Are You Uncomfortable Around A Grieving Parent?
The other day I saw someone I knew and her eyes said it all; she didn’t know what to say to me and she was uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure if she should mention Keven or just have small talk. We had small talk, and didn’t mention Keven or my grief. I could see she wasn’t at ease so I didn’t want to make it more awkward by bringing it up myself. I walked away feeling kinda crappy - like, doesn't she care? I know she does and I understand that most people just don't know what to say.
Grief is a universal and personal experience. I think there’s something wrong with how we deal with grief and death here in the U.S. that makes people uncomfortable to be around a grieving person. Death is handled differently in different cultures (more on that in a future post). Death is a natural part of life but when and how someone dies makes a big difference in our grief and how those around us feel. A cancer death is different than an auto accident death which is different than a murder victim death or an overdose death - etc.
Here in the U.S. it’s viewed as something you “go through” with a beginning, middle and end. This may be true for most types of loss, but losing a child is a completely different experience than losing a parent, spouse, friend, etc. You never get over it, and you shouldn't be expected to. I don't think it's beneficial for grieving parents to expect that they will "get over it". That doesn’t mean there won’t be joy, celebration, happiness, or fun in your life. Just that when you reach a point where you can feel those things again, the grief stays. It never goes away. It changes over time, but it never completely disappears.
I’ll be writing a lot about experiencing grief, but for today my focus is on how other people react to our loss. Everyone that knows you’ve lost a child has it in the back (or front) of their mind the second they see you. I’m no longer just "Barbara", I’m “Barbara who lost her son to suicide”. I’m not the same person, but I’m still your friend, I still care about you and your family, I still laugh and talk hockey, music, and pets.
Here are the words I long for, “How are you doing in your grief? I bet you miss Keven so much”, or something along those lines. Although our children are gone, they are still with us in our hearts and minds pretty much 24/7. There’s a gaping hole in my heart that only Keven filled and it wasn’t because he was my only child, I know a mom of six and her loss is just as devastating, sure she has five other children but none of them are her son that is now gone.
I get a feeling of warmth just hearing someone mention Keven’s name...you remember him, and you care about how I feel. That’s HUGE to most grieving parents I know. It comes down to acknowledging the obvious, the proverbial elephant in the room. Hopefully, by doing this both parties will feel more comfortable and the elephant will have to find a different room to hang out in.
One of the hurtful things about losing Keven is that no one talks about him much now. At first people were there supporting me and offering to talk, sharing stories about him. Then it slowly stopped. Occasionally someone will text and ask how I’m doing. There's no way of knowing my needs unless I share them, which is hard for me, but if I need a little extra support, I just post something on Facebook about him and always get an outpouring of love and care.
I don’t want sympathy, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me! It’s all about remembering that he was here and now he’s not and that I'm not the same person now that he's gone.
If you know a grieving parent, or any grieving person - next time you see them ask how they are doing in their grief. Bring up a good memory, or say, “I know you miss him/her a lot.” Then let me know how it went.
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