It’s been more than 18 months since we said goodbye to Amelia. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the people around us. Some have been a great help, while others have said and done things that caused us pain. Not intentionally, but it still hurt.
It’s hard to know what to say or do in such circumstances, I understand that. Talking to a grieving parent can be tough, awkward and uncomfortable. People mean well, but in our experience there are some things you shouldn’t say. We’ve experienced miscarriage as well as losing our daughter when she was almost 11 months old, so hopefully our perspective can help on different levels – though every situation is unique, of course.
1‘At least you…’
For us, this is often followed with ‘…already have another child’. I am fully aware I have an amazing son, and I am grateful for him. But if you had to choose one of your kids to suddenly not be around, could you? Of course, that’s not what’s being implied – but it’s how it feels.
Similarly, after a miscarriage, people will say: “At least you can try again.” It really doesn’t help, honestly.
2‘Couldn’t you have found out?’
Medicine is so advanced these days that people often find it hard to believe not every condition or problem is picked up in advance. Among the things said to me: “Why didn’t you do a blood test?” “Why didn’t you ask the doctors?”
We all know parents will do anything to keep their kids safe, and few of us are medical professionals. I’m just going to leave it at that.
3Be sensitive when it comes to other kids
My friends know I love their children, but after Amelia died – and even now, sometimes – it broke our hearts to be around other baby girls. If someone you know has lost a child, please be considerate if your children are around the same age. We know you’re not intentionally rubbing our faces in the fact that you still have your child, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Some of our friends understood that better than others. One was upset because I didn’t want to see her daughter, only a few months older than Amelia, not even two weeks after my little girl died. Others flew thousands of miles to support us and left their own children in the care of family members of friends – something we appreciated more than anything.
It’s still difficult to see videos and pictures of babies who were Amelia’s friends and know she’d be doing the same things they are if she were here. If someone is having a hard time being around kids similar in age to their own, cut them some slack.
4‘Everything happens for a reason’
Or, alternatively, ‘It’s God’s plan.’ Anyone who knows me understands how much I struggled with my faith after losing Amelia. Some days I still do, others not so much. I’m still learning. But saying this to someone right after a loss, no matter how strongly they believe, can be hurtful.
Maybe there is a reason. Perhaps it is part of a bigger plan. But sometimes things just happen, and we must wait a while to understand. Give people the space they need and don’t push them on their belief system or how they are feeling about it.
5‘I know how you feel’
Please don’t try to compare stories or take on someone else’s feelings. It might seem helpful and supportive to let them know you understand – but you really don’t. Someone said to me: “They don’t know how WE feel.” And no, nobody does.
You will never know just how I felt when we lost Amelia, how I still feel. And that’s ok, because I don’t know exactly how John or Kaden – my husband and son – felt, either. We each had our own unique relationship with her. Even when you experience the same thing, each person feels and processes it differently. That’s totally fine – it’s not a contest about who is hurting the most.
6Don’t talk about how hard it is for you
Every parent appreciates knowing their child is loved by others. But please don’t tell someone who is grieving how difficult the loss is for you. I’ve had people crying to me, saying how much they miss Amelia, how hard they find it on her birthday or the day she passed.
Yes, those anniversaries are terrible. I understand they can be tough on those who loved my daughter. But when you’ve lost a child, every day is hard. If you’re finding it difficult, talk to someone other than a grieving parent.
7Don’t think that because we’re smiling, we’re not hurting
Let me say that again, just to make the point. Just because a grieving parent is smiling, it doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. Every day hurts. Every single day. I wake up without my child, I go to bed without her. I wonder what she’d be like now. We have to carry on. It’s all we can do. I smile and laugh almost every day. It doesn’t mean the hurt isn’t there or that it’s easier to bear.
Soon after we arrived in California, one of my best friends convinced me to take a break from unpacking and go to the beach. It was the first time since losing Amelia I could genuinely smile. I took the day off from answering calls and texts and someone got very angry because I didn’t answer their message ‘but had time to go to the beach’.
If your friend is grieving and needs a moment to just ‘be’, if they don’t answer your text, give them some grace. Let them know how good it was to see them smile. Don’t be angry just because they took time for themselves.
8Be mindful when talking to a grieving parent
I want my friends to offload their issues, talk about problems or seek advice just like they did before we lost Amelia. Being a parent is hard work. Friends who share your morals and values, who agree with your parenting style, can be hard to come by. It’s good to have people who just ‘get it’.
But if a friend has lost a child, be careful what you choose to share with them. Just before Amelia’s birthday, someone told me: “There is nothing worse than having your child projectile vomit all over you while having a fever and being stuck in a hotel room.” That is horrible, I get that. But I probably wasn’t the best person to say that too. As we prepared for what would have been our little girl’s first birthday, I’d have given the world to be in that situation.
This article was adapted from an original blog post on Millie Mae Strong.
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