A lot of things have taken me by surprise through this journey – the intensity of my emotions, the depths of despair, discovering hope when I thought there was none. The list could go on and on. One of the biggest revelations for me, however, has been the number of people who have ignored the fact that Benjamin ever existed. This, I just did not expect. From those who meet us and say nothing, to those who just haven’t contacted us at all. In an alternate universe where Benjamin had survived, these same people would have sent us gifts and messages of congratulations. In this universe, however, there is only silence. The feelings of hurt and rejection, not only for me but for my son, can be at times unbearable. The anger and disappointment temporarily overshadow the sadness.
As a result I haven’t been out in groups very much in the last 3 months. There is a party coming up in a few weeks that is on every year. It’s great fun and I always look forward to it. I really want to go but I have never dreaded something more in my life. I’m afraid that I’ll walk in there and want to run straight back out again. I’m afraid of the looks of discomfort and pity. I’m afraid of the small talk and the conversations that so desperately try to steer away from the subject of Benjamin. The easy thing for me to do is just not go. That way I can’t get hurt. When I step back, however, I realise that by removing myself from these situations I might as well remove myself from life. I know that this is not what Benjamin would want and it is not what I want either.
I’ve been searching my soul over the last week. How do I get past this? I know that those who say nothing are not bad people. I know that they are not trying to hurt me. But why do they say nothing? Various friends have contacted me at different times, some straight away and others in the weeks and months that followed. The same comments would come up time and time again.
“I don’t know what to say”
“I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing”
“I’m afraid of upsetting you”
“I don’t want to remind you of what’s happened”
“I don’t want to intrude on your privacy”
“I wanted to give you space before I contacted you”
“I don’t want to crowd you”
So ironically we are all afraid. I am afraid that they will say nothing and they are afraid to say something.
I really do understand that it is difficult to know what to say. In the time directly after losing Benjamin I could see that it was hard for those closest to me. They would look at me with hurt in their eyes for what they were witnessing. I so much wanted to be able to tell them that I was ok or at least that I was going to be ok, but I couldn’t. What I want to do now is verbalise what I couldn’t back then – how I was feeling and what I needed. I want to help others who know bereaved parents to have the courage to speak to them and to not choose silence.
So here are my thoughts on what to say to someone who has lost their baby:
- Acknowledge that their baby has died. Even if you just say “I’m so sorry” or “I’m thinking of you”. It means a lot to them.
- Trying to find the right words is impossible. They have just lost their baby. No words can make the pain go away.
- Don’t worry about reminding them of what has happened – it is on their mind 100% of the time anyway.
- Avoid using platitudes. Saying things like “It wasn’t meant to be” is not helpful and mostly just hurtful. You are talking about their child, a human being, a part of them. You would not like if they said that about one of your living children.
- It’s ok that they’re not ok.
- If they cry please don’t shy away from them. Try a hug instead. Or even better, cry with them.
- Use their baby’s name – their biggest fear is that their baby will be forgotten. Keeping the baby’s memory alive is now more important to them than anything.
- Talk about their baby – their baby will be their favourite topic of conversation. No matter what happens they will always be parents and will be just as obsessed with their baby as other parents whose babies are alive.
- It’s ok to just sit in silence with them.
- They feel very lonely – giving them excessive time and space only makes them feel more isolated.
- Ask to see photos – proud parents love to show off their baby.
- Another baby will not fix things – babies are so different and individual. Another 50 babies won’t be able to replace the one who has gone. There will always be a hole that will never be able to be filled.
- Getting back into life is slow. Please be patient with them.
The list above is not exhaustive nor is it right for everyone. Traumatic grief is complicated and different for every person. If you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing then just ask. They’re still your loved one, they’re just really hurting right now so might be acting a little differently.
For those of you who have cried with us, sat in silence with us and missed Benjamin with us, thank you. For those of you who have found it too hard and chose silence instead, we know you are still thinking of us and of Benjamin. I hope after reading this people will find the courage to reach out to their loved ones when something awful happens. We all need love and support to get through this rollercoaster called life.