What Not to say to a bereaved mum.
I originally wanted to title this blog, ‘How to help a grieving mum’, (note to dad’s, I will be writing a blog for you, but I need to do my research first to get it right), then I thought maybe instead ‘What to say to a grieving mum’. This came to be the title that got me thinking the most. What do you say to a grieving mum? What did people say to me?
I remember back to 2002 when my son died, he was 3 days old, how did people help me? Looking back now, I sat on my sofa not really knowing what was going on. I was lucky, I had family around me. They came over every day; cooked, cleaned, answered the phone, answered the door, did the garden. What did they say to me? I can’t remember. I do remember just sitting. Just staring at the TV. An inner turmoil going on in my head. A turmoil of nothingness, emptiness, desolation. Mainly I was numb. I didn’t have a clue what people were doing; I didn’t know if I was hungry, thirsty, cold; I was just numb. A numbness like I’ve never felt before. When people were talking, I didn’t hear. The phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ really played out for me.
Words? What did they say? What do people say when a baby dies? To tell you the truth, if it hadn’t have happened to me, I wouldn’t know what to say to someone. Maybe I would have avoided them! Who knows? I do remember a couple of phrases: “You’re so strong, I don’t know how you’re doing it!” As I’m typing this now, I can’t help but giggle at the irony of that statement. I didn’t giggle at the time. What did I think? It depended how I felt. If I felt ok that day, then that was something that helped to make me feel strong and believe I was. If I had a bad day, it just made me feel furious! My internal rant went along the lines of:
‘Strong! What do you want me to do, curl up in a ball and cry until I drown in my own tears! I’m not strong, I’m struggling! It takes all the willpower to get out of bed and walk out the front door! I’m not strong, I’m scared!’ But you don’t say that. You just get on with living the best way you can. One day at a time.
Then, just to make me feel even more at ease, people saying “Everything happens for a reason, he's in a better place now!” My 2002 mum head wanted to scream at people when they said this, but I had no energy. I had no voice. What was the reason? I certainly couldn’t see it. And why was it a better place that he’d gone to? Was it better than me? Had I done something wrong that he was taken from me? These statements can bring up so much thinking within the head of a grieving mum. And if you’re like me, it started to make me wonder if I wasn’t good enough for my son, or if I'd done something wrong. And that; I didn’t need at the time.
Having people say these words to me, I started to wonder what other mums’ experiences were. With the help of various Baby loss support groups, I started to gather a list of what not to say to a grieving mum. This became quite a long list (around 200) and I found similarities. Here are but a few of “Don’t Say’s” that were kindly shared. Thank you.
· Don’t say, after having a stillborn baby, “It would have been worse if he had lived and then died.”
· Don’t say, “You won’t feel better unless you want to feel better.”
· Don’t say, and this was quite a common one, “At least you have children already.”
· Don’t say, “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
· Don’t say, if you’ve had IVF and it’s ended in a loss, “Hopefully it will work next time.”
· Don’t say, for people who have suffered miscarriage, “At least you weren’t too far along.”
· Don’t say, “I know how you feel, my dog died.”
· Don’t say, “You can always try again.”
· Don’t say, “You need to get on with things now.”
So, what should people do or say? “I’m sorry for your loss.” Five simple words that mean so much, oh and by the way, don’t forget the partner when you say it. It happened to mum and dad. It happened to both partners; they both have feelings, they are both grieving!
And what do you do for someone that's just lost their child? Well, I was given lots of flowers, chocolates, teddy bears and cards. This was a sign that people were thinking of our son and my family. But it doesn’t have to be a gift or card. Maybe just being asked, “How are you?” “What was your son’s name?” “Do you have any photos?” I remember when my son died, I couldn’t look at any photos. Then a friend came to visit me. She seemed to know just what to say, mainly because she had experienced losing a child. My friend asked to see photos if that was ok. I remember giving them to her and not looking at first. As she flicked through, my eyes caught the images, and I just couldn’t take my eyes away from them. It was particularly wonderful when comments were made like, “Look at him there, he has his mummy’s eyes.” That sounded so strange, because I hadn’t had the chance to be called mummy, and hearing it made my son feel real, that he had been here, and he did exist.
So, my message to anyone who doesn’t know what to say; just say sorry. There’s nothing anyone can do or say to make it better, but kind words go a long way. We did have babies, they were real, they were here. The acknowledgement of this is so important to parents and will always be remembered.
Thank you for reading, if this blog has helped you in anyway and you would like more information on how I can help you further, please contact me by email, give me a ring or inbox me.