Sunday, hubby and I attended a christening. My distaste for and mistrust of anything Christian aside, the day was… upsetting. More so than either of us expected. It was the kind of experience that you know going into it will be difficult, so you brace for the things that you know are likely to upset you. There are going to be infants there. You’re probably going to have to endure unintentional jabs at your failure to give life to a healthy baby. You’re going to see the almost two-year old who was born ten days before your own child, and you should probably do your best to not look at him with tears in your eyes.
But as we pulled up in the parking lot, I realized that the day was going to be a much bigger challenge than I could have prepared for. This was my first time being back in a Catholic chapel since the day we buried Eevee, and I hadn’t anticipated the flippant rage that rushed up to the surface. Every tiny little thing tested my fragile composure, so that by the time the ceremony had concluded, I literally bolted for the door and walked blindly through the parking lot, just trying to breathe. Hubby wasn’t in any better shape, either.
It took us some time, but we eventually rallied for the early dinner that followed. “We can go to the dinner, if you want,” I told him. “The hard part is over now.” Yeah… Sometimes I’m not very smart. If the ceremony had been uncomfortable in air, the dinner took that to a whole new level.
We’ve been hit and miss with family gatherings since Eevee, so when we’re there, the usual observation goes along the line of, “Hey, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you guys! How have you been?” Most of the more pointed “how have you been” questions have stopped at this point, but the nature of the get together seemed to create the impression that we were looking for everyone’s unsolicited advice.
It’s fair to say that when most people touch on grief, they’re being genuine in their concern, but that doesn’t give anyone free license to just say anything. If you empathize with someone’s suffering, approach them with care – never touch them without permission or unless you know them really well. It can be difficult to know what to say, so when in doubt, stick to the basics. “I’m so sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” “I’m here if you ever need someone to talk to.” “I’m thinking about you.” People like to say, “Is there anything I can do for you?” but I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you are actually able to follow through with anything that might be asked. Especially when grief is new, even small rejections are enough to cause breakdowns and panic attacks.
Under no circumstance should you say things like, “You’re young, there’s still time!” “God had a reason,” or “I had miscarriages when I was young, so I understand. But you know what? You have to move on. It’s past time you moved on.”
I and every other grieving parent out there are so exhausted from having to defend our right to grieve, our right to mourn the loss of a child without being forced to smile at remarks that devalue the life that was so briefly here. So please, guys, be gentle with your own friends and family when dealing with a loss.
And finally, to make this somewhat writing-related, here’s an article I wrote up not long ago about writing grieving characters.
Peace, guys. ❤