I want you to understand that everything I am writing about in this Blog refers to the days and weeks following the loss of a child. It is a time period that a grieving parent truly can’t answer the many questions that so many are asking, because they themselves are looking for answers.
Before August 28th, 2016 I would have said all the things that so many have said to me over the past ten months. All the things that are traditional, that are easy to say and usually the first thing that pops in your mind. All the things that we have all said so many times over the years without really considering the state of mind of the grieving parent. But now, being a grieving parent all those sayings, statements and good intentions sound so different. Before Lindsay passed away I never tried to put myself in the same frame of mind or the same emotional state as the grieving parent I was about to speak to. Please, please understand I am so very thankful for all the love and support I have received over the past ten months and I know will continue to receive the rest of my life. I have written so much over the past ten months, speeches, poems, comments, captions and the list goes on. I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to me that no one takes what I am saying personally, do not look back to any of our conversations and wonder “Did I say that?” You may have said it, but so would I before Lindsay passed away. My point is, in the future, take a minute, put yourself in their shoes and think before you speak.
“How are you doing?”
A question that is asked so many times when there is a tragedy, sickness or just as a politeness when there has been a long span of time between meetings. It is said to be a conversation starter, and sometimes the person asking really doesn’t want an answer, they are just being polite. But as a grieving parent your initial reaction is to say, “How do you think I am doing?” As a parent that has just lost a child you have no idea how you are doing, or, most of the time what you are doing. You are just doing. It was asked so many times immediately after Lindsay passed away and every time the answer was the same, “I am doing the best I can.” How are you doing, is a question, another question on top of the millions of questions that a parent has swirling around in their mind like a tornado. Why did this happen, why my son, why my daughter, why now, what am I going to do, how am I going to function. A fraction of the millions of questions in a parents already frazzled brain
Try saying. “How are you doing, today?” That word “today” makes all the difference in the world. I could do today, I was able to stop, think for a second and tell them how I was doing at that particular moment. Better yet, try and think of a way to make that question a statement, they have enough to process. Tell them what you want them to know. Make it a statement. “I hope you are doing as well as you can today.” No words have to be spoken after this statement is made, a smile and a nod may be all the parent is capable of at that moment. Follow their lead, they will talk and reach out when they are ready.
“I Know how you feel.”
Unless you have lost a child, you have no idea how a parent is feeling. You cannot in any way, shape, or form even fathom what is in that parent’s heart, mind and soul. The hurt, the loss, the anger, the fear, the denial, the emptiness, there is nothing to compare it to. This part of your being, this person that you watched come into this world, your hopes, dreams and future, is now gone. Gone from your everyday, gone from your tomorrow and all you have is memories from yesterday.
I have lost all my grandparents, a few of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and although I loved them dearly, there is no comparison. Please do not tell a grieving parent you know how they feel because you lost your grandmother who had lived a long and full life. I am not belittling your grief but it is so different, as much as it may have hurt, as much as you still miss them, there is no comparison. Take a moment and think, what if I had lost my son or my daughter, my every day, my tomorrow?
I read something I believe sums up what I am trying to say “When you bury your parents you are burying your past, when you bury your children you are burying your future”
“I miss (insert any living person) so much it hurts.”
When I hear this is truly breaks my heart but I know it is not said with a grieving parent in mind. As I have said before a grieving parent is in a totally different state of mind. I completely understand that it can hurt to miss someone that is still living on this earth. I went through this when Jarrett and Lindsay’s mom and I divorced. I missed them so much it did hurt. I know there are mothers, fathers, grandparents and siblings that all feel the same way. But there is somewhat of a remedy to this hurt, this missing, and the separation. Every one that is missing someone that is still living so bad it hurts can pick up any phone and call them, text them, facetime with them, skype with them. You can get in a car, on a train, a boat or on a plane and go see them. You can carry on a conversation, look at pictures or watch videos of what they did yesterday. My son is twenty years old and lives with his mother and step-father. He comes over a few times a week and stays with me and Kelli. I miss him every day he is not here, but I know he will be here on certain days and that is a relief. A grieving parent can’t call, text, facetime, skype or travel to see their child. They travel to a cemetery, slowly walk to a small plot of land, sit on a four-inch-thick piece of marble and stare at a grave that holds all the hopes and dreams that will never be. All the things that will never happen, graduations, proms, college, marriage, and grandchildren. Please let me reiterate the fact that I know what it feels like to miss the living, but I am also am a father of a 17-year-old that left this world way to soon. So, I know what it’s like to miss some on so bad it hurts.
“This is your new normal.”
This was actually said to Lindsay’s mother not one hour after Lindsay passed away. All I can say is, this is the rudest and most absurd statement that could ever be said to a grieving parent. A grieving parent will never have a “normal” again. Their days are not normal, their nights are not normal, their holidays are not normal, their everything is not normal. As hard as you try nothing is, or ever will be normal again. Your normal is waking up every day missing your child, asking the same questions in your head, trying to be strong and carry on. Your normal is going to the cemetery and raking the leaves from their grave, dusting off the bench and marker and changing out the flowers. A “normal” no parent ever wants or wishes for.
“They are in a better place.”
Those of us that believe in the Bible and what it says, know this is a true statement, but our innermost human side believes the best place for our children is right by our sides. We want them close to us so we can care for them, love them and watch them as they take on the world and fulfill their dreams. I have tried so hard not to be selfish throughout the past ten months, but here is where I am truly tested. As a grieving parent, you don’t care that they are in a better place, all you know is they are not with you. You will never hear their voice, their laughter, or wipe their tears again. If they were like Lindsay, just 17 years old, you will never see them graduate from high school, never send them off to college, never see them walk an isle of rose pedals as they proclaim their love for another. You will never hold their first born. After living a long and full life, they will not be there to hold your hand as you move on to “this better place.” A better place, as a parent that has lost a child, this is very debatable.
One last thing, and it is not a question or a statement. It’s an attitude, a person’s opinion of how they think a grieving parent should act and what they should say, what they should do and where they should go. With the utmost love and respect in my heart, unless you where the one standing by that hospital bed holding the hand of your child as they passed away you really and truly do not have the right to tell any grieving parent what they should say or do. Just be there, support them with your presence, you do not have to say a word. Please don’t be offended or hurt if that parent does not acknowledge you, believe me they know you are there, they see you and they feel your love for them. Please do not make a parent’s grief about yourself. If a parent does not reach out to you for months it’s not because they don’t like you any more, or have forgotten about you. They need time. So, give them that time and be there for them when they do reach out, and bear in mind they may never reach out. They have changed forever. They don’t know how they are doing, that really don’t know how they feel, they have no normal, they are missing their child so bad it hurts and while going through all this they are looking for that better place they may never find.
These are just a few of the many statements and questions that have stuck in my mind over the past 10 months. The point of this blog was to show you how a loving and caring statement may sound to a grieving parent. I am the farthest from being an expert on grief and its many emotional ups and downs nor, am I not an expert on what to say or what not to say. Please just take a minute and think about what you going to say to that mother or that father, put yourself in their shoes, try to imagine their loss, and then say what is truly laid upon your heart. If you are the grieving parent, please keep in mind, people do mean well. They are lost too and don’t know what to say and sometimes may say the wrong thing…but for the right reasons.