As we approach the holidays, those Christmas cards and letters are sure to find their way into our mailboxes. With that said, my dad emailed his annual letter for his daughters to look over first, which we always appreciate. I read over his letter a couple of times, and I was saddened. Nowhere in his letter did he mention Emily, our daughter, his granddaughter, dying earlier this year. Okay, I wasn’t saddened, I was heart-broken. I thought about it, and decided that I would let him know how much this hurt.
Here is what my email said:
While I know that it is a sad and difficult subject, our baby daughter Emily Anne, died this year. Nothing was mentioned about her in your letter. I am pretty sure that you would mention just about any other living person that you knew of that had died in our immediate family, if they had this past year, in your letter. Or if perhaps Emily was born full-time and lived a day. Emily did live inside of me, and had all body parts and ten fingers and ten toes.
My dad responded with:
I didn’t mention Emily because it was a sore spot for you. I didn’t want to reignite emotions for you.
I was surprised that that was how he felt about the loss of our baby. It wasn’t a sore spot. And I think about our Emily all of the time, throughout a given day. So I said:
Dad, I know that we are going to hopefully talk this morning at some point, but I wanted to help clarify something with everybody. I appreciate you trying to look out for me, however I would like everyone to know that talking about Emily is not a sore subject, and does not reignite sore feelings for me (or Chris). Those feelings are already there, and we (Chris and I) think about Emily many times during a given day. In fact, when people remember and/or recognize Emily, even saying her name, it helps us. I have heard that many bereaved parents appreciate this as well. It is a misconception that it would “hurt” us by talking or asking about Emily, or asking about how we are doing. In fact in doing so, it validates her life and us as parents. We lost a baby and child, and this loss will forever impact our lives. I think most people that lose a baby and child, no matter what the age, feel this way too. I am not sure if you have those booklets of paper we gave you back in April that were written for grandparents. It may be helpful to look over them, when in doubt. I understand that it is a difficult and sensitive subject, and those may help. Or even just asking us. Chris and I both feel that trying to understand our walk has been more helpful over these past months, than not saying anything at all. That tends to hurt us more. Again, thanks for your concern.
He emailed me back with:
I know I phrased it wrong with saying reignite. Again I apologize if I offended you.
When my dad and I finally had a chance to talk over the phone later that day, he also went onto explain that he wanted to respect our privacy, too. I said, ” I appreciate that, but we are pretty open about our loss. We started a non-profit, so it is all out there.”
I guess I learned a lesson: Don’t assume that people do not care. Ask them direct questions. Or let them know if something bothers you. If you have said several times that not talking about your loss hurts, and they do nothing about it. Then let it go. As hard as that is. It will only hurt you. Make a list of people that do care and show you, so you can reach out to them when needed. Even just a small list of 3-5 people helps you not feel so alone during the following months, and even years.
If you love and care about someone, and they have lost, reach out. Please try not to use ignorance as a reason as to why you don’t. You can even Google helpful suggestions. It is really that much in your control. And if you really are concerned, try to understand. A great website for more things to say and do, is: www.aplacetoremember.com. They have the booklets I referred to in my email above, to my dad.
Keep in mind that all bereaved parents are different in how they grieve. Just as we all are different when it comes to the subject of death. But, showing that you care will speak volumes. Even just a simple, “How are you doing?” And look them in their eyes. Let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for their loved baby. Say their baby’s name, too.
And those that have lost, know that when someone may say the “wrong thing”, just know that they are trying. I have had many insensitive things said to me over this past year, but I either think 1) they are trying. Or 2) they are just ignorant. Write down helpful things that have been said to you. And keep that in a journal so that you can look at it in times of frustration and despair.