When A Child Dies

by admin on February 27, 2013

Reprinted with permission.

 

Some of you know my 12 yo daughter Rachael died 3 years ago this month. It is fascinating to me what types of things I have learned through losing her. A friends 11 yo son is- dying of cancer and is struggling so I thought it might help to share a few things that you should never say to a mom who has a child dying or one who died.

1. Never tell us that we are doing *it* wrong. *It* is unbearable and we are doing the best there is to do. Honest. If you would do things differently that is fine. But don’t tell us. This is not your job or burden to bear and we DO have to do it and you don’t.

2. Don’t tell us that they are in a better place. We know heaven is nicer than here, but we like them here just fine and really…it feels like you are saying we are not good enough for our child to stay.

3. Please don’t tell us ways to save them. We already want to and can’t or couldn’t.

4. Don’t tell us that God *must* heal our child if we just have enough faith. Perfect healing is in heaven for us all and I have yet to meet a Christian who never died. If faith was all it takes to heal everyone NO one would ever die.

5. It hurts us to be told that losing a child to death by sickness or accident is the same a when your 94 year old grandmother died in her sleep 2 years ago. It isn’t the same thing at all. We know you are in pain, but it is not the same thing. At all.

6. Please don’t expect us to be back to normal in a month and it is a fallacy to say grieving takes a year. We will never be the same and it will take a long time to find our way again. We will never be *over it*.

7. Please help us. Life is so overwhelming that after the death it is hard to even think of HOW to cook a meal, let alone do it. And if our child has not died yet, please offer to help in any and every way possible. If you are far away, money helps us to buy help.

8. Let us cry. We are so sorry that it makes you uncomfortable, but it is a fact of our life now. Tears will come and it doesn’t mean that it is bad to talk about our children, only that we are deeply grieving them.

9. It means a lot to us when you remember our child. Expecially later when it feels like everyone has forgotten.

10. Having another baby is not the answer to losing the one that died.

11. It is NOT easier, or harder, that we have other children. No one can replace the one that died.

12. Please don’t watch us as though we are about to throw ourselves into the open grave. None of us likes to be thought of as a freak show. And please think of us as something other than the-lady-whose-kid-died. That is a hard definition to live with. But also please be gentle with us for quite a while. We can’t handle rough treatment.

13. We may gain weight, or lose weight, or sleep more, or not sleep at all. We may be sad for a long time. It does not mean something wrong with us. It just means we are profoundly changed.

14. We will never be the same as you once knew us. Please don’t expect us to be.

15. Remember that our families are hurting too.

16. We can’t help you through our child’s death. We recognize that it is hard for many people but please don’t lean on us as we go through this. We can’t hold you up. We have other people that we have to help already. Come and help hold us up instead please.

Pretty please?

Corinne Mutch Kligmann

{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexa February 27, 2013 at 3:50 am

I completely understand this. My elder brother passed away suddenly in his sleep in 2001 leaving behind his wife of 6 months. I was living away from home at the time and I know my parents appreciated folk stopping by the house to drop off food. He died on a Sunday and I went into work the next day – quite a few colleagues were astonished and asked why I didn’t stay home. I had to tell them that the routine of being at work helped me to get through the day (and HR was really insensitive – “you can get three days off work for “grief time” but we’ll need proof that he died first”).
I resented people quoting scripture at me, it was unhelpful to say the least and I felt like replying “God is supposed to answer our prayers, right? So why doesn’t he raise my brother from his grave when I’m begging him – he brought Lazarus back, didn’t he? So it’s not like it’s beyond his powers”. It’s amazing how his death became old news and people we knew at the time can be surprised that we’re still hurting. Most days are fine and “tear-free” but every now and then something will happen to open up old wounds and then all the grief I felt that day comes flooding back. I missed not having him at my wedding, missed him not meeting his baby nephew.
One of the difficulties I’ve found since then is knowing how to answer questions about if I have brothers or sisters. Do I say “no” or do I say “yes, but he died” and risk making the other person feel uncomfortable?
So, I agree with Corinne. Be careful what you say to the grieving. Think twice before speaking and don’t say “I know how you feel” unless you really *do* know how we feel.

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AnnieS February 27, 2013 at 5:24 am

Thank you for sharing this. 20 years ago my nephew died at age 3 days. The cruellest thing said to me was that we were so lucky, as we didn’t really know him. We may not have known him for very long, but we had loved him and waited for him for 9 months, and just because he was only with us for 3 short days does not mean that my brother and sister-in-law grieved less authentically.

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DGS February 27, 2013 at 7:30 am

Amen, from a mother who has buried two babies and is blessed to have one on this Earth. Exactly right. And I am so truly sorry for your loss. Words fail me. May your daughter’s memory be a blessing.

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AS February 27, 2013 at 7:32 am

We have lost 2 newborns. One of the harshest things ever said to me (by an intensive care nurse, while our 3rd newborn was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) was, “oh, sometimes it’s just not meant to be.”

Trust me. Nobody wants to hear this about a child they have lost, or may lose. It may be how you view the world, but keep it to yourself. It’s dismissive and hurtful.

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Lo February 27, 2013 at 7:40 am

Thanks for this.

I’ve fortunately never known anyone personally who has lost a child, but as someone who is always unsure of how to react to a death and how to do my best for the bereaved, this post has been amazing. And also a sad reminder of how self-centered people can be without thinking. It never occured to me that someone might expect the grieving parent to help them, an outside party, through the death of a child. It seems shocking but I guess when I think about it, it seems perfectly in line with human nature; not designed to wound the ones we love, but doing so out of self-centered thoughtlessness.

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Michele February 27, 2013 at 7:46 am

Your precious daughter will be on my mind for a long time. Thank you for sharing how to help a grieving friend

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Sarah February 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

A million hugs. I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter, Rachael. That’s a lovely name.

A friend had a ‘oops’ pregnancy at 18, and sadly, her sweet little girl only lived 24 hours. A mutual friend (well, former friend now) had the nerve to say that since it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, she shouldn’t be as sad as she was, and that since she was young, it was probably better that the little girl died than have to live with a young, poor, unwed mother.

This was two days after she buried her baby. She slapped that former friend so hard he had a bruise for a week.

That’s an example of maliciousness, but I know most people just don’t know what to say and are trying to say SOMETHING. Whether the loss was before birth, during birth, shortly after birth or many years later, a parent is still heartbroken. If they are grieving, say you are sorry for their loss. Don’t tell them it wasn’t as bad because “you were only five months pregnant” or “at least you had him for thirty years”. Just say you are sorry.

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Haley February 27, 2013 at 8:33 am

I know I can’t even begin to imagine the grief of losing a child, but I do remember when my dear friend lost his oldest son. I was there when he got the phone call, and this military veteran crumbled at my feet and wept. The grief in the home was tangible and devastating. Over the next week and at the funeral, I witnessed many well-intended, yet insensitive words from many people. The most memorable was, “It was just his time.” Of course, the Lord has his plans and decided to call him up to heaven that day he died, but I know my friend was thinking, “He was just a child. How could it possibly have been his time?” He grieved not only the loss of his child, but grieved for his child all of the life experiences his son would never see. No matter God’s plans, a parent will never agree that it was their child’s “time”.

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Corlia February 27, 2013 at 8:44 am

Very true, every point…. Every person experience grief differently and you can never be prepared for it, you can only hope that it will get better (and it will, every year). Hugs to the letter writer.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
? C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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Melnick February 27, 2013 at 8:45 am

Ah. This brought a tear to my eye. I have watched a friend deal with the death of her baby who was almost the same age as mine at the time. She said the worst things are the people telling her that he’s in a better place (and she is a devout Christian) and that people avoid her because they feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say (guess what, suck it up – feel uncomfortable for a while to help your friend) and the people who NEVER mention her son because they are afraid of making her cry. It hurts far worse that people forget your child when you can never be the same. I always make a point to reference him by name in some small way – as a natural part of a conversation and I always include her son’s name in her family christmas card and I always make a point of acknowledging his birthday and the impact he made during the short time he was here.

It may feel uncomfortable to be confronted with such raw emotions, but we are blessed that we have not had to experience a loss like that. If you don’t know what to say, simply say that this sucks and it feels unfair and you are sorry that they have to experience this. And love them. Love them. Love them. Love them. And then love them so more.

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another Laura February 27, 2013 at 8:57 am

My 17-year-old brother died in a car wreck 22 yemonthsago this summer. He fell asleep at the wheel phrases failed to complete a hairpin turn. I was 15. My mom still gets misty-eyed when she talks about him.
I would add to this list that for the first few months following a death of a child, “comforting” phrases are often anything but. Sometimes they are just empty platitudes, other times they can make the pain worse. The best ways to comfort are: bring food that is easy to serve (especially immediately following the death when there are usually many visitors), offer your presence, but also be willing to leave quickly if the grieving family needs solitude.

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Mary February 27, 2013 at 9:08 am

Oh I so agree with all those! We lost two daughters, but we knew before they were born that they were going to die, fatal birth defects. I have heard “well it isn’t like you got attached to them”, “you knew they were going to die, so you shouldn’t be so sad, it wasn’t as if they were ‘real’ people”. And my cousin lost her baby 2 months later and I said “ah I understand what she is going through” and was told I didn’t because “her baby was going to be born alive and yours was going to die anyway”.

I still mourn the lost of my two daughters and it has been 14 and 13 years. You never really “get over it” you just form a new “normal”.

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Patti February 27, 2013 at 9:18 am

I am sorry your family lost your beautiful daughter Rachel at a young age. Grieving is different for every family member. I do think your suggestions are wonderful. Especially just let someone cry.
I send you warm hugs thru the mail. In time talking about her will get easier for you.

My brother Robert died at 20, and after 31 years my Mom still has a hard time. But what I can do is bring flowers yearly to his grave and wash off the gravestone. My sisters and I can talk about our families memories as kids. But what I won’t do anymore is to think about how he died as he was buried on my Birthday. It took me years before I thought I could still have my Birthday day.

I like to think how Robert is in heaven helping Jesus build things.

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abf February 27, 2013 at 9:19 am

Thank you for sharing this. Please extend my sincere condolences to Mrs. Kligmann and her family in the loss of her precious daughter, Rachel.

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Sarah Jane February 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

This is not something any of us like to think about, but this information is necessary.

For those of us who believe, God does not heal every adult, and He does not heal every child. He has His reasons.

Also, even when a parent believes his or her child is “in a better place”, it offers very little comfort in the moment. When someone states the obvious, it usually serves to be more irritating than helpful.

The best thing we can offer is a listening ear, rather than a speaking tongue, in order to show love or kindness to someone whose pain many of us will never understand.

Thank you for sharing.

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Kathryn Dickinson February 27, 2013 at 9:32 am

Dear Corrine,
So Sorry to hear of your loss. I too lost my daughter at age 17 to influenza. If there is anything I could add to your list it would be this, don’t run away and hide from a grieving mother. I can not tell you how many times I would be in a grocery store or park when other mothers or fathers that I knew would turn tail and hide behind a display or tree to avoid me. It was as if they felt my bad luck would rub off on them, or they did not know what to say, or they felt guilty. This is profoundly hurtful. It happened more than once and still happens 4 years later.
For those of us left behind the pain and guilt never goes away even though we were not responsible for the death. When someone runs away it reenforces those feelings , and brings back that terrible day
to the present. Just say hello. Most of us who suffered a loss will not regale you with more details unless asked, we just want to be acknowledged, we are still here.
Sincerely

Kathryn

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psyche February 27, 2013 at 9:42 am

This reminds me of a bit George Carlin did on his last album where he discussed the things we say to the relatives of someone who died, the gist of which was that while they were well-meaning, they were kinda meaningless, like “I’m sure he’s in a better place.” We say these things, he argued, to sound like caring individuals when really we don’t care. We want the beraved to mourn and move on with their lives.

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Phoebe161 February 27, 2013 at 9:49 am

May I add one? If the grieving parents are expecting a new baby, don’t ask if they are going to have the fetus genetically tested & then (shudder) ask if they will terminate the pregnancy. That’s NONE of your business! And don’t force your opinion on genetic testing & abortion on them; they already know the pros & cons better than you.

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Betty February 27, 2013 at 9:52 am

I lost my nine-year old daughter in September. My sister lost her infant son ten years ago (just two weeks before my daughter was born). These words are absolutely spot on. Thank you.

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Mrs. Lovett February 27, 2013 at 10:10 am

I read a similar list right after my sister-in-law had a miscarriage, as it was so important to me to say the right thing and avoid inadvertently saying anything hurtful or insensitive as she and my brother mourned their loss. Lists like these should be widely read and distributed because most people probably don’t even realize what they’re doing.

Piggybacking on what Sarah Jane said, telling a parent their child is in a better place can be irritating and unhelpful to a religious person who believes in heaven. However, not everyone believes in an afterlife in the first place. I’m somewhere in between agnostic and atheist but keep my beliefs to myself because most of the people I love are devout Christians. While I always try to accept religious sentiments in the spirit in which they are given, being told that a loved one is in a better place when I don’t believe in an afterlife would be very painful.

I think for a religious person (which I was most of my life until relatively recently), the idea of a loved one in heaven can be very comforting, but they have to reach that conclusion themselves and choose to view it that way. For some, this perception may manifest immediately after death, and for others they made need to mourn for years before they can see things that way. But in any case, telling a mourner that their loved one in in heaven, however well-intentioned, can cause real hurt, so it’s a phrase to avoid.

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PM February 27, 2013 at 10:28 am

Ugh, the fact that this woman has had to deal with so many different types of insensitive comments just breaks my heart. And really stinks is that the people making these comments are not interested in comforting the grieving, and what they’re basically telling these parents who have lost their daughter is, “Your sadness is making me uncomfortable. So stop it.”

My cousin has six living children. Her fifth pregnancy resulted in a late term miscarriage. I was appalled at the number of people who discouraged her from having a small private memorial service because the baby “never really lived.” Or told her that she shouldn’t be grieving because she already had four kids. Or the one charmer who told her, “Oh, well, you have enough kids anyway.”

Fortunately, she’s gone on to have two more healthy children, but the comments from those insensitive jerks always makes my blood boil when I think about them.

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koolchicken February 27, 2013 at 10:32 am

This was perfect, should be required reading for everyone. I would love to see one regarding children who lived. My son is only three months old and I’ve already been asked if I’ll have another one, you know as a backup incase this one still dies. Not exactly what you should say to a recently post c section Mum who’s kid just got out of the NICU and is struggling with PPD…

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Gee February 27, 2013 at 10:40 am

This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it. My sincerest condolences to the letter writer and her family.

I think a lot of people are trying to find a way to make things better. But no words can make it better. Nothing can. And attempts to do so just make it that much worse. A person who is grieving will just feel like someone is trying to invalidate their feelings when they say something stupid like the examples given. I think people should be taught to say, “I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk about it? What can I do?” the same as we are taught to say please and thank you. The problem is that people just don’t know what to say, and then say the complete wrong thing.

I’ve had three miscarriages, so I’ve had the same things said to me. I am sick of being told that I can just have another baby. First of all, that’s not a guarantee, given my medical history. And secondly, you cannot replace someone you love. Once, when someone told me I could have another baby, I said, “So if my husband dies, no big deal, I can just get married again?” Nope, it doesn’t work that way.

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Margaret February 27, 2013 at 10:41 am

Thank you for sharing this. I would hate to add to someone’s suffering and grief by saying something foolish. The post gave us concrete suggestions on what helps during an awful time like this and what not to do or say.

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Nichole February 27, 2013 at 10:54 am

I had a dear friend who died as a teen. Almost 30 years later her parents still grieve and the thing that they like most is when someone brings up a memory of their child. I think it lets them know that people haven’t forgotten their daughter.

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Helen February 27, 2013 at 10:55 am

I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I hope people around you follow your suggestions. I will be sure to in future.

The worst thing I remember hearing after the death of a parent (when I was a teen) was “Were you close?” It was repeated by many different people. I hope others aren’t asked that, either.

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Wendy B. February 27, 2013 at 10:58 am

You never stop grieving, you just find ways to get through the days. To this day I still cry sometimes over my grandparents, all gone 20 years or more, but some days I still try to call my grandma…and have to stop. My best friend (an only child, btw) died suddenly five and a half years ago. I still rail at God about that one, I still cry.

People who think they know all about grief never really experienced it. The best friends in the world let you cry years later and hold you when you do. Hang on to them, they’re more valuable than diamonds.

That advice is excellent for anyone experiencing a loss, whether child, parent, friend or even pet. Thank you!

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siamesecat 2965 February 27, 2013 at 11:14 am

I totally agree. I saw my parents go through this, when my younger brother died at age 11. I was 15, and shy and introverted. I only vaguely recall people bringing food to the house, and the memorial service at the funeral home, etc. And my dad’s family flying 3000 miles for the funeral. I also remember being very self-concious when I went back to school, even more so than I normally was. I was so afraid people woudl bring it up, and I wouldn’t know how to react. The one thing I do recall is the next day, which was a Sat, my very good friend’s family brought me to their house to spend the night. Which, on looking back, was the best thing anyone could have done.

It took me a very long time, years in fact, to even talk about it with anyone. And many of my friends, co-workers, don’t even know I had a sibling, since when asked, I just say I’m an only child. If I get to know you, and even then it takes a while, I may open up about it, or bring it up, but normally I’m very tight lipped about it. I’m 47 now, but I still have trouble talking about it, and I know my mom does too. She spent 11 years taking care of a disabled child, only to take him in for seeminly minor surgery, with a not so minor outcome. I still remember her telling me how the dr. worked for over an hour to get his heart started again.

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Anonymous February 27, 2013 at 11:47 am

OP, I am so sorry for your loss.

We lost my nephew at age 16. He had been in a car accident and survived for 3.5 months in the hospital before succumbing to a brain injury.

The dumbest thing ever said to me was by a coworker: “Well, there comes a time in everyone’s life when they suddenly look around and realize that their friends and relatives are dying….”

Me: “I’m 24, not 84.”

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Daisy February 27, 2013 at 11:52 am

It is so sad that this needs to be said. My mother died 52 years ago, and sometimes I miss her so much I can hardly keep from crying. My daughter lost a long-anticipated child while she was carrying him, and it was devastating to all of us. It doesn’t matter whether you lose your 90 year old parent or your 3 month old child. The pain and grief are real, and should be respected as a matter of course.

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Lesley B February 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I, thankfully, have not had to experience the horrendous loss and grief of losing a child. I feel so much sympathy for those who must keep on breathing and taking care of the living in the midst of a shattered world.
This might be a bit controversial, but I have an addition to the list. If the people involved tell you they are leaning on God for support, and ask for you to remember them in your prayers, the by all means do so, if you are faithful as well. However, there are many people out there who are atheists, who grieve just as much as you, without the belief that we will ever see that person again. Do not tell us “God will help you through”, that there is a being whose plan included to rip a baby from our arms, or that we are going go Hell, or our loved one is in Hell right now. Do not proselytize to us in our grief. Offer help that is meaningful in this world, a kind thought, run an errand, babysit children to allow the person a chance to be at the bedside of a dying family member, or a chance to rail at the injustice in a way that might scare kids. Cook a meal, clean the house, throw in a load of laundry, offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Do something other than offer platitudes that mean nothing to us. If you want to pray for us, go ahead, but don’t tell us all about it.
I do not begrudge or disdain anyone’s religious belief and faith, and would never disparage anyone else’s beliefs. Please respect my choices as well.

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HonorH February 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I have a friend who, some two decades after the fact, still goes to be with her parents on the anniversary of her brother’s death. It’s just not something you get over. Move on and learn to live with, yes, but get over? No.

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WildIrishRose February 27, 2013 at 12:41 pm

People can be really ugly sometimes. When my dear stepson took his own life, the number of people who told me, my husband, and my stepson’s mother that he was going to hell because he committed suicide was just staggering. One woman actually apologized to my stepson’s mother, because she had done some research and found that that “belief” isn’t backed up by Scripture. But the hurt just doesn’t go away.

I’m so sorry for the loss of Rachael, and pray that time will make it less difficult for you–because it will never be easy.

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Lori February 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I dread the day I lose one of my beloved parents (still far off, hopefully, as both are young and healthy) but if someone says to me that they’re in a better place, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself from saying “No, they are in the ground.” If that consigns me to eHell, too bad.

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FeatherBlade February 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

This is where good etiquette comes into play. When someone dies, the only thing you say to their loved ones is “I’m so sorry for your loss” and, if the loss is very recent and you are able, “May I bring you a dinner later this week?”

And if they want to talk about the one who died, you carve out some time and listen to them talk. Skip the “comforting” platitudes.

As far as mourning only lasting a year, my understanding is that that was a societal convention to prevent people from burying themselves in their grief for the rest of their lives. Something like “Mourn to your heart’s content for a year and a day, and after than put away your (public) mourning and move forward with life. The one you love is dead and it is proper to mourn them, but you are not dead so it is improper for you to forever bury yourself in their death.”

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kingsrings February 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm

OP, I’m so sorry you had to hear such insensitive things. I understand that people just don’t know what to say in such sad, traumatic situations like this, but some of the things you listed made my jaw drop. Always think before you speak!

Several years ago, a family at my church lost their nine year-old daughter suddenly to a bacterial infection. Our church was of course very supportive, but as usual, there were some insensitive things said to the mother. The biggest one was people telling her to rejoice because her daughter was at home in heaven, and it was glorious, and this was all God’s will. It’s like her faith and beliefs were being questioned because she was sad and grieving. Yes that is very true that her daughter is in heaven and everything else that our faith states, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the family can’t be sad and grieving and all the other emotions that go along with losing a family member!

The bottom line is, people just need to be supportive and loving. Don’t say anything more than that. Don’t tell them how they’re supposed to feel. You’re not helping by doing anything else, you’re just making things worse.

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Barbarian February 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm

My deepest condolences go to Corinne for the loss of her child Rachel.

And my thanks to her for her courage to share her experience so others can be helped.

Like Gee, I lost my 1st child during a miscarriage and was amazed how many insensitive people asked me what behavior (exercise, etc) on my part could have caused it. Or advice for the next pregnancy.

My parents both passed away in 1997 within 6 months of one another. I returned home to my small town for 2 wakes and funerals. I was shocked and speechless with grief each time and did not show much emotion in public. Therefore, many of the small-minded people from our small town who came to these events attributed my lack of emotion to lack of love for my parents and ran it thru the gossip pipeline.

There are multiple ways to express grief. Funerals are to support the family, and not be a spectacle for public consumptiona nd comment.

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Lisa February 27, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I never used to understand it when people said “I think about _________ all the time”. But then I lost my parents, and I understand. Today is the 6th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. While at work I got the news that he had died due to suicide, and I cannot thank my co-workers enough for their sensitivity, support and compassion during that time.
I am so sorry for your loss Corinne.

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Stacey Frith-Smith February 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Sometimes the tried and true really serves the need at hand in the best way: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “My condolences.” Also, specific offers of help are more easily navigated than “call us if you need anything”. “If there is anything I can do to help, call me.” Instead- “may I drop off a baked chicken and rice casserole at 2pm today?” “May I come and sit with the children this afternoon so that you can take a little time to sleep or run errands?” “I have an hour today at 3pm, can I help with your thank you notes or make a quick run to the grocery store for you?” Grief can make simple choices seem like a burden. So the more concrete, relevant and immediate the language in which offers of help are clothed, the better. Strangely, expressions of sympathy are best made in sincere but general terms, since one cannot presume to know how another person is feeling at the moment or what would be the best comfort for their circumstance and temperament.

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aschmid3 February 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I can’t get over the downright insensitive things some people have heard, about “replacing” a lost child with another baby, not really having a reason to grieve a miscarriage or a newborn, etc. Some of the other stuff, like that old classic, “They’re in a better place,” I can kinda pass off as just not knowing what to say. But I would think anything that sounds like a judgement on how the person is reacting to a loss should set off alarm bells in your head before it spills out of your mouth.

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Chicalola February 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

just perfect. spot on.

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Moralia February 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm

This is for dealing with young surviving siblings.

I was in grade school when my infant sister died. For some reason, nearly every adult who visited would pick me up, and hold me tightly while weeping and wailing about the lost little one and commenting on our close resemblance. After a while I felt like some kind of stuffed animal or security blanket…since then and to this day, I am very uncomfortable with close physical proximity to most people. I was also just old enough to *ashamed* for wanting to get away because “Obviously, they were sad and I should want to help them feel better, right?” Now I can see how self-indulgent and inconsiderate they were being, but I didn’t know then.

The advice to not expect the mourning parents to comfort you goes double for the siblings. They’re hurting and need you to provide them with a safe and understanding place to work through their grief. Not the other way around!

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AS February 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Thanks for sharing this. I am never sure what to tell people when someone dies, and I am totally at a loss if it is a child (we don’t have children of our own, but one can understand how the feeling should be. And it is absolutely true – a child (or anyone who dies young) is not the same as your 94 year old grandmother dying. The fact of life is that people die. You’ll miss them for sure. But it is not the same a missing someone who was taken away young.

#16 rings true for me. My mother dies quite young (she was in her late 50s). We told a friend of ours, and he kept bursting into tears whenever he brought up the subject. His excuse is that he is very sensitive! It was very tiresome for me to keep consoling him (I am the one who usually makes the “just to say HI” calls to friends, so it was often me rather than hubby having to do the consoling)! So, hubby and I just stopped calling him up.

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Raymee February 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Three places bring out the best, and the absolute worst in people IMO: weddings, funerals and airports.

We had quite a few when my brother passed away at 21. I was told by a family friend that they made the mistake of opening their email while overseas when he passed- “It absolutely RUINED the rest of the holiday! And we paid so much to go ha ha”. I was speechless.
Also when my family was seated in the funeral directors car to return home after the service, we got a knock on the window- my uncle had left his headlights on and wanted my dad to help jump-start the car. It took saying “I’ve just buried my son- not me, not today” before uncle got the hint.
I also lost a best-friend in the aftermath. It didn’t help when she explained that she was more upset than me because I had my boyfriend for support, and she was single.

Death just makes people say and do stupid stupid things.

And @Alexa when people ask how many siblings I have I say “I had two, but now I have one”. I used to say two, but then people would ask “so what do they do?” Etc. and I would just have to explain in detail. This response works for me.

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Jenn50 February 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Ms. Kligmann, I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved Rachel, and so sorry you’ve had to endure well-meaning but thoughtless comments.

Mrs. Lovett, you are spot on. “He’s in a better place.” is an incredibly presumptuous thing to say unless you are certain of the bereaved’s religious beliefs, and even then, is not helpful. For atheists, (or Jews, or others who don’t believe in heaven and hell) it’s pretty offensive. It ranks right up there on my personal list of infuriating comments alongside “God only gives you what you can handle.” Upon learning that I’m struggling to raise a severely autistic child, literally 50% of people say this to me. I recognize that it’s not the same as a child dying, but her diagnosis was a devastating blow, and my daily life ranges from physically and emotionally exhausting to downright horrific. AND, I’m atheist. Your notions of what God thinks of my coping skills are of no comfort to me. And even if I WERE Christian, I’d have a hard time believing that, as I’ve seen LOTS of people given more than they can handle, as becomes obvious when they commit suicide, or fall asleep at the wheel due to sheer exhaustion and veer into oncoming traffic. And even if I believed that I was only given what I could handle, that comment would make me feel like a failure, because if I’m supposed to be able to handle this, why am I so overwhelmed? It really is best not to foist religious platitudes off on anyone unless you know for a fact that they share your beliefs.

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Amanda H. February 27, 2013 at 2:39 pm

@AnnieS: I agree. The problem with “You didn’t really know him” is that the child wasn’t with his family for only three days, he was with his family for *nine months* and three days. I’ve not lost a child myself, but I know from experience being a mother that you get quite attatched to that child during those nine months, and I can only imagine how devastating it would be to lose that child so soon after birth.

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Missy February 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Bless everyone who spreads the word. Especially the last point.

When I lost my daughter, I found myself having to comfort many, many people when I had absolutely no emotional strength. I even once said, “I’m OK.” to a woman (I wasn’t) because I was feeling physically ill at the idea of having to console one more person. She just said, “Well I’m not” and proceeded to go on and on about how broken up she was. It was very awkward. She was obviously hoping I’d make her feel better and I just couldn’t. I was too broken to come up with one itty, bitty little gesture. I know that sounds mean and silly, but I literally could not scoop one little hug out of me.

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Goodness February 27, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Mary’s wisdom that ‘You never really “get over it” you just form a new “normal” ‘ is so right. At my age (almost 67) people don’t expect me to still be grieving the death of my mother 10 years ago, but I am. The urge to call her to share life events or ask for recipes and such can come out of the blue and smack me, as freshly as the day she died, with the reality that she’s gone. Most of the people at Mom’s funeral were family members, and we deal with catastrophes humorously, so the non-family members had a little trouble knowing how to behave. The best comment I got was “I can’t know how you feel or what to say but wanted you to know that I care about you.”

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Kris February 27, 2013 at 3:33 pm

My family is rife with people like this. At 16 I lost my father and outside of my mother, my friends were really the best comfort I had. At 18 my mother died. She was the oldest and some of the things said as she was dying(my grandfather telling everyone she was dead while we were all at the hospital when she was in fact not) to after she died put some serious strain between her side of the family and myself.

One of the best(??) things ever said to me was after my grandmother passed around this time last year by one of my uncles. He said, “I finally understand what you are going through.” Part of me wanted to say no not really, but that was held over anger from him not coming to my defense when my mother and his sister had past and my aunt and grandmother took that as a free pass to share their opinions o my friends(race) and other things they wouldn’t have been caught dead saying while she was alive. That and the fact that I was very much left blowing in the wind and having to fight to make myself heard when it came to my mother’s wishes when it became clear she was not going to come through it. The truth is he did understand because we both watched our mothers die after showing signs of improvement .

on the general list of what to do when it comes to someone who is grieving, if the person is a kid – do NOT overlook them. Do NOT assume that your grief is more than theirs. Give them someone to talk/vent to, just because they seem fine does not mean they are.

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CPH February 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Some people experience some sense of “foot in mouth” when it comes to attempting to provide comforting words to someone who is grieving. My Mom met my Dad when I was 3. He was the one whose hand’s guided and molded me into the person I am today. I am still in contact with my biological Father, but I am lucky if I see him in person once a year and talk to him on the phone once every few months. When my Dad passed away suddenly, I actually had someone say “Well at least you still have your other Dad”.

For almost the first year, I avoided mentioning my Dad’s death to people who didn’t know me well enough to know he had died. It was too painful to talk about and I didn’t want to be put into a situation where I would have to explain what had happened. Merely a month after he passed, my Mom was out walking her dog and ran into an aquaintance who she hadn’t seen in years. The woman asked how my father was. At that point, the pain was so fresh that my mother considered saying “He’s fine” and then quickly walking away, but instead managed to tearfully relay what had happened.

Point 16 rang extremely true for me. My parents have very lovely neighbours and are extremely close with all of them, attending dinner parties, social gatherings, etc. The day my Dad died, one of these neighbour had been at the hospital with us and had the difficult task of returning home to let her husband and 8 year old son (who my Dad often played sports with), that my Dad had died. Later that day, the woman showed up at my parent’s house, where all of us had settled in, still experiencing a sense of disbelief and extreme grief. Trailing behind her was her son, who upon seeing us dissolved into tears because his friend had died. Instead of attempting to comfort him herself, this women left it to my Mom to explain what had happened and to provide solice to the child. I don’t know what I would have done in my Mom’s position, but somehow she managed to sit down with him and talk things through.

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