Friday, March 21, 2014

How to handle a grieving parent or family member when it comes up in casual introductory conversation

So the dreaded question many parents who have lost a child fear: "So how many kids do you have?"

We don't dread it because we want to avoid mentioning our child; we dread it because of the feeling that we are doing something wrong if we make the other person feel awkward or if we show emotions that make them uncomfortable.

So what do you do when it comes up in conversation with a stranger?

It is ok to say "I am sorry", but there is a huge difference in what you do next. If you look away you are telling the person that it makes YOU feel awkward... and sometimes it makes them feel like they have done something wrong. When they haven't. It is ok for them to answer this question in any way that feels true to them... even if they stutter, pause, cry. Because they are dealing with a lifetime of this reality and not just a moment, grieving parents deserve an occasional pass on the social impetus to never make the other person feel awkward. Looking away turns their child into a social taboo- saying that you do not think they should be talked about or that they should only mention living children. It ends the conversation- signaling that they have done something wrong. Which may not be what you intended, but is how it is taken by a parent. This parent may have been rushed by others to 'get over it', when really that isn't an option as normal will never be the same. They are essentially made to feel like they are doing 'it' wrong or should be lying better and your reaction may be reinforcing this.

After you say "I'm sorry" just hold eye contact for two or three seconds. If you don't know how to handle it past this point, if it someone you will have continued contact with you can always say "I want you to know that we can talk about your son/daughter, but we don't have to if you do not feel like it. I just wanted you to know it is ok either way and I recognize that he/ she is still your child." If it is someone you won't see again, you can leave it at the brief eye contact at the end or say "I can only imagine how complicated that question was to answer." Granted every parent is different, but this would at least work for me.

The two second rule can also apply anytime someone who is deceased is brought up by someone who cared about them. Looking away rapidly ends conversation. Whether it is about a parent on Mother's or Father's day, or perhaps someone sharing a memory about a child, give them just a couple seconds of good eye contact.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Loving this post, musing on emotional fishes and loaves miracles

So I recently found a post I really love.

I love it because of the compassion given all around. Sometimes the glib funny answers that serve one person's purpose cause only harm to another.

I've been a little wounded on some issues. And one that I really didn't understand and couldn't put into words is how I get upset when people brush away the concept of a birth Mom as also being a 'real Mom'. Part of me thought it was because sometimes the best people can do is to be incredibly unselfish and let a child go to a loving family. Because the real selfish people won't give a child up- they will keep them for years with neglect and the child isn't raised, they just sort of grow.

Those 'real parents' make me angry, because I loved my child and raised him and yet I didn't get to keep him. I would have done anything to keep him (and I am glad that I have never been forced to really ask myself how far because that is a really big heart of darkness area for me).

But I really sympathize with the bioparents that do give a child up with love and are sometimes whitewashed out of the picture through insecurity. Life given through birth is beautiful and should be recognized as a gift- not as taking away something from the parents who are raising them, also real parents.

And I realize it is because when people brush off the first 6 months of a child's life or the birth Mom it makes me furious.

Because in many ways, I haven't got to raise my son. Ok so maybe God, a loving father, is raising my son better than I can, but I love him desperately. It wasn't my choice. I wasn't a bad parent. Just because I got to keep him for a short time doesn't make me less of a real Mom. Just because my time was only comprised of time I carried him, birthed him, and less than 5 months in my arms doesn't make me less a real Mom than any other parent who raises a child. And yes in many ways I 'raised' him, even though we only had a brief moment together. In some ways more so than most parents because I have had to do some things for my son that, God willing, YOU will NEVER have to do- figure out how to bury a child and yet keep them alive and meaningful in a world that wants you to forget. Anyone who has done the same for a parent understands in some ways what a huge painful loving thing this is, and yet for a Mom who has 'lost' a child it is very much a part of being a parent in the story books where life doesn't end happily ever after. As much as changing the first poopy diaper was, or as much as helping my Daughter get ready for prom will be one day.

I only really had largely a beginning and the ending with him here. So in some ways I feel like a 'bio' parent and in some ways a 'raising' parent too.... Sometimes a grieving parent feels like they have been made an orphan. What if the sound of your child's name was wonderful to your ears and you woke up one day without them and then a week after the service this music becomes taboo to even say?

Confusing? Try being me.

But I love this post. Because in real life things aren't need and tidy, feelings of love and loss and abandonment mingle in confusing pools with multiple experiences coexisting. Some things simply are.

I think about the complexity of love and human emotions when I think about each of my kids. In a weird way, they each individually have all of my heart completely. Like the miracle of the fishes and loaves it doesn't add up mathematically and yet I know it is true with my whole being. So too with a child's heart/love perhaps- maybe the heart can be filled completely with love for one parent and yet still have that desire and longing for acceptance and love by another?

I know with grief, at times your heart can be full of love for one child and still filled with complete void and brokenness for the loss of another. It doesn't make for a bad parent- I guess it just means they gave more than just a piece of themselves to each child. The grief / love for one takes nothing away from the love for the other.


Paiden turned one and had his first haircut. I was happy, thrilled and yet....?

During the haircut, I kept thinking of Perry and how his first birthday was supposed to be his first haircut. No way could I imagine before all this or any parent would want to think about how it actually happened. And yet here it was before me in my mind as Paidens hair fell to the ground. We stopped and gathered locks for his memory book and I couldn't help but think of Perry's little book. I was also a little worried- what if he looked even more like his brother? Would this be a wonderful glimpse into Perry or that bitter salt that grinds in unhealed wounds? Did I want this or fear it? And yet I did want it. I want Paiden to grow. I want him to reach milestones- that even if they are triggers in their own way, I want them for him and for us.

All the milestones- his own passport, reaching 5 months, sitting on Santa's lap, his first tooth, sitting up by himself, crawling, standing, and the first step, have been wonderful but bring on quasi should have been memories. Because he is mine, I embrace Paiden's, but yet they are no less painful in their own way as the random milestones of strangers. I know that for the rest of my life I will see a thin transparent Perry in my best moments of Paiden's. I will think about him as Perry gets a driver's license or as he graduates.  I will wonder about who he would have married when I sit at Paiden's wedding. I will wonder about the wonderful grandchildren that I will never get to meet. I think about all the family pictures that will never be.

The barber said "Look Mom, in a few minutes he won't look like a baby anymore, he will look like he is two years old".

And at that moment Emily let lose. "I don't want his hair short. He won't look like baby anymore." Baby was or is her nickname for both Perry and Paiden. And she wailed. The barber remarked that he had never seen a sibling react this way. I can't help but wonder if she had her own little emotional pack she carries around. Photo