October is Child Loss Awareness Month and this month always hits me a little hard. I haven't ever lost a child, but years ago I had a friend lose her child. It was both confusing and challenging for me. I hate to admit it, but I wasn't a good friend in that moment. This is someone who I have known for years. I attended her wedding. I have spent time with her and gotten to know her and considered a friend, and yet none of that mattered....because of one simple reason. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what questions are okay and what are off limits...and so I did nothing. I said nothing. I contemplated sending a card and still, I did nothing. I consulted another friend who told me I should just do nothing as well. I remember it not feeling right, but I did nothing still.
I was a coward.
I bet I'm not alone in this response either.
Years have passed. I have only grown closer to my friend and I finally had an opportunity to share with her the remorse that I have about my lack of support to her. She confirmed that, indeed, I am not the only person who chose to do and say nothing. In fact, some people said the wrong things as well. This broke my heart.
So I asked the question...What should I have done? I explained all of my shallow reasons and my half attempts that all seemed so wrong. This friend of mine, you see, she is amazing and she acts with grace and so she told me exactly what I could've done and exactly what I shouldn't ever do. I asked that she co-write this piece with me.
I'd like to share her story of loss with you.
"My journey started in 2009 when I was 20 weeks pregnant. This was to be my second child, and I
wanted to be surprised. All I wanted, like any parent, was for my baby to born happy and healthy. We were moving into a new house but were staying at my parents because we hadn’t finished moving everything. I woke up in the middle of the night bleeding and tried not to freak out too much. I called the nurses hotline and they advised that I go to the ER.
Two weeks later, at 22 weeks, due to many, many reasons, I gave birth to a baby girl. She and I faded at the same time together. And while she left her earthly body, I was brought back. We named her Giovanna Phoenix. She was perfect. Perfectly beautiful. She was everything I had imagined my little girl to look like. I held Gigi in my arms, I have her a birth and a death certificate, photos, and an urn and several years later it still hurts.
The weeks, months, and year after her death were a journey. I visited the five stages of grief. Often. Some stages I experienced many times and to what order they would come in, no one could predict. I had never in my life felt so angry, hopeless, lost, and empty. I wished many times that they would have let me go with her so that I wouldn’t have to feel the true depth of every emotion I was always scared of. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to reemerge from my grief and despair that felt like I was being chained to the bottom of the ocean. Cold, dark, and heavy. I would go into public and, while my body was present, my mind was not.
While everyone experiences, heals and recovers from this journey differently, my saving grace was my first child. He would come to me with such compassion and an eagerness to make me happy again. It would pull at every single heart string I have. He would lie in bed with me when I couldn’t get out of it, and he would sing and dance and laugh and give me kisses and hugs. I slowly began to see the beauty in life again. In every smile he flashed, every soul-filling hug, and silly dance that he danced, I would see a bit of magic. HE willed me to live, and more than that, he willed me to be present.
I slowly started to see the beauty around me again. I started to see life through his eyes and I knew I couldn’t miss it. I had gone to the edge of the world and back again. It was a long journey, one that I still find myself on from time to time. There are days, moments, weeks, that I find myself back where I started. Her birthday, due date, holidays, baby book, are all the usual reminders but something as simple as seeing my boys run through a field or play with worms or simply just be, is enough to bring me to tears. I would wish and pray that she was here to experience this life that is ours.
I have learned so much during this process, and I know I have much more to learn. I have learned that every day is a gift. Truly - a gift. I am able to watch as my children grow, learn, stumble, and wonder. While some days are harder than others, I am conscious to look for the beauty in them and the world around me, every day. I hold my children tighter than I ever have at night, and wish for the time to slow down so I can absorb every moment into my very being. I realize that the things they do that would have upset me in the past, are not THAT big of a deal. They are learning, they are pushing, and they are experimenting with who they are and what they can do. I have tried to rule with love and patience more than ever before and have let that fill my heart.
While this journey was purely mine, the core of it is no different than others who experience a loss. We are all unimaginably heart broken."
Knowing that others may be responding in the same way, she took the time to come up with some things that would've comforted her, in hopes that people might be better equipped to handle these situations in the future. She also took the time to point out things that really hurt her. Take a look at this and if you encounter a loved one who is experiencing loss, consider that simply responding in these ways may make a world of difference for them.
1. Express That You Are Sorry For Their Loss.
It's as simple as that. A genuine “I’m sorry” lets them know that you’re feeling for them and not ignoring the situation.
2. Ask If You Can Do Anything....Or Simply Do Something.
Most people will probably say no. But if you’re close enough, you can do something anyways. Take their
kid/s for a couple hours so they can shower, sleep, cry, or just be. Cook for them. The last thing she wanted to do was cook. Pre-made meals were a life saver. If food and kids aren’t in your bag of tricks, a card or flowers is perfectly acceptable. The point is to show that you’re there for them during this hard time.
3. Speak The Child’s Name.
Some babies come to stay for a lifetime. Others bless us with their presence for a couple of months,
weeks, minutes and some may not take a breath outside of the womb, but they bless us nonetheless.
Don’t be afraid to speak the babies’ name. My friend told me that it doesn’t hurt when Gigi’s name is spoken, but it hurts when it’s not. I would've never known that and the idea of speaking her name had always scared me because I feared I would hurt my friend, so I would avoid the subject. She explained that her baby girl was here and she was loved. Gigi was a part of her and her family. So, if you know of the child's name, please don’t hesitate to say it. I know that my friend gets comfort knowing her daughter touched the lives of others too and saying her name reminds her of that.
4. Ask About A Favorite Memory Of Their Child.
Every mother will have a memory. Whether it is a positive pregnancy test, sharing the news, or cradling their child...trust me, they will have one.
These four things are enough to let someone know they aren’t alone, and that they have support from
people that love them. If someone does come to you with their grief, please know that they aren’t
expecting you to fix it, reason it away, or have answers. More than likely, they are coming to you
because they trust you in this horrible state and they need to talk through things.
While the list of what to say is short, I know that she heard plenty of things that made her travel further to the bottom of the sea. I’m sure none of them were said with malice, but it hurt her nonetheless.
Consider that, for some people, these things should be left unsaid.
1. Telling Them That God Has A Plan Or To Have Faith In Him, Or Anything Alluding To God Meaning For This To Happen.
After Gigi passed away, my friend had many people telling her that “God has a plan” or “God only chooses those who can handle it.” For many people, these references may be comforting. But for other people, you have no idea what they might be internally struggling with and it's hard enough to experience the loss that they are. The last thing you want to do is push faith in their face when they may be struggling with that as well. I know my friend felt like people were saying that she was chosen to have this happen to and that it would all just be okay. Does anyone really want to think or feel like they were on the top of the future bereaved parent’s list? It’s not a prize.
2.Telling Them That It Will Be Okay.
Listen...no, it’s not okay. 7 years later for her and it’s still not okay. Does she function day to day? Yes. Can she see beauty again? Yes. Do you think it’s okay that her daughter isn’t opening Christmas presents and celebrating birthdays? No. Seriously, it’s still not ok. Don't tell her that it will okay, because it probably never will be.
3. "If It Makes You Feel Better" Stories.
Are you kidding me? Seriously, you’ve got to be kidding me…right? Do you honestly think any crappy thing you’ve gone through will make someone else feel better? It won't. It's comparing your thing to their thing and by doing that you fail to value their thing for what it is. Theirs. Not yours. Nothing like yours. Don't do this.
4. Telling Them That It Will Get Easier With Time.
You’re probably right. But asking someone grieving to look down the road and outside of their grief in that moment isn’t realistic, and probably isn't even healthy. They know that it won’t hurt as bad every single day at some point far, far, far down the road but don't try to force them to look for that.
5. Tell Them That Everything Happens For A Reason.
There is no acceptable reason for a baby to be taken from their mother.
6. Tell Them That They Should Be Thankful For... Anything.
My friend read an article that nailed part of it. It said “Before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful for the children they have, think about which one of yours you could live without.” If you have children, consider that. There is nothing that someone can be thankful for when they are hurting like this. Don't devalue their feelings by making them think they don't deserve to hurt.
7. Give Them “At Least” Scenarios.
This is never a good way to start a sentence to a grieving parent. No minimization of what happened will make it hurt less. This is an all or nothing loss someone.
My hope is that some understanding and insight to this journey can be beneficial for others if they encounter the same experience. The most important factors in all of this are to think before you speak and have the courage to take action. I consider myself a strong person and a good friend, and even I fell short. It won't happen again and, while I hope I never know another woman to go through this, I know that I will be better if I do. I will do better. I will be stronger for them. I will do it for Gigi.