The following post was written by Rehtaeh’s mom, Leah Parsons.
As the days turn to weeks and the months turn to years parents who lost their children are forever in a fog like state about time. Writing down the word “years” makes me hesitate because if I write it down it feels a bit truer. I was never in denial about anything regarding Rehtaeh’s death. However, our brains are so amazing in their emotional protection skills and for that I have to be thankful. The moments of truth are raw and searing -suddenly out of nowhere a glimpse of an imprint that she left on the world leaves me feeling like someone kicked me in the stomach all over again. A memory appears, a smell, a handwritten note, a familiar song just when the brain was resting. The state of rawness arrives – the emotional impact of losing a child. Imagine if the brain allowed this reality to be revealed more regularly? This protection mechanism from our minds,the knowing – is itself a miracle.
This week I have had several occasions where I was reminded about societal views of death, which relate back to not wanting to face death. Feeling uncomfortable often results in awkward moments. Parents who lost their children walk around feeling like they have a stamp on their forehead like everyone can see their loss. The result of child loss for many parents that I have spoken to is similar. We lose friends and family who just don’t know how to “be” around us any longer. We have people who just want us to “be” the way we were before our loss. We tend to lose many people either by our avoidance or by their avoidance.
There are common phrases, saying and attempts at saying “something” that make grieving parents cringe. Before this tragedy, I would have probably made the same comments because I didn’t understand either. I have written about these previously, but just wanted to bring some awareness about grief once again. Grieving parents usually walk away from people feeling like “no one understands” and how could they? However, this usually results in us feeling more isolated and alone. Some things to consider before saying these words.
1) Are you feeling better these days? Or anything that implies telling us we should be moving forward, move on, etc… is hurtful. Everyday we are struggling emotionally and the pain sits just under the surface. There is no such thing as moving on. We feel like warriors for making it through another day.
2) Our children are in a better place? Really? Because the best place for us would be right here on earth with their family, friends living their life.
3) “Well, you can be Thankful for”…… This list can be endless. Such as she is no longer suffering, etc. There is not a long list of thanks when a child dies please avoid all of these.
4) God needed another angel… No! He did not.
5) You’re only handed what you can handle…. Well, if that were true, then Rehtaeh would still be here. Why was she handed more than she could handle?
6) At least….. Yes, people have said “at least you have other children to focus on” anyone who has more than one child and reflects on “which one could I live without?” would see how “at least” should be removed from the dialogue all together.
7) “You’re so strong, if that was my child, I would not be able to be as strong as you.” All parents have the fear of losing their child and all parents who lost a child felt it would never happen to their family. The truth is we don’t know until it happens, how we will cope with the pain. Being Strong (whatever that truly means) also implies that being strong somehow lessens the love felt for our child.
8) Avoiding our child’s name is probably the worst pain. Stating “we didn’t want to bring it up and cause you pain” Our child’s name is with us 24/7 just like our living children and other members of our family. Their life and our love for them is like a second skin. Bringing up their name acknowledges that they matter and they always will. Pretending they were never here does the opposite.
9) Expecting a parent to move through the stages of grief as if there is a certain time frame and set of emotions that works for all is just not true. How does it make a parent feel if they don’t meet the “guidelines” set out?
10) Finally, asking a grieving parent about their child or sharing a memory in general conversation or merely stating…”I think of you” etc… goes a very long way in making the grief feel less alienated.
I am fortunate to have this page with so many people who are kind, caring, loving and full of support. Most grieving parents do not have the same support. Don’t avoid parents who lost their children. One day a man came up to me and said ” I know who you are, can I give you a hug?” He hugged me and walked away. I will never forget that kind gesture and it was so kind and loving and was exactly the right thing to do.
Of course we all handle grief differently, but the list of what “not to do” seems pretty common in club that no one wants to join.