When You Don't Know What To Say Or Do.
So many times over the past year we have been asked, "What can I do?", or people have expressed, "I just don’t know what to say." I would imagine that it would be a very difficult position to be in—you care so much about the people involved—you want to make them better--- bring them some happiness again--- and most of all you don’t want to say or do the "wrong thing". On the internet support group I participate in- this subject comes up quite often, so apparently it is a commonly expressed concern- worldwide. I recently read an article in the "Compassionate Friends" (another support group for bereaved parents) newsletter that answered those questions quite well. Maybe this will help some of you--- maybe not—but please know that none of it is meant to hurt you or cause you to "grade" your own performance over the past year. Hopefully, it will just offer you some deeper insight as to what it’s like to be a bereaved parent— so that you can feel more comfortable in your role as a bereaved parent’s friend or family member. We hope, too, that you all feel comfortable expressing to us the way in which our tragedy has affected your lives—what your needs are--- what we can do to help you. Sometimes by helping others, we bring comfort to ourselves also. The parent who wrote this article set it up as a wish list. Not surprisingly- the first item on the list was the wish that their child had never died--- that they were back with their family. It sounds so simple- yet it’s a thought oftentimes swept over by others. "Why dwell on what you can’t change?" While on the surface that sounds like good advice- for a parent who has lost their child- it’s a wish that will never stop surfacing. On a daily basis I wish for the same—I’ve even had dreams where I’ve woken in middle of the night feeling an overwhelming sense of relief that Eric’s death was just a nightmare--- only to realize seconds later that the relief was in fact the nightmare—not his death. Wishing we could undo what’s been done—wishing we had another chance with our child--- judging from the comments made by parents whose child died 10 or 20 years ago—it’s something that really never changes. The best you can offer is an understanding, "I can only imagine that is how I would feel." In fact— oftentimes the simplest of statements or actions is the best choice of action when faced with the complicated issue of caring for someone who’s suffered a tragic loss, whatever it may be. We live in such a "fix-it" society--- we want to make everything better--- NOW! Unfortunately, that is not always a realistic expectation and it frequently leads to feelings of inadequacy on the part of the giver and frustration on the part of the receiver. The caring friend/family member wants so badly to ease the pain of their loved one—they want to take it away. On the other hand—the pain is very "special" to the bereaved person— it accompanies our memories- even the good ones and we often hold onto it like a precious jewel. To have someone try and take it away is to have our feelings invalidated, so the best intentioned action is resented. Statements like, "You have to let go of the pain." or "You need to move on." or "Life must go on." really oversimplify a very complicated issue. There are some pains that won’t ever go away- and while time moves forward and life certainly follows it- our lives have been forever changed—we are never going to be the same people we were prior to the loss. For Mike and Larry and I- living with Eric’s death has been the worst of all worsts. Our darkest nightmare is now our reality. Unlike other negative situations, such as losing a job or minor illnesses, this tragedy is not going to have an eventual happy ending. The new year isn’t going to bring better news about Eric—a new house can’t begin to ease the pain of losing your son and brother. In a way, our new reality is that no matter what happens to us in the future—even if we win the largest lottery around—a person we cherished is no longer with us and that overwhelming sadness is going to be a part of us forever. We do, however, cherish our friends and family who have been so supportive of us!