Listen

Saturday, February 16, 2013

If you want to be a good friend to someone who has lost a child, or is otherwise in deep grief, my suggestion is to just listen.  I know I've said it before.  But - really, just listen.  It isn't even that your friend doesn't want to listen to you - but he/she cannot HEAR you.  She cannot and does not hear you telling her that things will get better, she does not hear you telling her about your troubles at work or home, she is entirely focused on her loss.  She cannot even help it - it is all she can think about.

I am not even talking about myself anymore, because I have finally moved out of that stage.  My brain has compartments again.  I can hear someone tell me about their hardships without immediately feeling jealous of how simple they sound.  I can empathize with problems that aren't as big as losing a child.  But, it took a really long time.  I think it is ok to be self centered when you've lost a child.  Anyway, I couldn't have helped it if I tried.  It was and is the most enormous thing that has and will ever happen to me and everything I thought I knew about everything and everyone I've ever known was totally rocked.

Many people have reached out to me over the last year and a half to tell me that they have a friend or family member who has just lost a child.  I always give the same advice: LISTEN (and bring food).  I know it is hard, but try not to make it about you.  Try not to point out the silver lining - "at least you had 9 good months", "at least you can have more children".....if your sentence starts with "at least", don't say it.  Try not to tell a "sadder" story about someone else, thinking that it will alleviate their grief.  There is no sadder story to your bereaved friend than their sad story.  I am and always have been a bleeding heart - I work in non-profits and I feel others' pain deeply.  My life's work has been in raising awareness, advocating for special needs children, survivors of genocide, care for the elderly....  I get teared up when people tell me about their breakups and other heartbreaks.  But, there is no sadder story to me, than my sad story.  Nothing even comes close.  Losing Max is sadder to me than anything I have ever known.  Your friend will never know anything sadder than losing her/his child.  Nothing on the news, no natural disaster, no traumatic event anywhere will ever be as sad to your friend as the story of his/her own child's death.

You wonder why I keep repeating myself here and you are probably sick of reading the same thing over and over and yes, I do feel like a broken record.  But I continue to hear the same stuff time and time again.  I don't only hear it with respect to us and Max anymore either.  People contact me to ask how they can be a better friend to someone who has lost a child and then they immediately go to all of the "at least"s.  "At least my friend had those 5 months" or "At least my friend's child wasn't murdered" or "At least my friend is young enough to have more children".  I know I could keep telling others until I am blue in the face - there is no "at least".  There is none.  If it makes you feel better - great.  But, keep it to yourself.  Please.  I have learned that people can't help themselves, because they honestly think they are helping, and so it doesn't hurt me quite as much anymore...but I promise, your friend doesn't want to hear it.  Her child was supposed to outlive her so the beautiful 8 days, 8 months, or 8 years she had with her baby was not enough - there is no at least.  Trust me.

I've been so lucky to have so many people who were willing to just listen.  People who I am now honored to listen to as well.  I am forever indebted to these people.  They allowed me to be selfish - to complain and cry and ask "why me?" and talk and talk and talk about my beautiful boy and I can finally hear them now.  I can hear them now.   Your friend will hear you again too.

2 comments:

Nicole said...

Up all night reading your blog for the first time...you are an incredible writer...you have a gift.

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

You are so right. I specifically remember one individual who started saying to me, "Well, at least...." I felt incensed and immediately cut her off mid-sentence with "There is NO "at least"!"
There is no consolation to be found anywhere in my son's death. It shouldn't have happened and life will never be right for me again. Period. I actually told her to never say "at least" to anyone who has lost a child.

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