Platitudes

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Our hearts are broken for the families in Newtown, CT who lost loved ones yesterday.  We are torn apart by the idea of children going off to school, where they are supposed to be safe, only to be killed by a madman.  When people load guns with the intention of murdering children, you really have to wonder what the point of this life is?  Where is the justice?  Is anyone ever safe?  The collective grief is palpable.  We are so angry and sad, like everyone is.

The thought of so many new members of our terrible "club" left Ted and I both feeling very sad yesterday, wondering how anything else even mattered other than this great tragedy, wondering again what kind of meaning our lives even have when children are murdered.  The darkness that has been left in the lives of the survivors is profound.  The weeks ahead will be filled with shock and distress, the months ahead with darkness and trauma - then anger, depression, meaninglessness - in no particular order - and the roller coaster of emotions that they will likely feel for the rest of their lives....along with the missing, the longing, the obsessing....Life can be so cruel and unfair.

Listening to the reports all day yesterday, I was feeling a little sick...not just because of the tremendous loss and the horror of the incident...but because of all of the misguided platitudes spewing out of the mouths of every reporter, every well meaning interviewee, every single parent who didn't lose a child yesterday.  Of all the platitudes you have to hear after a great tragedy involving the death of children, the one that feels most indulgent to both Ted and I is “I will hug my children a little tighter tonight”.  Ugh, we heard it SO much yesterday...and not just from our President.  What a smug little nugget of obviousness.  I mean, OBVIOUSLY you will hug your children – kind of goes without saying doesn't it?  Is there some reason that you feel the need to rub that fact in the face of the people who just lost the chance to ever hug their children again?  When did the death of those children become about you anyway? Also, perhaps on the occasion of my child's death, I am not so concerned with what lessons you've learned or what your plans for the evening are...because it isn't about you. There is some kind of presumption that the mourning have become selfless upon their great loss – greatly concerned with the lessons YOU will walk away with.   And, I won't lie, it drives me BANANAS that there are people in my life who have seemingly learned nothing from Maxie's death – Of COURSE, you should go home and hug your child tighter.  Of course you should.  You should learn from tragedy and loss.  You should learn that life is precious and to stop sweating the small stuff - but this “hugging our children a little tighter” business makes me wild. Hug your children tight always – whether or not someone else's child has died. Our children didn't die so you could learn a lesson about loving your family. You should have known your child was precious before mine died.  I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm no martyr – I would trade your child any day of the week to get my child back....and I wouldn't brag afterwards about all of the cuddling we were going to do either.  People always seem surprised to hear that we hate this platitude, but if you think we are the only parents who feel this way, click here to read one of my very favorite posts on the topic, written by another bereaved mother.  In any case, try to resist the urge to say this – I often wonder how this became the “go to” phrase of the non-bereaved, meant to comfort the bereaved. Nothing about it feels comforting and for some reason, people just can't help themselves from saying it.  Instead, please try to articulate your sadness at the parent's loss, at the loss of those children's lives - their futures.  Please continue to remember that their sadness will never go away, that they will be in trauma for many years to come.

Yesterday was a dark day for humanity....but the darkness for these families is just beginning and for that, we are just devastated.  So, yes, go home and hug your children tighter but stop bragging about it to those of us who cannot.


   

9 comments:

Taryn said...

Your post today was a perfect post. I just asked my husband to read it so he can be aware and sensitive when we grieve with those who are grieving. He also appreciated what you had to say.


"Hug my kids a little tighter," is an outgrowth of a bigger issue of indulging on in the human tendency to look at all situations through the lenses of how you are personally affected. It is one thing for a bereaved parent to admonish other parents to hug their children tighter, but that gives NO licence for those who have not experienced such a loss to adopt the phase and haphazardly throw it around at the moments of deepest anguish. There is no room for egocentric thinking when someone else is hurting. If you can't imagine how someone is tortured by their loss, then maybe you shouldn't say a word until you at least TRY to imagine. It seems to me that saying 'I'm going to hug my kids a little tighter' could easily be replaced with the more true statement of "this is a painful reminder that life is so incredibly precious. Our hearts have been deeply touched by this great loss and we offer our love and support to the heartbroken families." I don't know, that's what I would like to say...but maybe that is also a flawed statement. Please feel free to advise, since I would really like to know. While life has many joys (most of us are pretty good at that part), grief is an integral part of our existence and I think it's worth figuring out how to navigate it in the most sincere, loving and least hurtful ways. Nobody who is grieving should be hurt by careless bystanders I know it happens ALL the time, but shouldn't.

Seeing Each Day said...

Another accurately expressed post Abby( maybe I should just copy that sentence onto each of my comments to you as it's how I feel about your words each time).

I deliberately haven't watched any news coverage about this tragedy. Not because I want to ignore or not face it, my heart has been so heavy all day and I feel sick to my stomach. But I don't want to hear the "we'll be hugging our children tighter tonight" phrases - I mean WHAT is that all about? - that saying just implies to me that the person is actually acknowledging they're turning their back and walking away to concentrate on their own lives. I don't want to hear the facts, like the fatality statistics because they're much higher than the number given, this man has taken so many more lives, the children's parents alone. I don't want to hear reporters words about it because there are none that I can think of that can be reported on to describe the horrendous events and the equally horrendous aftermath.

Fiona said...

I couldn't agree more. I was shocked that that Obama doesn't have better advisors. Surely someone could've prevented him from saying that! It was all over my Facebook feed too, "I'll be cuddling my children tighter." Well good for you, you insensitive, crass and ignorant people, I hoe you never know our pain. Compassion???

maxiesmommy said...

At least he could have asked Joe Biden for some pointers. Having a bereaved parent as a Vice President seems like it would be a good resource for this sort of thing. But, honestly, people think this is a kind and empathetic thing to say. When I first lost Max and people said it to me all of the time, I wondered if there was something wrong with me that I thought it was so terrible. But I have thought about the words a million times and no matter which way I slice it, I cannot figure out how this became known as the right thing to say. It would be like screaming "Well, I LOVE my job!!! It's great! With AMAZING benefits! AND I have amazing job security" to someone recently laid off thinking that you were helping to soothe their pain....only it is about 100000 times worse. I don't think people listen to the words that come out of their mouths.

maxiesmommy said...

Two other bereaved parents expressing similar sentiments: http://lifewithoutjude.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/inappropriate/ and http://offthedivingboard.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/i-know/. I promise you, I am not alone in thinking it is a miserable thing to say.

SadMama said...

Thank you for your post. This comment has always mystified me. It doesn't do one bit of good for the parents who will never see, hear, touch, cuddle or hug their child ever again. It's a painful reminder of all they (we) have lost.
I also heard another thing on the radio yesterday that really struck me as inappropriate: a mother of a surviving child was being interviewed about how her son was "handling" it, and among other things she mentioned that he thought seeing the SWAT teams at the school was cool. OMG! Although he may have told his mother this, she should never have repeated it on the radio. Those SWAT teams were there because people were being murdered! How insensitive!

shelley dreizen said...

Thank you for this post. Is it ok if I post a link to this blog post on my facebook account? After the horrific Newtown events, every parent was uttering that exact phrase... and it burned a deeper hole in my heart every time. I posted a plea that parents stop saying that (i.e. boasting how lucky they are...) and got an onslaught of angry parents railing me for it. I even lost a few facebook 'friends' for suggesting that their comment could be hurtful to others. I have not experienced the loss of a child, but have learned so much from reading your blog about those seemingly innocent comments that are so painful for mourning parents to hear. Thank you. We don't know each other, but wanted you to know that your insightful and heart-felt words have forever changed me. I think about Maxie everyday.

Anonymous said...

to me as a new mother who hasnt experienced the loss of a child, i Can see now how that comment can be taken that way. i have personally said that to friends who have lost precious babies. i always mean it in the most sensitive way. i dont ever mean to hurt them more.... my intention is never to "rub it in their face" or to seem selfish like i used their dead child to learn something for my own life. not every person means it in the despicable wayyou are describing. a lot of us are still trying to learn the right thing to say and thr wrong thing to say. ive read multiple blogs where grieving mothers have actually used thatv sentence themselves. ive been told to hug my baby tighter. in my eyes, it helps me to appreciate that i am physically able to hold him and helps me to feel for the mommies out there missing there babies and how to be understanding and an idea of the heartache theyre feeling. i always hug my baby tight because he deserves that not for anyone else. i just always think of others while i am and pray that they'll feel comfort and peace. youre right in the sense that that sentence can hurt grieving mothers and i see that now. but youre wrong in the fact that all who say it have ill intentions.

adina said...

You are SO right, Abby---I too struggled with the idea of whether I was being overly sensitive or if some sort of connection was not firing properly in my brain anytime anyone said that to me. Your analogy is perfect, and I think I'm going to start using this example to clarify why it's problematic to talk about hugging your children as your go-to "supportive" comment in these types of circumstances. I have a terrible reaction whenever I hear or read it, whether or not it is directed at me (it was also all over my Facebook newsfeed subsequent to the terrible Newtown tragedy). I also agree re: relying on Biden for pointers, and have always been moved in the past when he's spoken in settings of newly bereaved parents and others.

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