Confronting Negative Statements

by Sandy Fox

At a recent dinner, I sat next to a woman who knew Marcy, my daughter, through others. We were never very friendly, although I’ve known her for many years. She turned to me and said, “You know, it is very sad that Marcy died, but you should have had more children. Then it wouldn’t have been so tragic for you. You would have at least had other children in your life.”

I was stunned that anyone would say that to a bereaved mother, no matter how long ago the child had died. Was she trying to comfort me? Did she think she was showing me she cared about me? I felt insulted. I wanted to say, “You stupid person. You have obviously never had a child die nor know anything about it.”

But I kept my voice calm and said, “Another child doesn’t replace the one you lost, nor does another child even ease the pain of the loss. Each child is a separate individual, loved unconditionally.” And besides, I thought to myself, I could never bear the thought of ever going through this again with another child, although there are many parents who have lost more than one child and survived.

I explained to this woman that I did try to have more than one child. I lost one in a miscarriage and was told not to get pregnant again due to health reasons. “Oh,” was all she said.

As I looked at this woman who just turned to talk to someone else, I could see she never for one minute thought she had said anything offensive. Thinking about it, she probably voiced what others only think but never say.

When I told this story at a bereavement meeting recently, most rolled their eyes, shook their heads, and look disgusted. Then a few began telling me their own stories, some very similar to mine. One bereaved mother after a year of grieving went out to lunch with some friends. She related that one of her friends said, “We assume you are all better now; it’s been a year, so why don’t you try to have more children. At least then our children will be close in age and grow up together.” Angered, the mother told this so-called friend that she did not manufacture children at a moment’s notice; she was not over the loss; and it was really none of her business.

And still another mother at the meeting related how, at a wedding, an old friend said, “Why so sad looking?” She said she had just been thinking of her son and how much he would have liked to have been there. The response was: “Oh, get over it. It’s been long enough. Time to move on.” The bereaved mother said simply and calmly, “I am trying to move on, but it’s difficult at times.” She then turned around and left the party. “I cried all the way home,” said the mother.

One person who read this article on my blog, Kathy, said, “Sometimes people just don’t know what to say and so they try to say something they think will be comforting and unfortunately, often times, it is not comforting at all but very hurtful. It takes experiencing their own loss to possibly begin to understand this.”

“There are other times, she continued, that people just really aren’t sensitive at all. Like the wedding example, she was having fun and had no presence of mind to realize that someone who lost a child might still be grieving at an occasion like that. I think people forget that when we have lost a child, it is always present in our minds and some of the simplest daily experiences bring sad reminders that they are gone. Also, for some, they don’t want to dredge up your grief feelings so they try to avoid it by being all bubbly and happy around you…as if that will help. Let’s face it…they know that at a moment’s notice it could be them and they don’t want to face that!”

Finally, another mother thinks it’s horrifying how unbelievably stupid and selfish some people are. “I’ve been asked more than once if we are having more children. Even my husband contemplated it in a moment of irrational grief, but at least he had the excuse of desperately needing his little boy back. I just can’t fathom how people regurgitate at others without actually examining what they are saying beforehand. I’ve decided that next time anyone probes my reproductive life, I’ll just say, ‘My tubes are tied’ and leave it at that.”

The grief journey is hard enough without others attempting to tell us how to live our lives. They have no idea what it is like to lose a child and I, personally, hope they never have to be in that situation.

I wish there was a set of rules to educate people as to how to act, react, what to say, and particularly what not to say to a bereaved parent. It would make our journey a little less stressful.

About the Author: Sandy Fox is an award-winning author of two books on surviving grief. Her latest is Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child. In it are 80 articles on a variety of coping and informational topics that bereaved parents must deal with, and the rest of the book is 10 individual inspirational stories and a huge resource section. The above article is an abstract of a much longer and more in-depth article in her this book.

Her first book, I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye, tells the stories of 25 sets of parents and how they moved on with their lives while always remembering their children. Each Sunday, Sandy writes a blog. If you go to her Surviving Grief blog you can read a variety of subjects dealing with a child’s death. Sandy also writes for Open to Hope, has articles in their recently published book, and does Ezine articles online on the same topic.

Sandy’s previous essays on this site: Commonalities Between Bereaved Parents and Finding Help for Bereaved Parents

This is a wonderful list of things to share with those who do not understand the grief of a bereaved parent: What Do You Say to a Bereaved Parent