I’ve deliberately picked a photo of Elva, taken in August when she was almost exactly 6 months old, doing her most unimpressed face. It was a face she became known for – ‘The Elva Face’.
I’ve picked it because, sadly, the things people say to parents who are grieving the loss of their child, make me pull the same face. I don’t want to complain too much; some friends have been so supportive, and we have made it clear to those people how grateful we are of their time, their messages and their love. They have listened, they’ve empathised and said just how awful the situation is, they’ve not hurried us through the grieving process and they’ve understood that we are still very much not OK.
However, some people have been beyond clumsy and said and done things that have left us so shocked and disappointed. And I think it’s important to share those things. You might be reading this as you’ve found yourself in my position and you’re wondering if you’re the only person with such stupid friends. Or maybe you’re the friend who doesn’t know what to say and this might stop you making a bad situation even worse.
I think the caveat to this is that 99% of my time is spent thinking of Elva – being sad and angry and lonely without her. 1% of my time is spent being frustrated and shocked by idiots who just can’t seem to get it right. It’s not something that matters in the grand scheme of things but when I look back to this time I will remember those that got it right and those that got it wrong – and those that tried and meant well.
What helped me
The early days were a blur and we were flooded with messages. The following things were all fine to hear:
I am so sorry for you loss
We shall miss Elva so much
Elva made us laugh/smile/happy
We will always remember the time we did X with Elva
We are thinking of you all
I don’t think there is anything there that’s particularly ground breaking. Using Elva’s name and sending thoughts and love is always going to be fine with me.
Some friends went beyond that and turned up on the doorstep with shopping. Again, they turned up, gave us the food and left. They didn’t impose or intrude. It was a very touching thing that we won’t forget. Others sent small gifts with Elva’s name through the post. Again, we weren’t expecting gifts but it was thoughtful and something coming through the letter box didn’t feel like an intrusion.
We did get lots of flowers. And I know this was a nice thought but in all honesty, having to open the door to the same delivery man again and again for 2 solid weeks did become to feel like an invasion and I began to dread to the door bell. But the flowers were received in the way in which they were intended and I am grateful to those that took the time.
I also really liked people sharing photos and memories of Elva. It was nice to see that others were thinking of her and I liked people remembering things I didn’t or sharing a photo I hadn’t seen before. I get that this could be hurtful for some people though. I did have a cry and most of them but still preferred to see them than not.
What didn’t help
I get that people don’t know what to say. But I am sick of people who say the most awkward and stupid things having that as an excuse. It’s actually not ok that you said something so hurtful because you lack empathy. It’s not ok that you don’t know what to say when all you need to say is ‘I’m sorry and I’m thinking of you’. I won’t make excuses for the people who not only got it wrong once, but persisted on getting it wrong. I was almost encouraged to accept that people said the wrong thing and not be angry as I should consider their feelings – that really annoyed me.
God only takes the best
Really?! But he didn’t take your baby? And why are you enforcing your religious ideas on to me when you have no idea of my beliefs?
She would want you to be happy
She’s nearly 7 months old. She doesn’t care about my feelings. She wants me to look after her.
She’s in a better place
Her place is with me. There is no better place for my baby.
She won’t be in any pain
She wasn’t anyway
I can imagine how it must feel
You can’t. Trust me.
You must try and say strong
Why should I?
If it were me, I’d have thrown myself under a bus
So am I not sad enough for you? Is suggesting I kill myself to prove how sad I really am helpful? You would be so much sadder than me, would you? The truth is you just don’t know what you’d do as you are lucky enough to not be where I am.
At least you have Tadhg
Tadhg is not a consolation prize and whilst we love him with all of our hearts, he can not heal the pain of losing Elva. Ask any parent with more than one child which one they could live without.
You can have other children.
I can’t have another Elva.
Using the words ‘heart breaking’ to describe what seem like trivial situations
People throw this word around without stopping to think what it means. If your child is alive and well and you see no reason why they won’t continue to be alive and well then what do you have to be heartbroken about. Heart break is a real, physical thing and it hurts more than anything I’ve ever felt. Please don’t trivialise it.
I felt a bit awkward talking to them as they were so upset.
Said about us to other friends. Oh, my grief makes you uncomfortable does it? I am so sorry!
We are here if you need us
Now, a lot of people said this and I know they mean well. The problem is it is just so vague. The friends we’ve seen are the ones who have said ‘are you free at this time for me to pop in?’ The problem with ‘here if you need’ is it puts the onus back on us to make the moves and we are just not able to do that. It’s much easier to be offered something specific and be able to say yes or no.
Losing a child can split a couple.
Now, I know that this kind of grief makes me super sensitive and maybe sometimes my anger at the situation I find myself in may be taken out on those around me. Maybe. But some of this goes beyond common sense and I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect some compassion from those close to you.
Some of you may have heard these things and may have had different reactions. Maybe, in a few more months I’ll be less hard on people who were trying their best. Right now, it’s been useful to get it out of my system.