It has been five months now since my sweet baby girl, Nerissa Caroline was born still at 33w after an uneventful pregnancy. In 5 months I have learned a lot about myself, my husband, my family, my friends and total strangers. These are my observations, advice, and experiences.
Things You Should Never Say to A Grieving Mother (or Father)
It goes without saying that an encounter with a grieving parent can be awkward. You may not know what to say or might be afraid of saying the wrong thing. That is perfectly understandable. It is difficult to find the right words of comfort and be fearful of saying the wrong thing. Before I get into the “what not’s”, I want to first say that it is NEVER wrong to ask a grieving mom how she’s doing. Most of the time she is going to lie to you anyway but asking her lets her know that you are thinking of her and her pain. You are NOT, I repeat, NOT reminding her of her loss. A mother who has lost a child thinks about that child every moment of every day. You are not “opening up old wounds” or “reminding her” of her loss. She never forgets. A bereaved mom (and dad) welcomes the opportunity to talk about their child and it means so much to them when you mention their child by name. Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t say.
For me, first and foremost, please do not ignore the fact that I have lost a child. If it has been awhile since we last saw each other, it is okay to ask how I’m doing. I will lie and tell you I’m okay, but I do truly appreciate the concern and the acknowledgement of my grief. If you come into my home and notice pictures of my sweet girl, and you’d have to be blind NOT to see them, comment on them. Don’t ignore them. You would never ignore photos that are up of my living children so don’t ignore those of my baby in heaven. I see these photos everyday; mentioning them does not suddenly make me aware of them. My 2.5yr old niece comes over on a weekly basis. Every time she’s over she makes me go with her throughout the house and look at all the pictures of Rissa. I honestly think it makes her parents a little uncomfortable for they fear that she is “upsetting” me. Quite the contrary. I LOVE going around with her looking at the photos and talking about her. It’s therapeutic and comforting to talk about my girl. So don’t avoid talking about her. She existed. She mattered. She is loved.
Second, please don’t tell me that God has a plan greater than ours. As a Catholic, I am having difficulty spiritually coming to grips with losing my baby. Telling me this was part of God’s plan isn’t helpful as I cannot understand why God’s plan was to take my baby away from a good, loving family. Why God allowed me to conceive her under astronomical odds, have her genetically perfect dispite my age, and carried to almost full term without any problems only to have her taken away in a blink of an eye would seem like a cruel plan. Telling me that this was God’s plan does not comfort me. It does not help me accept this. And it certainly doesn’t make it okay. I like to think that this wasn’t God’s plan, that this was an unfortunate sucky glitch in life. Same goes for “Everything happens for a reason” and “God needed another angel”. Easy to say when it wasn’t your baby who was selected for the job.
Third, do not tell me I have a lot of good in my life. I am well aware that I live in a nice house with a great husband and five awesome kids. The death of my daughter does not negate that. Just because I have a lot that is good doesn’t make Rissa’s death any easier, any less unfair, or any less painful. I have a great family, but my family is forever changed because she is gone and we will never be the same or complete. So do not point out what is good. I know it is there. Saying that makes is seem like I don’t have the right to be sad about her death because I have other things in life that are good. It’s just stupid so don’t say it.
Fourth, any sentence that starts with the following should be kept to yourself.
- At least you
- But you
- Be happy
- You should
Any thing you say that starts with the above just shouldn’t be said. I don’t want to hear “at least you have other kids”. What does that mean? That because she was #6 that she didn’t matter. That she wasn’t as loved or as wanted or will be as missed? Having other kids doesn’t make my grief any less intense. Don’t tell me to “be happy” because most days I cant and don’t tell me what I “should” be doing. Unless you have lost a child, you cannot even begin to fathom the pain that is felt every moment of every single day. Some days are worse and some days are functional. I don’t need to be told what I should be doing. I am well aware that I am not functioning like I used to. I am doing the best I can every day and I certainly do not need to hear that I’m doing something wrong. Right now, if I get out of bed and have the kids fed, clothed, schooled, and loved, I feel like I have had a successful day. Anything else right now just isn’t important.
Fourth, don’t tell me I need to talk to someone. It’s not going to happen. I’m not interested in discussing my “feelings” with a stranger.
Lastly, don’t tell me it wasn’t my fault. This may differ in regards to other grieving mamas, but for me I don’t want to hear it. I will blame myself for the rest of my life. Nothing will ever change that—ever!
So what should you say? Tell me this sucks, because it does. Say my baby’s name because it tells me she mattered to you too. Tell me you think of me and Nerissa and my family because that tells me that even though time has passed, you still understand that we still grieve. Tell me your story or a story of a family member who had a baby born still because this gives me hope that things wont always feel so dark and that maybe one day I can appear somewhat normal again. Ask me to see her picture or comment on the things I put at her cemetery spot. I want to talk about Rissa just like I talk about my other kids. And if you cannot find the words, a hug can speak volumes. It’s okay. We can feel your intentions in your hug. Having people who care about us, who think about our sweet Nerissa Caroline, is what is helping us get through this.
Big Daddy-O says
Well said. Love you! Miss her 🙁
My middle son died just after birth at full term about 4 years ago. Very sudden, entirely unexpected, just went into distress during labor and died. It was devastating and life changing- and still is. But, I will tell you, from my experience- the pain becomes easier to live with. It’s less raw, less new, more a part of your story and your love. You’ll never be who you were before having sweet Nerissa, but it won’t always feel quite like it does now either.
Much love to you and your family – and thank you for these helpful words for those of us who love you and love others who grieve the loss of a child.
I can relate to your pain so deeply both from my own personal experience and also having a friend go through the same thing. It will always suck but it will get better.
It’s hard to know what to say when someone has experienced a loss such as yours. The words you’ve written are those that many could never say out loud.