In June of 2017 my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. She passed away in November. My husband and I have custody of our 11 year old granddaughter. Grieving is taking it’s toll. Last month I was admitted to the hospital for being suicidal.
I think about my daughter all the time. I spent every minute in the hospital with her for 5 months. Telling my granddaughter that her mom was dead was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. Whenever I go outside for a smoke, I think of my daughter. Whenever I drive the car, it reminds me of the drive to the hospital.
My mind won’t stop thinking suicidal thoughts. My brain constantly hammering me with negative thoughts. I’m hopeless, sad and feel out of my body. I don’t recognize my thoughts or myself. I am so lost. The emptiness is everywhere and I don’t know what to do.
I’ve been treated for depression for years and have had suicidal thoughts the entire time. I spent 2 days in the psych ward. I slept most of the time. I attend an outpatient program and went to a new psychiatrist today. He said my bipolar diagnosis was incorrect and adjusted my medications.
It was a beautiful Memorial Day Weekend a few years ago. I had gone with a good friend to the Indianapolis 500. I was very recently divorced and my son, age 8, was with his dad at an amusement park fairly close to our house. I had just returned to the area when my ex-husband called with a pretty horrifying story. His normally tough-as-nails mother had called him, hysterical, saying something about a pool, but he couldn’t make out anything else she was saying. He was on his way back to town, but in the meantime asked me to look for his mom.
So, I did. I think I knew all along what I would find. I knew my brother and sister-in-law were having a pool installed for my niece and nephew, ages 5 and 8. I stopped at a couple of places where I knew they hung out with no luck, so I headed for the hospital.
I went to the ER desk and told them who I was looking for. Just the last name, mind you. Immediately, the front desk person said I could come in the back. I didn’t know that meant really bad news. I said, “No, I can wait out here, no problem,” but she insisted. Into the back I went, and immediately I was confused. There was my mother-in-law, surprisingly calm, or so it seemed. I went to her, and she said it was my niece, it had been the pool where the football cookout had been held, my niece had been missed but there were too many toys in the pool to see her at the bottom.
A lot of the aftermath is a blur now. I went to my brother and sister-in-law, who were holding my niece’s body. She looked perfect and beautiful, but blue. I remember my sister-in-law looking at her almost reverently. I remember sitting on the curb outside the ER, waiting for my ex-husband to get there so I could tell him. I remember my son’s horrified face as he saw her as it sunk in that he would never argue with her again over who got the middle part of the back seat. And I remember the feeling of absolute hopelessness that I couldn’t protect him from that, or from the other ugly things in life.
That night, something broke inside me. I went to bed that night knowing things would not be better in the morning. My sister-in-law’s wails echoing in my ears.
It’s been years now. My sister and brother-in-law are doing as well as I think anyone could and I was diagnosed with PTSD. I thought I had a good handle on it, but I got a comment from someone that brought it all back. This person told me she hoped someone in my family, like my child, got sick so I could understand why she missed a ton of work.
First, people are afraid of what to say, and often say nothing. This is a mistake. Many people are afraid to bring up the deceased child, fearing it will open wounds and raw feelings. But in my opinion the hardest thing is when people don’t talk about Maddie. It feels like she was never here, and this is what is heartbreaking. It is nice when people say, “I thought of Maddie today,” of “I saw a kid in a dress like the one Maddie wore at whatever today.” Or “I miss Maddie.” These things help, not hurt. Make us feel she is not forgotten. Sending a keepsake with the child’s photo or name, things that help her be tangibly remembered are nice. We have received AMAZING things and we cherish everything.
Six years ago, one of my friends lost her father. I was living across the country from her, and I was terrified. I felt guilty that I had my dad and she didn’t. So I didn’t say anything, and I ruined our friendship for a while. I am very lucky she gave me another chance. She has been there for me since Maddie passed away. I have horrible regret about the whole thing – all I had to do was call her and say, “I’m so sorry.”
Religion is a potentially explosive way to comfort. Unless you absolutely know 100% percent the person will be comforted by mentions of faith, don’t go there. Religion is a very complicated thing in the wake of a child’s death, and they may be angry at God or confused as to how to incorporate the death of a child into the religion that they have known to have their best interests in mind. Even someone you know to be intensely religious may be having a crisis of faith in the wake of a child’s death, and could be angered/saddened by mention of religion. Especially stay away from, “God wanted her more than you,” or “God needed her more,” etc.
I don’t care if it is the all powerful creator of the universe, you don’t tell any Mama that anyone wants her baby more than she does.
So many people hate seeing their loved one in such pain and want to fix it. Consequentially, they start talking about how you have to move on, that you will see them again, the child is with God, it will get better in time, etc. All things they think will “fix it.” Don’t try to do this. Follow the lead of the parents. Discuss what they want…if they go to those places you can discuss those things, but don’t try to steer it there. Sometimes I want to talk about Maddie and the unfairness of it all, and other times I want to hear funny stories or talk about reality TV.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Many people feel they have to be strong for their friends, that they can’t cry or show emotion. I don’t think that is true. You can be strong AND be emotional. If tears come, don’t fight them. This shows your friends that you, too, are crushed and sad and lost.
Address the horror. People often worry about addressing how awful the situation is, but the parents want to hear that people get the hell they are in. The parents feel alone when they don’t think people understand how awful this is. Saying things like, “This is the worst thing. I am so sorry and sad that it had to happen to you and your child,” helps.
Food is very helpful. The last thing you want to do when mourning is worry about eating. There are always people around after a death, and the last thing you want to think about is feeding them. Mike and I never would have eaten if food hadn’t been sent to us. A gift of food also tells the parents they are loved.
Say or express something you never have before. If you have never told the person that you love them, come right out and tell them that you love them. If you’ve never held their hand, hold their hand. Give hugs. These expressions mean a lot.
Finally, my biggest advice is to not be afraid to take initiative. We often say, “let me know what I can do,” in a situation like this. Well, I can tell you that Mike and I had no idea what we needed. We were so lucky that we had friends and family rally together and just take care of things. A few came to town to help out. One friend organized food, another cleaned my house, two bought the clothes Mike and I wore to the funeral, one put together Maddie’s slide show, a few organized the reception after her service. I could go on and on. I didn’t have to worry about anything because I knew my friends and family would handle it.
Be there for your friends. Call, email, text. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Let them know you are thinking of them, and their child, all the time. Don’t drop away after the funeral – that’s when they’ll need you the most. Be the kind of friend that you would want to have.
Liberty Ann born March 30, 2011 and died on April 19, 2011.
Ally’s Son: Collin
Collin: born on August 9th, 2008. He passed away 30 minutes later from cardiac arrest after an emergency c-section due to a placental abruption.
Nicholas, born December 14, 2005, died April 19, 2006 from SIDS.
Max Corrigan, born November 14, 1987 and relinquished to adoption on November 18, 1987.
Bryce Philip born May 26, 2009 and died September 1, 2009 due to SIDS
Ashton Karol, stillborn on February 24, 2010 at 17 weeks.
Addison Leah, June 13, 2008, accidental death.
Jessica and Mark’s Daughter:
Hadley Jane, born October 9, 2001 and died October 11, 2007.
Jake, born August 14, 2005 died August 27, 2005 due to prematurity and hydrops.
Sawyer, born November 17, 2009 died December 26, 2009. His cause of death has not been determined because he is part of a study at the Mayo clinic for heart arrhythmias – SIUDS (unexplained sudden infant death)
Cullen, September 11, 2010, stillbirth.
Brian Vitale, accidental death, September 4, 2007 – June 3, 2010. We miss him more and more each day.
Patrick, born April 10, 1977, Adoption
Sophia Lu Boudreau, born December 21, 2006 and died October 9, 2007 from SIDS.
Rebecca and TJ’s son:
Rafe Theobald Calvert, born on October 11th, 2009 at 26 weeks. Spent 3 months in the NICU and underwent an intestinal obstruction repair. He was released on January 11th, 2010 and we brought him home for 6 weeks. He passed away at 4 and a half months old from SIDS on February 25th, 2010.
The Stamm’s Daughter:
Adrienne Mae, May 7, 2006, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Nathan Michael King, died from SIDS November 2008.
Kendra, April 23, 2005 to March 24, 2006. Died from Jacobsen Syndrome.
Maybe you will read this and nod along thinking to yourself, “ugh, why do people say stupid stuff” or you have a friend or coworker that needs comforting and you don’t know what to say. Here are some tips on what to say and what NOT to say to bereaved parents.
WHAT NOT TO SAY:
“It’s so much better that it was so early or he was so young, or she didn’t have to suffer.”
No parents should bury their child. No matter HOW old or young they are. It’s just the wrong order of events.
“You’re young and have time to have other children.”
You don’t know how long we’ve been trying to have THIS child. You don’t know that I haven’t had a hysterectomy because of some terrible disease. You don’t know any details that would lead you to think this statement would be true.
“I know how you feel, my dog died last week.”
This was actually said to me at Charlie’s visitation. Kid you not. Enough said.
“Please call me if there’s anything we can do for you.”
This is a really sweet sentiment. But we don’t know what we need right now. I’m sure we need our grass cut, some meals, somebody to babysit our other children, or any number of other things-be creative. But we don’t have any clue what day it is or even how to put one foot in front of another. So we sure as heck don’t know what our to-do list looks like.
“Things happen for a reason.”
This is probably THE most insensitive thing anyone can say. Though this is true, that there is some “order of events” that our lives take and things happen in the order they are supposed to. BUT this is not a comforting statement and one that most people who are grieving a loss of a child, a diagnosis of a severe or chronic illness, a major accident or surgery that is life-changing, find offensive. If you take nothing else from this, DO NOT SAY THIS STATEMENT TO ANYONE. EVER. Thanks.
So, CharliesMom, what CAN I say to someone?
People get really funny around situations they are uncomfortable with. They panic when they don’t know what to say. They freeze and THAT is when stupid stuff is said.
Here are the basic rules:
1. Acknowledging the situation is better than saying nothing.
2. Saying nothing is better than saying something stupid.
3. Giving a hug and saying “I just don’t have the words to tell you how sorry I am” is better than saying nothing OR saying something stupid.
Other ways to offer comfort:
Send a card with a gift card to a local restaurant. It’s not flowers that die and it will get them out of the house which is normally needed.
Call and tell them you are going to be mowing their grass, shoveling their snow, pulling their weeds (or whatever fits) on Saturday.
Remember that food, flowers and help flows in for about two weeks. Then it’s like the rest of the world picks up and moves on quickly without the grieving people. The rest of the world doesn’t remember, or care that they lost their child or their child is sick. About a month later, or two months later, offer to help or to bring a meal or to take the mom out for a pedicure.
Acknowledge the child in the future. I cannot tell you how much I love this one lady. To this day, and it’s been seven years, when she sees my son Henry, she calls him Charlie. Every. Single. Time. She blushes and gets embarrassed until I tell her that it’s flattering to me that she remembers my baby that she actually never met. People like to hear their child’s name. And they like to know you remember and think of them.
Continue reaching out. If you are really close with the bereaved person, call regularly. I know I never returned calls, turned down lunch dates, didn’t want to go to parties but I had friends who were persistent and at a certain point, I was ready. And I said yes. Don’t give up on the person. They are hurting and are scared to have to leave their comfort zone.
JUST BE THERE. And don’t freak out when we start talking about our situation. If it freaks you out, you just need to listen and offer hugs and support. If you are a good friend, it shouldn’t make you uncomfortable, though.
Seven years down the road, the letters you sent, the meals you brought, the ear you lent, the shoulder you offered, the memories you helped us keep will be remembered.
And the insensitive stuff other people said will still sting when you think back on them
Holidays have not been easy for me for a long time due to family issues between my wife and my parents. That was unpleasant but tolerable. Details of that are completely different story.
Bringing our first and only child into the world helped. I could now find joy in watching him open his gifts on Christmas morning, seeing the same joy in his eyes that I felt as a kid during the holiday season.
We had the same ritual for 4 years – stress over the holidays, money, buying gifts and so on. But it was all worth it to watch Kaden open his gifts and enjoy Christmas.
This year the holidays have gone back to “full suck mode.” You see, our beloved only child of almost 5 years old passed away in January 2010 of unknown causes. Doctors are unable to explain exactly why the life of our child was taken from us so suddenly.
I never thought anything could change your life more than bringing a child into the world. I now know that losing that child changes your life even more. Life continues on around you but somehow you are unable to keep up. The same problems, and struggles you had before are now magnified by the constant pain, sorrow and discomfort in your heart.
Going through our first holiday season without Kaden is really taking its toll on us as well as our entire family. Some people understand why we don’t want to leave the house to visit friends and family and gather for holidays just like we used to, but it seems that some are just flat out offended and hurt that you decide you are not emotionally capable of attending family holiday celebrations.
I hope that some day the pain will weaken enough to allow a somewhat normal lifestyle but for now, we are broken.