I hope that at five months out, people will receive what I have to say better than they would have when I really wanted to write it. I realized, then, that people might view my words as in-the-moment grief, anger, or insanity, so I decided to wait until there was a little more time between me and November to write this post. After a recent conversation on a stillbirth forum, I realized that I am not the only person who needs to write this blog. I write this for me and for the people I am connected to through our common grief…
I think that our world, as a whole, does not understand the power of the spoken word. We speak empty words so often that they come effortlessly when tragedy strikes.
“Hi, how are you?”
“I’m fine, how are you?”
End of conversation
Are you really “fine?” Are you really “good?” Did you ask that question out of genuine concern? Did you expect a genuine answer? How would you respond if you got one?
Wait. I know. I’ve seen you shift uncomfortably and look for an escape when I stray from the script and say I’m still struggling or that it’s been a rough week. That hurts, but what hurts even worse are the words that you normally say next. Maybe you’ve thought a little more about these words, but still not enough to realize how damaging they are. It may take you five or ten seconds to say them, but they stay with me much longer than that. The same is true for sympathy cards. Maybe you agonize for longer over what to write, but still the amount of time it took you to think and write them does not compare to the amount of time they will stay with me. At five months out, I still know who said and who wrote what words—not because I keep a list of them so I can stay angry, but because I can’t un-hear or un-see them. And because, now more than ever, words mean something to me.
“Well, it was meant to be.”
“He’s in a better place.”
“At least he’ll never have to suffer. “
“It’s a part of God’s plan and you’ll just have to learn to accept it.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“God just needed another angel.”
“Maybe there would have been something wrong with him.”
“Maybe he’s being spared from something else.”
“You can have other babies. Your sister did.”
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
“You’re being tested.”
“Cheer up! It’ll be okay.”
Please believe me when I tell you that even spoken gently and kindly, those words hurt. Even if you truly believe those words, stop for a moment and think about the possibility that maybe I don’t believe those words. Maybe I don’t believe that God’s plan involves death. Maybe I feel that I’ve been given more than I can handle. Maybe this loss has been so hard that I don’t even want to think about having other babies. Even the two phrases above that I believe are true are not helpful in my time of grief. I know my son will never suffer and I know he’s with Jesus, but those things do not ease my pain here and now.
The main reason the phrases above are so hurtful is that it feels like you’re trying to say “It’s really not so bad.” But it is bad. It’s awful. It’s unthinkable. It’s the most painful thing that’s ever happened to me. In the early stages of grief, I remember saying to my mother, “I’m tired of people trying to cheer me up. I don’t need a cheerleader right now. I need someone to crawl down into the cave I’m in just to be with me.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know you mean well. Most of the time, I keep my mouth shut and don’t tell people that what they’ve said has hurt me because I’d rather get my feelings hurt than hurt someone else. I’m realizing now, though, that if I don’t say something, the well-meaning words will be spoken to another grieving person somewhere down the road. That realization has helped me to find my voice (or fingers) and write this blog.
So think twice. Think three times before you say or write something to someone who is grieving, no matter what the loss. Blake and I have often joked about the blank space in cards and how people always feel like they need to fill it. If you’re one of those people that like to fill blank space, here are a few ideas:
“I’m thinking about you.”
“I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”
“This is so sad/awful/terrible.”
“I’m praying for you.”
These phrases are also good to use as conversational substitutes to the earlier mentioned phrases.
In cards, though, when all else fails, just sign your name really big.