by Angela Miller
Over the years I’ve heard the gamut of responses from people. Downright insensitivity to lack of understanding for obvious reasons to cruelty to plain and simply just.not.getting.it– and though it hurts like a knife in my heart every single time, I’m now at the point where I can take it all with a grain of salt. Kind of.
Let me explain.
The other day I was talking to someone on the phone and they asked what my book is about. Now asking what my book is about is almost as much of a conversation stopper as is the answer to the dreadful question: Howmanykidsdoyouhave? Because in asking what my book is about I also have to basically answer a triple punch to the gut of dreaded questions: Whydoyouwriteaboutgriefandloss?– Howmanykidsdoyouhave?– Howdidhedie?
You’d think after all these years the conversations with people would become less awkward, when in fact, they are actually becoming more awkward. Or maybe there are simply just more of these conversations happening per day than before. Which still equals: more awkward moments in my already awkward post-loss life.
There needs to be a handbook on life after loss and parenting after loss. Yes? One book where every single potentially awkward social situation would be represented with colored graphs and flow charts that would lead us skipping to the “right” answer every single time– the one right answer that would result in the least emotional casualties on either side.
How many kids do you have? Follow the flow chart.
Is this your first? Follow the flow chart.
How old are your kids? Follow the flow chart.
Of course you’d have the entire book memorized so you’d never be caught off guard.
If you were feeling brave and on-top-of-the-world-invincible– you’d answer the honest, true answer. But instead of just waiting for the awkward silence to end after your sentence finished, there would be a better way. (One you’ll hopefully read about once I think of it.) If you were about to crumble emotionally because the day has already sucked and it’s only 7am, you’d follow the arrow to the easiest, least emotionally scarring answer. The one with rainbows and butterflies dancing around it.
If only it were that simple.
Some day– when I’m braver and stronger and have more experience navigating the treacherous landscape of life after loss I promise I’ll write the book Life After Loss: A Guide by Angela Miller (complete with color coded flow charts).
Until then, I’ll probably just bitch about it.
Alright, back to the phone conversation about my book. It went a little something like this:
person: Wow. Your book looks really beautiful. What is it about?
me: Thank you. It’s a gift book for bereaved moms.
person: So, are you a bereaved parent or do you just write for bereaved parents?
me: Yes. I’m a bereaved parent.
person: Does that mean your child died?
me: Yes, my oldest son died.
person: Wow. I’m so sorry. My dog died last week so I completely understand your pain.
Conversations like this used to leave me fuming. Why do people seem to compare child loss to pet loss– as if they are in the same category?! What I’ve come to realize is that people do that because it is probably the only frame of reference for loss that they have. Though understanding this doesn’t make it sting less for those of us who are on the receiving end, those of us who often and unfortunately end up comforting the non-aggrieved.
But I’ve found that on both sides we need to offer each other copious amounts of grace.
Am I saying that I agree with comparing pet loss to child loss? Hell to the no. But, what I am saying is that the world will most likely never truly understand what it is like to live while one of their children is dead. And thank God they hopefully never will– because to understand means to be bereaved.
People cannot hold the space for that thought in their head because it is– as we know all too well– the most horrific thing that could ever happen to a person. Ever.
It’s so horrific that it simply cannot be imagined by those on the “other” side.
Yet I still– and will always dream of a culture that would better support and understand grief. One that instead of changing the conversation, offering awkward silences, an endless list of worn-out, trite cliches, or various emotional forms of being slapped in the face or punched in the gut– like comparing pet loss to child loss– would instead respond with compassion, understanding, unconditional love and deep, deep empathy.
I am holding onto the hope that even though a person’s frame of reference for loss might be vastly different than our own, that we as a culture could progress so far as to make it the norm to ask the question that every bereaved parent longs to hear:
Would you tell me about your child?– what was your son or daughter like?
And hopefully, after compassionately and wholeheartedly listening to the answer, we’d be grief educated enough to know it would be the opposite of prying and an absolutely rare and priceless gift to further ask–
Tell me, what do you miss the most about your precious child?
. . .
photo credit top: Angela Miller
photo credit bottom: Carla Shaw