Have you ever had one of those “out of body” experiences? You know, those moments that can only be described as surreal and like you’re watching yourself from above. Many people claim to have had this phenomenon in a near-death experience or an overwhelming state of emotion (specifically anger, joy, shock or extreme sadness).

I had one of these moments recently, and to be honest, I never saw it coming. Sometimes you can feel the buildup or anticipation of what’s about to happen and sometimes it COMPLETELY takes you off guard (and honestly, I don’t know which one is more difficult to manage). I most definitely experienced the latter.

As grieving parents, my husband and I have heard our fair share of insensitive comments. Many are well-meaning so we don’t take offense too deeply, or try not to anyway (I also don’t think anyone who ever makes a comment regarding the death of our daughter ever actually has any TRUE ill-intent, but it can easily come across as rude or thoughtless). We have heard horror stories from fellow grieving parents. Stories of horrific things that were actually spoken to them. There are common phrases that we all hear and roll our eyes at…

“At least you can have more.”

“It was just meant to be.”

“God needed another angel.”

“He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

Not to discount the level of hurt that these types of comments can cause us as bereaved moms and dads, but there are so many worse things out there that I still can’t wrap my mind around. How people actually have the gall to say these things to people who have experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. Things like:

“Oh my dog died awhile back, I completely understand how you feel.”

“You need to move on/let it go.”

“You are so different now.”

Horrible, right? (FYI, I’m praying that this is a teachable moment here for those of you out there who always want to say something but never know exactly what to say. Note: DO NOT SAY THESE THINGS.)

Along with insensitive and hurtful comments, there are also questions that non-loss parents may be wondering about as well. Heck, even parents who HAVE lost a child may wonder these things. Acquaintances and strangers may wonder them. The difference between wondering them to ourselves and asking them outright is huge. You wouldn’t say to someone who just lost their significant other, “So when are you going to get married again?” or “Are you going to get rid of all their stuff?” (Seriously, think about that for a second. Would you EVER actually ask someone either of those things or expect them to ask you those things if it were you?)

Although the type of loss is different, the etiquette of grief and social norms stays the same. (Which, by the way, social norms and grief need some serious work, but that’s a conversation for another time).

As previously stated, I recently had an out of body experience where I was hit with one of those insensitive questions and was completely unprepared for it. I was recently at an outdoor get-together with my family and there was a family friend/acquaintance in attendance as well. This person is familiar with our story and is aware of how the events unfolded that led to Ellie’s death. He made a connection with me by bringing up the area in which I live, stating that he grew up there as well so we were able to talk about familiar places and activities. It was a pleasant conversation and I was enjoying the sound of my son playing in the background with his cousins. I stared off into space for a moment, just breathing in the fresh air and closing my eyes to take in a few moments of relaxation and peace. Then, out of left field, I heard:

“So, is it in the cards for you to have another kid?”

Silence. Crickets. Heart palpitations.

“I’m sorry?”, I muttered.

“You guys gonna have another? A third kid?”, he repeated.

I was frozen. Absolutely paralyzed with anxiety. I know what I wanted to say, I know what I SHOULD say, I know what I didn’t want to say. Words could not be formulated into a comprehensible sentence. I wanted to throw up. I stuttered.

The topic of having another child after losing one may seem like just another parenting decision to our non-loss peers. But please understand that as a loss parent, it is quite possibly the biggest LIFE decision. It not only affects you but it affects your marriage, your other living children and your future. This man so casually asked me such a daunting question as if he were asking me what my favorite color was. It was nothing to him. It was “small talk”.

My privacy felt violated. I choose to share our story with the world and to share the memory of our daughter because it is what my heart needs. Sharing our story is healing for me. Sharing our personal decisions is the exact opposite. We have barely chosen to discuss that topic with even our closest friends and family members, let alone someone we hardly know. This just verified my suspicion that this was such an innocent, light-hearted thought for him.

You can’t possibly know how difficult that question is to answer until you have experienced loss. There’s just no way to even comprehend it unless you’ve witnessed it before your own eyes.

Eventually I mustered up the confidence to assemble some form of words together to formulate a response to this gut punch:

“You know… that’s an incredibly difficult decision for us to make.”

His response?

“Yeah, I can imagine.”

No.

No, you can’t.

Until you have watched your child die, you can NOT imagine. So don’t pretend like you can. Don’t say that you can.

In the moment when he asked the question, I was bewildered. Just beside myself. I had no idea how to initially respond or what was even an appropriate response (although later reminded myself that I didn’t actually owe him any type of response, but by nature I am a people person and didn’t want to come off as rude… even though that’s exactly what was being shown toward me). The more I thought on it and spent time rethinking the conversation, the more angry I got. The more violated I felt. Who is this person who thinks they can just swoop in and ask us about our private, personal decisions like he’s entitled to a response? I’m not a bitter person most of the time, but this one has been pretty hard for me to shake.

He may have felt uncomfortable by my response and body language that followed my response. But, in that moment, I felt like I wanted to run away or hide in a dark hole. It was a gathering with family I hadn’t seen in who knows how long? The last thing I wanted to do was cause a scene or cast attention onto myself, so I downplayed my emotions and tried to divert my attention elsewhere until I had time to recollect later on. I’m at a point in my grief where I have gotten good at being able to do that. Is that healthy? Probably not. But in that moment, I felt like I had to because I didn’t want to come unglued in front of, essentially, someone I barely knew.

On the other hand, I know better. I know that I don’t have to act or not act a certain way just because I’m worried about how other people will perceive it. How they will feel. I worry that I will make them uncomfortable.

Then I am reminded of something. Something profound and something that allows me to continue having ownership over my grief.

My husband and I physically watched our daughter’s life leave her little body. It was horrific. It’s burned in my brain forever and EVER. It was unbearable for us. I avoid getting too emotional in front of others (depending on who it is) because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. But the thing is, that unbearable thing I have to live alongside with for the rest of my life. I have to figure out how to coexist with the tragedy we experienced. But that person who hears our story or sees my overwhelming emotions might become uncomfortable, so I “better not”. They might feel awkward for a few minutes. “Can’t have that.”

How messed up and backwards is that?

Just let that sink in. And please, please, PLEASE consider your words next time before you let them leave your lips. Sure, you might be uncomfortable for a moment hearing about someone’s loss or tragic experience. But just remember that person has to live with it for a lifetime. Your uncomfortable 5 seconds doesn’t even compare to their unbearable heartbreak that will last for the rest of their lives.

Be OK with being uncomfortable. Just accept it and be there for your person. They need you more than you possibly know.

{This post is dedicated to all of the friends, family, loved ones, acquaintances and strangers of a bereaved parent. Please take time to read through this post and try to understand a new perspective on a very “basic” question. We know you want to ask questions and, more often than not, we are happy to answer them to the best of our abilities. Please educate yourselves on things that are construed as hurtful to those of us who have experienced child loss and try to avoid saying them, asking those questions or bringing up those topics unless the bereaved parent has specifically asked you to do so. Thank you.}

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