Tomorrow we celebrate Tom's birthday and honor the 13th anniversary of Andrea's death. I have a hard time believing that she has been physically gone for 13 years. It is always a bittersweet day, and one that can bring expressions of condolence, which are so very appreciated...except when they're not.
After two days, I was finally able to access an intense, almost forgotten memory of when a Priest at Andrea's memorial service had, just as innocently, offered a prayer regarding the "loss of our child." My reaction had been visceral...I wanted to slap that regally clad man-of-God hard across the face. It was all I could do to wait for my turn to speak. When that moment finally arrived, before reading my prepared words, I looked across the room directly at the Priest and emphatically corrected his language. I was able to muster a thanks for his prayer, but made sure to point out how wrong he was. I proclaimed, "I have not lost my child. If I had, I would not be able to stand before you as I am now. Andrea is with me at this moment as she will be forever."
This was not the only time after Andrea's death that an attempt at compassion had an unintended effect on me. I remember how difficult it was to hear certain common phrases of condolence (e.g.: "She's in a better place;" "Her soul is at peace;" "God doesn't give us more than we can bear;" "The best are taken first" etc.) I believe these statements are repeated innocently and with the intent to be gentle, soothing and/or understanding yet somehow they can have the exact opposite effect, although for very different reasons (as illustrated by the two interpretations of the "you've lost your child" phrase).
I have another friend whose daughter died and she rarely uses any form of the word "dead"...instead she says her daughter "passed." If someone referred to her daughter as "dead" or that her daughter had "died" my friend would experience the same "kicked in the stomach" feeling I had when told by the Priest that we'd "lost" Andrea.
It is so hard to know what to say to someone who has suffered the death of a loved one, especially when the loved one is their child. What to do? Please be patient with the reactions you may receive from the bereaved. And if possible, ask us to guide you in how best to respond...each of us has different needs and there is rarely a "one size fits all" in the world of grief. In a previous post I explained that:
When confronted with another person's loss there are no words that can heal or fix the situation. Listening with compassion and empathy is, although much more difficult than it sounds, often the best response. If compassionate silence feels too cruel or too difficult, then a simple, "I am so sorry for your loss*." will suffice. No other words are necessary.
As for tomorrow, I invite you to join me in lighting a candle (battery operated if you must leave the room for any reason :) in memory of Andrea...trust me, she'll see it. Because in my world she is not lost ...
Sending blessings until next time,
*For me, the word "loss" (as used in this sentence) has never been offensive and in all honesty, the "lost your child" phrase no longer triggers a heated response--today I pay more attention to the intent than the actual words. Being human assures that we will err ... and that's just the way it is.