by David Hurley –
Over the past several years I have heard several people make ridiculous and shocking statements regarding parental grief. Most of the time they think they can help, and usually they are well meaning folks. They are comfortable in their ignorance of the realities associated with the loss of a child. Many of the statements have been heard from more than one source so they are common “knowledge.” Those inexperienced in this loss have accepted this conventional “wisdom.” They want to share it with everyone because it somehow seems logical.
I call these beliefs “mythconceptions.” They are myths in the truest sense. Passed along from many sources they become part of the fabric of grief to the uninitiated. They are almost misconceptions since people seem to internalize them before they pass them on.
I will share some mythconceptions here with a few tasteful (hopefully) comments:
“I didn’t want to say anything because I was afraid I would remind you of (fill in the name).” That’s really considerate of you. I almost forgot. Ten more minutes··· Yeah!!! Right!!! What ever makes anyone think we could ever forget? They have no idea how long it is before a day begins without the thought of a missing child. The thought is there quickly, but it NEVER goes away.
“I know just how you feel. My dog died last year.” Whatever you do, DO NOT SAY THE FIRST THING THAT COMES INTO YOUR MIND. Take a deep breath and explain that you too had dogs and cats (maybe even some fish and birds). Have buried several, and that it does not even come close in the level of pain or the lasting feeling of emptiness that accompanies the death of a child.
“Isn’t it time you just moved on?” Move on to where? We have moved. You should have seen us the first moment/hour/day/week/month/year. We are dealing with the grief, but it will never be gone completely. No one completely gets over the death of any loved one. The biggest problem a bereaved parent faces is that this is so backwards. We are supposed to bury our parents. We may bury siblings and many friends. Our children are supposed to bury us. Our brain was never prepared for this possibility.
“God only gives you what you can bear.” Maybe He has me confused with someone much stronger. In fact, if He gave this to me, I have a serious problem with Him. Help through this is welcome, the need for the help is not.
“At least you have other children so it won’t hurt as bad.” To this I want to respond: “Which of your children are you ready to sacrifice?” People who actually say this have missed the latest dose of oxygen needed for brain function. While we love each of our children differently, we love each of them unconditionally. They do not share our heart in pieces, each one fills our heart completely.
“At least they were older so you had enough time with them.” Enough time? How much is ‘enough’ time? As my children age I realize that I am in a different stage of being a parent, but a parent none the less. I will never have enough time with my children. They are busy (I guess I know where they learned that) and it is often difficult for us to find time to get together.
“At least he (or she) was just a baby so you did not get the chance to get attached to them.” Once again, this is an obvious lack of oxygen to the brain. We are attached to our children before they are even born. We plan, hope, prepare nurseries, and pick out names, dream of the future together. Early death crushes us beneath the weight of grief.
“At least you are young enough to have more children.” That classic causes as much hurt as any. When someone says that it would be appropriate to say: “You are also young enough, so give us one of yours and YOU have another one!” Even if we are young enough (I am not), we cannot replace the child that died. If they could be replaced so easily they would all be the same. I know from experience that each child in the house is different and fills the heart in a way no other can.
“At least they won’t grow up to be on drugs (or in other trouble.)” Well, that certainly makes me feel better. I am sure I would have been such a terrible parent and they would have faced such terrible outside influences that life would have been unbearable. Guess again. I would give any thing to have the opportunity to face all of those problems with my child. What we are talking about here is HOPE.
“At least they are in a better place.” That helped a lot. We try to provide the best place possible and make reservations for that better place for a much later date. The date for that reservation should be a long time after they bury us.
You may notice the last six mythconceptions begin with “At least.” I think it is safe to say that whenever someone begins a comment with “At least” you can expect that it will hurt more than help. “At least” minimizes the facts and puts you on the defensive if you allow it.
I am certain I have missed a few mythconceptions. If you happen to think of some I should include please email me at David.Hurley@gte.net. Awareness is the best defense against these comments. Education of the folks making these comments should be done with care and understanding because their ignorance is truly bliss. We can truly hope they are never “one of us.”Tags: grief, hope