Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What NOT to Say to a Grieving Parent

This goes along with the last blog post...

From the Baby Steps website:

DON’T avoid mentioning their loss or the child's name out of fear of reminding them of their pain (they haven't forgotten it!).

DON’T change the subject when they mention their dead child.

DON’T tell them what they should feel or do.

DON'T avoid the bereaved parents because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already painful experience.)

DON'T let your friends, family or co-workers grieve alone. There is a tremendous sense of isolation and abandonment during the grief process. You can help by caring, by being there, and by being the best friend you can. (Well...we already know how I feel about that. I guess in some cases they felt like a month or two was long enough.) 

DON'T make any comments which in any way suggest that their loss was their fault. (This can be unintentional, too. I recently worried about Iris and had someone tell me that I would be fine with her, that they had been "watching" me to see if I did anything inappropriate with her and hadn't witnessed anything that they should be concerned about.) 

DON’T point out that at least they have their other children (children are not interchangeable; they can not replace each other). (Yep, good thing I have that back-up child!)

DON'T say "Your loved one is waiting for you over there," "God wanted him," "It was God's will," or "God knows best." (Just try to convince a grieving parent that someone else knows what is best for their child. Besides, religious might comfort YOU but that doesn't mean it comforts the other person.)

DON'T say “you can always have another child.” (Children are not replaceable and what if the person can't?

DON'T say “you should be coping or feeling better by now” or anything else which may seem judgmental about their progress in grieving. (How do you know when they should be feeling better? Grief never goes away.)

DON'T say that you know how they feel (unless you've experienced their loss yourself you probably don't know how they feel). (Even if you HAVE experienced a similar loss, it's a pretty individual journey.) 

DON'T suggest that they should be grateful for their other children. Grief over the loss of one child does not discount the parents’ love and appreciation of their living children. (I can't even go there with this one.)

DON'T tell them not to cry. It hurts us to see them cry and makes us sad. But, by telling them not to cry, we are trying to take their grief away.

DON'T tell them what they should feel or do. (This includes going to therapy. Not everyone does well in therapy, can afford therapy, or wants to go. It's a personal decision.)

DON'T try to find something positive (e.g. a moral lesson, closer family ties, etc.) about the loss. (Someone told a dad I know that at least he can save money every month by not buying diapers.) 

Allow your own fears from preventing you from offering support to the bereaved.

Fear that bringing up the dead child's name will create sadness.

Say, "If you need anything call me" because the bereaved don't always know how to call and ask for your support. (And will probably immediately forget that you said that.)

Be afraid if you make your bereaved friend or relative cry.

Think that good news (family wedding, pregnancy, job promotion, etc.) cancels out grief. (Yes, happy things do still happen to us and around us. That doesn't mean we are "cured.")

Have expectations for what bereaved parents should or should not be doing at different times in their grief. (I wish all of Pete's friends that caused us so much grief could read this and understand it.)

Forget the overlooked mourners (grandparents, uncles, aunt's, close friends etc.) who need your support too.

Force bereaved people to talk about their loss. They will engage you when the time is right. (There are people in my life who bring things up JUST to get a reaction out of me. Not cool.)

Find yourself saying any of the following:
i. It was God's will.
ii. It was meant to be.
iii. He's in a better place now.
iv. Time heals all wounds.
v. I know just how you feel.
vi. You are still young enough to have more children.
vii. Are you not over it yet?
viii. At least you have other children.
ix. Your child is in a better place.
x. It was for the best.
xi. Now you will have an angel in heaven.
xii. It could have been worse...
xiii. It's been ______ amount of time and you have to get on with your life.

Expect grieving parents to be strong and don't compliment them if they seem to be strong. (This makes us place unreasonable expctations on ourselves.)

Tell a grieving parent how they should feel.

Be afraid of reminding the parents about the child. They haven't forgotten.

Be afraid to cry or laugh in front of the bereaved.

Assume that when a grieving parent is laughing, they are over anything or grieving any less.

Wait until you know the perfect thing to say. Just say whatever is in your heart or say nothing at all. Sometimes just being there is comfort enough.

Underestimate the impact of grief on children. Children understand and retain a lot more than they may show.

Think that children are too young to appreciate loss or death. (But please talk to your own children about the appropriateness of bringing up the loss around our children or ourselves. Questions are fine. Repeated references to our child being "dead" to our faces are NOT fine.) 

This parent wrote this in a blog entry:
"It has been a year, they should just get over it and move on" - yes, I heard this recently, referring to someone else's grief.  I was shocked this was being said to me.
  "Just sent my child off to camp for a week, hope I can survive without her" - you chose to send your child away for a week, I am sure you will survive.  Try never seeing yours again and then we can discuss survival.
  "Things happen for a reason" - would love to know what that is.
  "He is in a better place" - if it is so good why are we all not there? Who says it is better then with his parents that love him?
  "You can always have another child" - Maybe, maybe not.  We want the child we just lost not a new one.  You can't replace one with another.
  "You are so strong, I could never go through what you are going through"  - I wasn't given the choice and really have no options.
  "I know how you feel"  This is usually followed by "I recently lost my sister/dad/dog/uncle" - Unless you have lost a child you really do not know how we feel, it is very different from losing anyone else.
  "I wanted to call or visit, but it was too hard" -  It is hard for us too.
  "Be glad he was only 4 months and not 4 years"- Age does not determine love
  "It has been some time now, you must be feeling better." - It isn't like a cold or the flu, you never get "better," just different.

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