Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Things People Say

Walking With You was created by Kelly of Sufficient Grace Ministries to help support those who have lost a child. Together we share our stories, helpful information, scriptures, encouraging words, prayer requests, and more. To join in on Walking With You please visit Kelly's blog.

This week we are sharing some of the things that people said to us while we were in the throes of grief...for better or for worse.

When someone loses a child it is a tragedy. You feel for that person, send them a card, tell them you're sorry. You may even go to the visitation or funeral. But I challenge you to take a good look at your actions and words. Are you really supporting those experiencing the loss?

I bet you'd be surprised to find out that you're probably not.

When we got Carleigh's diagnosis of anencephaly it was such a blow. The proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath us. Many people told us they were sorry and that they were praying for us. I appreciated that. But I also got a lot of those 'famous cliche statements'. I had a few people tell me that they were sorry for my loss. What!? My daughter was still alive! I hadn't lost her yet! And then I had people telling me all about organ donation. I know they were only trying to be helpful but it didn't seem right for them to be suggesting donating my daughter's organs when I had just found out that she wouldn't live.

Almost a month after her diagnosis I wrote a post titled The Do's & Don'ts for providing support. I hoped to help people understand what would and wouldn't be helpful for me. I'd like to share that post here:

I know so many people don't know what to say to me. Most of the support that I have received has been positive and I am grateful for that! I thought it might help to write down some things for those who are afraid of saying the wrong thing. I completely understand how difficult it would be to come up with words to someone in my situation. I hope this helps. (Some things may apply after Carleigh passes.)

-Don't keep repeating those famous lines of "It was God's will", "God has a plan in this", "Everything happens for a reason", and "God never gives us more than we can handle". While all of these statements are true they are not very helpful. I know for some mothers it really bothers them to hear statements like this. As for me, they really don't bother me as much but hearing them over and over does get a little tiring. Do know that I trust God completely in our journey and since learning Carleigh's diagnosis my faith has not wavered but has grown stronger. If you are praying for us just let us know. Prayer is such a powerful tool and to know that we are in yours brings me comfort.

-Don't say "You can always have another one", "Be grateful that you have Kyndra", "Well, at least she passed before you got too attached" or "Just enjoy the time you have left with her". Carleigh is my precious daughter and she is not disposable. If I had a choice of losing her or stabbing my eye out with a fork I would take the fork. I would die for her just as you would die for your children. Yes, I am grateful that I have Kyndra and that she is healthy. Look at it this way-if your mother died in an accident and you grieved would that make you less grateful to have your father? I love Carleigh very much and was attached to her the very day I found out I was pregnant with her. I very much enjoy having her kicking inside of me. I don't take a single day we have together for granted. Do say things like I am a wonderful mother to Kyndra and Carleigh. Every woman likes to hear that they are a good mommy.

-Don't say things like "Things will go back to normal before you know it", "Time heals all wounds", "You'll be okay", or "Isn't it time you got over it?". Grief is not an emotion I enjoy. I wish I never had to experience this road but I am and it will be a part of me forever. Do realize that any grief I experience will have to fade on it's own and not on a specific timeline. I may still feel the effects of Carleigh's death for years to come and important days such as her birthday, Mother's Day, and holidays may be harder for me. I will be suffering a death in my family and not just some medical condition.

-Don't imply that Carleigh is an angel because she is not. She is a child of God. Humans cannot be angels and it says so in the Bible. I know a lot of people like to think of babies being angels to possibly make it easier to handle. Carleigh will not be "an angel in Heaven looking down over me". She will be happy in Heaven with Jesus and be carefree and that is exactly how I want it for her.

-Don't say that you understand how I feel when you really don't. Unless you are carrying a child who will die, you really don't understand how I feel. Do realize that even if you have experienced loss, or are going to, that everyone experiences grief differently.

-Don't pretend that this isn't happening and don't change the subject when I bring it up. If I'm talking about it then it means I want to. Pretending that this isn't happening to me just makes me feel alone. Also, don't try to avoid me or be afraid that mentioning Carleigh will make me feel sad or cry. At times I may be ok and other times I may break down. It's ok for you to show your emotions in front of me. It shows me that you care for me and Carleigh very much. Do acknowledge what is happening to us. Sometimes saying "I'm sorry" is enough. You don't need to be eloquent with your words. Just say it and mean it and that's all that will matter. Receiving kind notes, flowers, and gifts are appreciated but don't be resentful if I don't respond with a call or a thank you note.

-Don't say "I'm sorry for your loss" when my baby is still very much alive. This phrase is not appropriate when Carleigh is still kicking inside of me. Please save it for after she has passed.

-Don't be afraid to share your good news with me. I am happy good things are happening to you and your family/friends. Just remember that your good news will not cancel out my grief or make things better. Do realize that nothing you say will make me sadder than the reality of what will happen to my child.

-Don't suggest donating her organs. How would you feel if you were asked this about your child, especially when she was still alive? Do know that organ donation has caused an ethical debate because of the difficulty in determining brain death since babies with anencephaly usually have a rudimentary brain stem. This would be a personal decision and it doesn't need pushing.

Please remember that this is the worst thing that I have ever had to experience. It is going to take me awhile to figure out how to live with it so bear with me. It is usually the simple little things that you say or do that mean so much. It is wonderful to know how much you care. Also, never underestimate how much a hug helps.

Along with the last line of that post, sometimes a hug is all I need. Sometimes words aren't necessary. It does my heart good to know that people still think and pray for us because we are still on this grief journey. One day I got a card in the mail from a family member telling me that they were still thinking of me and how we had touched their lives. That card meant a lot to me. Probably more than they'll ever know. (Thank you Jayme.) It was at a point where we were no longer getting calls, emails, and cards and it seemed like we were forgotten. And to know that at least one person had at least given us a thought really did my heart good.

It can be hard for people to understand that grief takes time to work through. In my frustration, I wrote a post called I'm not who I was. I wanted people to realize that I'm not the same person I was before all of this happened to us. I long to get back to more of my former self and I am getting there. I am closer each day.

Grief is uncomfortable for so many people but we need to know that it is ok! Jesus openly grieved in the Bible. In John 11:35 it is simply said Jesus wept. Two words that say a lot.

I hate it when I hear a fellow loss mommy say that someone told them they should 'get over it'. In my head I scream "How dare they!" Mourning a loss is healthy and shouldn't be discouraged. Everyone has their own timetable. Some are able to heal some quicker than others but that doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with either one of them! It also doesn't mean they ever forget. No one every forgets their baby. Ever. Something I wish more people would do is talk about the babies that are lost.

I want to end this post with a verse. We should all strive to live this.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29


Nickel Pickle said...

Very good post. A lot of people say things thinking they are being helpful when really it hurts worse than if they had said nothing at all. I got a lot of people asking me why were the doctors making me carry Logan, like no one could possibly imagine wanting to carry a baby for 4 months knowing it will die. They would look at me crazy when I told them no one was making me I CHOSE to do this....

Like you said sometimes a hug or a simple "I am sorry, is there anything I can do?" is the best thing someone can do in this situation...

Mindy said...

Congrats!!!! I pray that you will experience the most joy out of this pregnancy as you did with your other two!!

Thanks for posting this!


Kelly @ The Beauty of Sufficient Grace said...

Wonderful post, Holly. Thank you so much for this. I agree with everything you said. Every word resonated with me, and I know will help others as well. Thank you for what you wrote about people saying Carleigh is an angel. I feel the same.I am so excited that you posted that verse from Ephesians at the bottom. I was going to add it to my post last night (which actually turned into the wee hours of the morning!), but thought that it was so long already...and that it was so late. I'm glad you added it to yours. It's a great verse...and, I think I may even go back and add it to mine, too!

Love you, girl...

Kelly @ The Beauty of Sufficient Grace said...

Whoa...wait a minute. For the love of Pete...did I miss something here? I see Mindy is saying congratulations. Are you expecting, Holly? How did I miss this?

Holly said...

No, Kelly. Unfortunately, I am not expecting as far as I know. I'm not quite sure where Mindy got that from! lol

Danielle said...

Another great post! I wish I found your "Do's and Don't" post a long time ago so I could have linked it to my blog while I was carrying Wyatt.

As far as the right thing to say... there isn't. I'm one of the momma's who just wants a hug that comes from zipped lips... Unless of course somebody wishes to remark on how beautiful or loved my little boy was, and how much he is missed!

MommyIvy said...

Sometimes being quite and just offering a shoulder or an ear is better than anything you can say.

April said...

I can only imagine how some of the wrong things you have heard made your grieving more difficult. That is USUALLY nobody's intentions, however that doesn't make the statement any easier to receive. It's too bad that those comments will never leave you memory. I have asked this of my mother (who lost Adam 21 years ago), and she gave me two examples of those unthoughtful comments - that she still remembers to this day :(

I just hope that those really meaningful comments (like that card from Jayme) will over shine the memories of the bad ones

Trisha Larson said...

That was such a beautiful post and the first time that I read it. If only we could explain it to the world so that they would know. It makes it so much easier when you don't have to defend your grief or explain yourself all the time.

It's tricky to be a friend to someone that has lost a child. Definitely not an easy task. But, those that do rise to the occasion are just so special. They should be given the equivalent of the Academy Award!


Mary Ellen said...

Very well said. It is so hard to know what or how to say your sorry for those who havent experienced a loss of a child. I know in my life friends and even family have good hearts but have said things that have hurt me. I appreiciated the meals and cards that came without anyone asking.

croleyc69 said...

Just wanted you to know that there's not a day that goes by since I started reading Carleigh's Blog that I don't think of you. I would very much like to give you a hug someday. If I ever get back to Ohio to visit, I'm going to look you up. HUGS & Great post

Veronica said...

Holly, I'm so glad you reposted this. People really do need to hear what you talked about in this post. You are helping me to see things I never had before and I'm so glad I met you.

P.S. Stop by my blog when you get the chance. I have something for you!

Jennifer Ross said...

The thing that shocked me the most was somebody telling you about organ donation. Wow! You've got to be kidding me!! I think that you did a wonderful job on your Do and Don't list. I'm glad that you included this. God Bless.


Celia said...

This has been a very good Walking with You thread. There are so many things that may not seem hurtful or inappropriate to say to a grieving person but yet cut to the core. And then there are the inactions that cut as well (as Danielle so eloquently put it).

Great post. I think I will repost yours and Danielle's on my blog....cuz they were so well written and better than anything that I could write. That is, if it's okay with you!! ;-)

Mom Putnam said...

Just wanted to say that I love you and I am here for you if you need ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!

Danielle Holsapple said...

Well said - I couldn't have said it any better....

Anonymous said...

As I read this overagain , it reminds me of how precious our children are at any age in their lives. It does take time to go throught he greiving process. To any one who has had a loss of a child, grandchild , mother , father sister, brother etc. It is hard cause you have those moments that creep up and your emotions go beserk. I can not imagine, I lost a child before my daughter though it was in the early stages of pregnancy, I still wonder about it from time to time. And that has been 23 years ago. So it doesn't go away and you still remember but in my time it has gotton easier and I have 4 childrenand 7 grandchildren that I am blessed with. To all the mother and other family members. Just know that people are thinking of you and praying for you but mostly care about you and your family. I send a HUG to you to know that comfort is there for you even if it is just this post. You are a wonderful God loving person and I am sure he will help you through this time frame. He is a patient God and loving God to all. As for you Holly thank you anf know that I am proud of you for letting people know how you feel so it is easier for us to know. Know that I love you and am here if you need anything. Just remember Aunt Nancy loves you and your family. God Bless

Trennia said...


Once A Mother said...

Good post. For me the worst is when people tell me how lucky I am to have an angel. I dont feel that carrying my child, meeting her, loving her and losing her is lucky. Sometimes people need to realize that just being there and listening are more helpful that grasping at straws for the right thing to say. There is no right thing.

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Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

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