Loss etiquette… someone needs to teach a course or offer a TED talk on the subject because most people are clueless. How many times have you heard the phrases: “You were only six weeks” or “you have other children, you should be grateful” or my favorite “You just need to get over it and move on”? Logically I know that most people are well meaning and intend their statements to be some kind of weird stab at encouragement. However in the mind of a grieving parent, it’s like a knife to the heart. In the grieving mind these words are interpreted as cold, dismissive and cruel. Nobody tells a person who has just lost a parent, sibling or living child “umm, I think it’s about time you let that shit go”. It’s even more painful when these kind of phrases are uttered by a loved one. You are telling a person at their most fragile and vulnerable that their loss does not matter, that their grief is nothing more than a minor stumbling block. The grieving rarely protest or attempt to correct the offense, because when your mortally wounded you don’t usually take the time tend to a skinned knee. It’s not a “dust yourself off” type of situation. I do think however, that a lot of that dismissiveness stems from people just wanting to avoid the topic all together. Let’s face it, who really wants to think about babies dying? People will use every defense mechanism possible to distance that thought from their psyche. I think it is possible to start changing the narrative, however that will only be accomplished through education. People don’t know what they don’t know right?
Opening up a dialogue and educating, will help people understand that talking about someone’s loss probably isn’t going to make them feel any more hurt than they already are. Talking about the loss validates the experience and honors memory of the lost. While you shouldn’t have to worry about educating your circle in the midst of the worst crisis of your life…you kinda do. Expecting that people will respond how you would like them to usually ends in disappointment. It is likely that the other person is just terrified they will upset you and would rather crawl into a hole than broach the subject. I know that when your loss is new and emotions are high, everything anyone says or does can be interpreted as being insensitive. Kind of like role modeling for children, you need to show others that it’s ok to talk about the pregnancy or little one you’ve lost. Show them that it can be cathartic for you and not a form of torture. I know that I stand on the other side of an ocean of time, in loss years. It’s so difficult to communicate the enormity of the pain when you’re in the thick of it, but try and channel all of the anger and rage into something positive. I wanted to punch people in the throat when they said that to me, but it’ true! You too are swimming across the ocean, one small stroke at a time. The shore behind you is your grief and pain. While you will never swim far enough to lose sight of that shore one day you will come to peace with the fact that it was a land you had to conquer.