy but, in a way, I dreaded her coming because of the anxiety and fear of losing her once she got here. Nobody understood that. She's here now, though, and it did bring some renewed spark back to us. :-)

When I was pregnant after losing Toby I wet to a practice that had 16 doctors on staff. I had to go every week and always had a different doctor. After about 13 times of having doctors neglect to read my history and referring to Toby as my "miscarriage" I flipped my lid. At one point the conversation went like this:
Doctor: So how far along where you when you had your abortion?
Me: It wasn't an abortion.
Doctor: I'm sorry, I meant spontaneous abortion. That's what we call a miscarriage.
Me: It wasn't a miscarriage.
Doctor: Oh, I'm sorry. Stillbirth then.
Me: He wasn't stillborn! He was two months old when he died!


If I come across that mute massage therapist I'll let you know.