Thursday, May 17, 2012

Giving them the benefit of the doubt

When you lose a child, you spend a lot of time focusing on other people. I know it sounds crazy, but I really feel like a lot of my energy was placed more on others than myself. There are those who want to be comforted regarding YOUR loss, those who suddenly crave attention themselves and for whatever reason feel more validated if they get it from someone like yourself, and those who just flat our drive you crazy for a myriad of other reasons.

One thing that we hear a lot is that "they mean well" or "I guess they didn't know what else to say." This is always brought up when someone says something inherently stupid. At what point, though, do you stop giving them the benefit of the doubt and just tell them to shut the hell up?

I personally don't like the platitudes myself. "He's in a better place", "I guess God knew what he was doing", "time heals all wounds", etc. Sometimes, I think the person really means it but most of the time I think they're just repeating some mantra that they think they're supposed to say and they're really not putting the thought in behind the words. Still, I usually just smile and nod.

Then, there are the cruel things. "Just think of all the money you'll save now that you don't have to buy diapers", "at least he was just a baby so you didn't get too attached to him", "oh, did you not follow the SIDS prevention rules?"

Those things just piss me off.

I've also encountered the weird things. Like when someone has a conversation with me about the hypothetical, or fictional, loss of a child and never once brings up the fact that I lose one or even connects the two. I have sat there and listened to them and had to remind myself that they were actually at his funeral so it's not like they didn't know he died.

And the people who are kind of like grief junkies and start pretending that my loss affects them in the same way it affects me, to the point where the people around them might even think that they were the ones who lost a child. (By the way, these are people who either never met Toby or saw him once-not people like my mom who was around him every day.)

I can give a good example of this...I recently had to cut someone off because they randomly decided to take the initiative and call the coroner's office themselves to ask for the official cause of death, just because they wanted to know. This was not a family member or anyone close to the death-just someone who thinks they are more involved than they are.

A lot of times, we hear that people just don't know what to say or how to react. Well, I am 100% sure that I have said or done the wrong thing in the past when someone has died. But I am also 100% sure that  I never said anything like what some people have said to me and I certainly never crossed any inappropriate boundaries like calling the coroner's office.

If you don't know what to say, how about an I'm sorry? Or even "I don't know what to say?" You don't have to talk or play therapist or even validate our feelings. Sometimes, we just want to talk. Sometimes, we don't.

I get tired of giving people the benefit of the doubt. How come they can say cruel things to me under the guise of "they just don't know what to say" yet I get chastised for saying something back if I don't like it? Why do they get the pass at being cruel but I don't? Seems like another injustice to me.

If you go back to one of my earliest blog entries after Toby's death (it's on my other blog) you will see that one of Pete's former friends commented and told me that I was "disturbed" and that it didn't have anything to do with Toby dying. ( and ( You can also see where my brother-in-law told me to shut the fuck up, weeks after Toby died ( and the beautiful response my mother gave him ( When I snapped back at them, I seemed to have wound up half of England and we were flooded with people telling me how horrible I was.

Sometimes, grieving puts you under a microscope. People watch you and analyze you, ready to criticize you for not acting or reacting in the right way. Well, it's not pretty. None of these feelings are.

Instead of trying to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, I have finally learned to give it to myself. 


Susan said...

Hi Rebecca
Have spent the last hour or so flicking back through your blog entries from immediately after you lost Toby. I actually feel quite shaky just reading it now. I am so, so very sorry. I had an attack on my blog about 6 months after my daughter died - it was strangers not friends and family - and that was bad enough. I think it left me winded. My friend, who lost her little boy, also had similar attacks, and needed moderation on for months, as her child's father and his "friends" had a similar need to tell her how she should see things.

I think it must be that people just don't get it. It's almost the "I know your kid died BUT....(I'm gonna behave like that didn't happen)". I also remember being told that I was inherently a nasty person - and having a dead daughter didn't mean they shouldn't be able to make horrible comments etc. What total fuckers.

I totally understand why your husband couldn't face his mother's funeral. After Catherine died John and I couldn't handle being apart for a couple of months. I remember him going out to move the car off the street onto the drive - and I didn't want him to do it - because I seriously thought I couldn't handle being separated that long. People who haven't experienced this just don't understand.

I have also been mulling over the comments from the lady who lost a baby 34 years ago. I always take comments from other bereaved mums especially serious - I suppose I feel they should get it. I didn't agree with her. I wonder if 3 decades dulls her memory of the extreme pain. Anyway - being dignified is blinking over rated.

More generally, this post resonates strongly for me. I could have written it. It is always us being asked to make allowance for other people. I suppose it is because we are the odd ones out - hardly anyone understands our position. It is easy to empathise with people who don't know what to say - you are in good company.

Like you, I feel totally fed up of it. Maybe it is a stage in our grief we are going through? Someone needs to write a manual, I suspect.

Big hug
Susan x

Rebecca said...

Maybe we should write that manual. Seems to be a market for it. For someone at least.

I appreciate your comments. You know, the woman who lost her child 34 years...I don't know her personally. She had kept up with my blog before Toby died. I didn't agree with her, either, but can kind of understand better now. I wonder, too, if you hadn't dealt with the negativity that I (and you) did that maybe it was hard to understand.

I have to say, the things that I posted on my blog were just the tip of the iceberg. If you could have seen the text messages I was getting, telling me that they hoped I lost my baby (when I was pregnant) the "congratulations, you've killed two people now!" was horrible. What an awful time. Makes me shake thinking about it as well.

I am glad you understand about my husband not going. He still feels a tremendous amount of guilt about that. He actually tried to get in the car and leave and right before he did our son walked out and asked, "Where are you going, Daddy?" and he just couldn't do it. At that point, the three of us could NOT be separated. It was too much. The people here totally understood that but the ones on the other side of the pond did not and that's when all holy hell broke loose.

I know that I should have been the better person, and a lot of times I tried really hard, but in the end I got tired. I have thought that if I wrote a book about childloss it would focus more on surviving other people than the loss of the child. Toby ended up as a little pawn that people could just toss around and use to get to me and Pete. Maybe that's why I don't write about him personally as much, but focus more on my feelings. I still feel like I am protecting him.

Groves said...

Sometimes, grieving puts you under a microscope. People watch you and analyze you, ready to criticize you for not acting or reacting in the right way. Well, it's not pretty. None of these feelings are.

Instead of trying to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, I have finally learned to give it to myself.


You (and Susan, too) said so much here, so well.

My grief is not a mirror of your grief. I would be a fool to claim any kind of perfect understanding of all the Hell you are being handed. I know that's impossible. The echoes are there, though, and I hear them loud and clear.

I am infuriated - INFURIATED - by the words tossed at you. I do not understand this level of calloused, selfish horror-heaping. Because that is what they do - heap horror on your heads while you drown in depths they never grasp.

As mentioned, surely a manual begs for print. I have seen any number of books advising the (as Susan put it so well, elsewhere) "hobby horse" about "giving them the benefit of the doubt."

I've seen very little about learning that it's okay to give that grace to YOURSELF, as you said. And not take all the cruelty as a matter of course...

"...being dignified is blinking over rated." Hear, hear, Susan!

"I have thought that if I wrote a book about childloss it would focus more on surviving other people than the loss of the child."

You write well, and what you write resonates. Hopefully at some point it will reach an even wider audience. I *know* there are other hearts bleeding - and there is no doubt they would find comfort in your words wrought through fire.

xoxo Cathy in Missouri

Katie (LukeGrantsMom) said...

Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, really is what everyone should take to heart. It makes me sick to think of all the people who have been so damaging to you.