Sunday, January 21, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

Consoling words may not ease grief

What words work with grief?

While I'm away, readers give the advice.

A mom who survived: When I was pregnant with my fourth child I held off telling people until fairly late in the pregnancy because my second baby had died in utero when he was 20 weeks. When I explained that to a newish friend who is also a mom, she was really sympathetic, which was great, but then she said, "I could not have survived that."

I know she meant no harm, but it sounded like she felt like the intensity of her feelings for her children was deeper than mine, since I had clearly "survived," and chose to stay on this earth with my first baby and husband.

Sadly, that fourth baby also died at about 20 weeks, which was horrible enough, but made me wonder what my friend thought of my ability to put one foot in front of the other after that.

Yes, I know people usually have good intentions when they say dumb things to grief-stricken people (other unhelpful remarks included "It was nature's way" and "At least you didn't have to get to know and bond with the baby"), but I just wanted to remind people to keep it kind and simple. People suffer in all kinds of terrible ways, and sometimes we can't imagine how they manage. The best thing anyone ever said to me in response to hearing about my situation was, "I'm so sorry. I can't imagine how hard that must have been." Perfect.

L.: My husband died in December. So many well-meaning and loving people say, "If there is anything I can do . . . "

No one who is grieving will ever call someone, and what would they say? Would you clean my bathroom? Shovel my walk? How about clean the garage? It is almost annoying, except that I KNOW everyone means well, and wishes they could do something. So do I. But there is nothing anyone can do.

No — let me amend that. I think it would be more helpful to say, "I am coming to get you on Saturday at 10 — if you don't want to, you can cancel an hour before." Or, "I am coming to wash your living room window — I won't stay unless you want me to." I always say no, until someone comes and then it is a comfort — especially if I don't have to talk. Pass this on.

Been There: I still remember being amazed at the crowd that showed up at the graveyard service to stand with us in our grief. I remember some of the individuals who came, but nothing of what any of them said. What sticks with me is how many, many people cared enough to be there.

Just go. Don't worry about what you might say, don't think you have to even say anything, just be there because you care — it will show on your face and your friends will remember forever.

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