These last few days I've been thinking a lot about "the rules" of dealing with someone who is grieving a child. I keep reading about what to do and what not to do in bereavement materials and in the blogs of my sisters in sorrow, but then it occurs to me that, for the most part, the only people reading what I'm reading are people in my situation - people who already know what to do - or at least what they hope against hope other people will do.
I don't know if me writing my own version of the rules will help anyone or not, but if I had a penny for every person who said "I don't know what to say" or "I don't know what to do" I'd be a rich woman right now. So I'm going to give it a shot.
I hope this doesn't offend anyone. I would like to state for the record that I know my family and friends have done their best - I know they've tried hard to say and do everything right. I will never, ever fault anyone for doing the only thing they knew how to do, and for doing it with love.
But since I've been asked, it must not always be clear what I need. Or what anyone who has lost a child needs. So maybe this will help...
1. Don't ask me what you can do. Just do something. Some days it takes all the energy I have just to make it through the day, don't ask me to spell out what I need you to do for me. Try really hard to figure it out on your own. Even if you're wrong I'll know you tried and I'll love you for it.
2. Don't worry that Talking about my baby is going to make me sad. NOT talking about my baby is what makes me sad. Having to pretend that he didn't exist makes me sad. As a mother, knowing that his mere existence makes people sad just about kills me, so please acknowledge him when it makes sense to - and maybe even when it doesn't. He isn't here anymore - I don't have those day-to-day joys of seeing my son - so talking about him is what helps me make him part of my life. It makes him real.
3. Don't leave me alone in my sorrow. E-mail me. Call me. Send me a little note. Don't wait for me - I might not be able to reach out to you under the weight of my sorrow. Let me know you're there if I need you, but check in on me now and then too.
4. I will grieve for my son for the rest of my life. Don't tell me time will ease the pain. Maybe it will, but unless you've been in my shoes and you know for sure, your reassurances mean nothing to me. Tell me you hope time will heal, not that you know it will.
5. Don't think that you can't mention his name during the holidays. It's not like I'll forget he isn't here if no one whispers his name. I don't want to think that you've forgotten him, so please talk about him - tell me you miss him too.
6. Don't keep your children from me. Children have a way of healing a wounded heart and seeing them brings me hope and comfort. If I can't be around your children I'll let you know in my own way.
7. Don't tell me that you know someone who had the very same thing happen to them and that they ended up having more children. The same thing didn't happen to them - they didn't lose my son. Stories about happy endings don't necessarily make me happier - they just make me long for something else I don't have.
8. People worry about what to say (particularly immediately after) but trust me, all you need to say is "I'm sorry" and "I'm thinking of you."
10. Donations to a charity in our son's name mean the world to us. We will search for meaning in the loss of our child until we take our own last breaths, and knowing that other people will be helped in some way because of the impact our son had on your life helps more than you know.
11. Ask me about my son, about how I'm feeling, about how things are going - I want to talk. Being asked gives me permission to talk about things that I keep inside for fear of making other people sad.
12. Don't be afraid to cry in front of me. I know this isn't my sorrow alone. I know you're grieving too.
I'm sure more things will come to me, but I think this is a pretty thorough list.
I hope no one ever has to rely on it ever again. For anyone.