After I shared the devastating news of Sage’s passing on social media, a large amount of comments and private messages started coming in from strangers, people I know IRL and some that I’m very close to. Most of them said “Wish there was something I could do to take your pain away,” ‘I’m at a loss of words,” or “I don’t know what to say to you,” while others were full of platitudes. All messages expressed sympathy, but there were some words that just haven’t sat well with me.
While I can choose to ignore you, I prefer to tell you the truth and educate you on which words aren’t helpful to me, and hopefully with this you can avoid saying any future misconstructed words to me or anyone else that may be experiencing a loss.
So, today I am going to share with you what I have heard/read from others, why I don’t like to hear them right now, and what are some other things you can do or say to me (or any grieving parent) moving forward.
Let’s start with what I’ve been told.
“I miscarried, too” —love hearing this one! Yeah…right. While I’m sure your intention is to tell me that you know what loss is like, that you’ve been there… grief is unique to each individual. Whatever you think I am feeling is probably not even it at the moment. Most importantly, the words “too” in “I miscarried, too” makes it seem like you think I miscarried, and I didn’t. It also makes me realize you haven’t cared enough to inform yourself of our story, yet here you are sending me a “sympathy” message. I don’t diminish your miscarriage — you should know I miscarried before I got pregnant with Sage…but losing Sage is a different loss than a miscarriage. At least to me it is. I gave birth to my child at almost eight months pregnant. It was a premature birth, and he was born alive. He was born breathing. He lived. It wasn’t a miscarriage.
“I know exactly how you feel” —-really? Do you? Even if you have lost someone close to you in your life, you don’t know exactly how I feel. Again, grief in unique to each individual. My relationship with my son was unique, and your relationship with whomever you lost was unique. That’s why our pain and sorrow is so unique to each one of us. Some feelings may be the same, but our grieving process is different. Only you know the type of love and/or relationship you had with that person. For example, does what you felt to have lost your Grandma compare to what your Mom felt to have lost her? I guarantee you, you don’t feel the same. The pain is different for everyone, and we all handle it differently. Saying ‘I know exactly how you feel’ negates that uniqueness and robs dignity of my pain.
“Everything happens for a reason” — what reason could there be? Please tell me because I have been trying to figure one out. I’ve been asking myself “why?” since the moment I found out I was going to lose my child, and I’ve yet to get an answer. I’ll probably never get one. I’ll probably never know the reason. If you think that ‘everything happens for a reason’ I want to know why my child had to be one out of 20k to 50k children to die from such rare condition. Hearing those words hurt me because nothing in this world is a good reason for not having Sage with me right now. I’m sorry but @zoeadelle said it best: this is a ridiculous, shame-based, reductionist, horrible thing to say to someone in pain.
“God needed an angel” // “He’s in a better place.” — What’s wrong with my home? What’s wrong with my arms? He fit perfectly fine in them. There couldn’t have been a better place for him than my own home, than my own arms. I can’t think that ‘he’s in a better place’ because I know he would have been SO loved here, because he was wanted here. There are plenty of angels in Heaven, why my son? Maybe I don’t understand how it all works with God, but if he really needed an angel, why my son?
“Your blessing will come” —Last time I checked Sage was and continues to be a blessing. Please do not diminish his existence. One of the main reasons why I have been so open about Sage’s loss is because I want acknowledgment that he existed on Earth. I wanted people to know that Sage was born. Not so much that he died, but that he was born — even for the short amount of time that he lived, we were SO blessed to have him. We were blessed with his existence. Even though I told you previously that the ‘God needed an angel’ platitude hurts me, I want you to know that I have an angel in Heaven that is my blessing. My blessing is in Heaven and continues to live in my heart and in my mind.
“You’ll have a baby before you know it” // “Don’t worry, you’re going to be a Mom one day” // “You’re still young, you can try again!” // “Next time God will bless you with twins” // — Ouch. First of all, in case you didn’t realize…I had a baby. His name is Sage. He happens to be in Heaven now, but he ‘s the reason I’m a Mom. That’s right, I won’t be ‘a Mom one day,’ I already am a Mom. Now, please know, another baby isn’t going to replace my son Sage, ever. Also, being young has nothing to do with any of this…being young doesn’t even guarantee that I’ll have another child…and what if I don’t want to try again? God will bless me with twins, really? Because I lost one, one of the twins you see in my future will be a replacement for Sage? That’s ridiculous. I was blessed with Sage, and that’s who I wanted, that’s who I love, that’s who I am grieving for…Don’t speak of a future while I’m still trying to process the loss of Sage.
Let me know if you need anything. This one doesn’t hurt me. In fact, it’s nice of you to say those words. It’s just that I can’t bring myself to ask you for anything. I sometimes don’t even have the energy to pick up my phone, so it’s hard to me to let you know when I need something. Sometimes I don’t even know what I need. I’m also not one to ask for things. If you want to help me somehow, figure out what it is that you can do for me that comes naturally for you. For example, say “If you’re up to it, I’m going for a hike today. Can I pick you up?” or “If you’re free right now, I’d love to come to come by and keep you company.” It really does take certain effort for me to ever ‘let you know if i need anything.’
Please spare me any backlash. I know people are only trying to help. Don’t come at me with “you’re clearly not evolved enough to understand what they’re saying.” Oh, I do. Believe me, I know people mean well. And so what if I’m not “evolved enough” in my grief? Am I supposed to continue keeping my mouth shut from telling you what hurts me? What irks me?
NO ONE LIKES TO BE TOLD THAT THEY’VE DONE OR SAID SOMETHING WRONG, BUT IF I CAN’T BE HONEST WITH YOU AND SAY '“THIS DOESN’T HELP,” THEN HOW WILL YOU EVER KNOW?
And trust me, I get it — no one knows the right thing to say. I’ve been on the other side too — not having the right words for friends or family members who have lost loved ones through deaths, divorces, breakups, etc. I know it’s hard to find the right words, I know it can be difficult to want to help someone and not know how to do it. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to go around saying the first thing that comes to mind.
From my recent and personal experience, my main suggestions would be the following:
Don’t spout off empty encouragement and worn-out platitudes. As simple as that. We’re already going through enough pain, we don’t need to hear words like the ones stated above that people have said to me. Platitudes just don’t help.
Ask me how I’m feeling. Ask questions. This is such an emotional experience, I may want to vent, or I may want to say nothing at all. If I talk too much or if I say too little, don’t be annoyed. The last thing I want to do is scare my friends away. If you ask and I breakdown, don’t run away. Don’t forget about me because ‘I’m going through a rough time.’ Ask me how I’m feeling and if you have no words just listen. If you have questions, ask them. You won’t make me any more sad than I already am, trust me. You won’t remind me of my loss because I will never forget. It is said that you never get over the loss of a loved one, but we get through it. I will get through it and little by little I will be better. Keep that in mind.
Let me know you’re hurting too. We aren’t experiencing the same amount of hurt, but knowing that you genuinely care for the loss of Sage and that you care that my husband and I are in pain means a lot. If you’re a close friend or a family member, you were probably excited for Sage so it only makes sense that you’re hurting too, but I won’t know if you don’t tell me.
Simply be there. Sometimes silence really is golden. There are no words that can make me feel better, but your presence, your company is the most appreciated gift of all. Many of us worry about what to say to a grieving person, but it’s actually more important to listen. So if I decide to vent, listen, or simply be there.
Say Sage’s name. It’s important to me that the birth of my child gets recognized, that he, himself, gets acknowledged. I love his name. I love it even more when people say his name. It shows you’ve paid attention, that you know about him. It somehow makes me feel like he’s here. Present.
When you have no words, a simple “you’re in my thoughts” goes a long way. I may not reply back, or I may just say “thank you” but I will know that you are thinking about me and my family, and believe me I will always remember. Also, your text may come in during a rough moment in my day — I may be crying uncontrollably when suddenly I get your text saying you’re thinking, or you’re praying for my family and I will be reminded that I’m not alone.
Treat me like you normally would. I may not feel completely “normal” and I may talk a lot about my grief, or about my son, or I may not text or call you or reply back to you, but don’t turn your back on me. I’m not crazy. I’m not sick. I can still laugh, I can still have a good time (I hope). Don’t think of me as Negative Nancy. Know that I’m hurting, but also that I’m still your good friend Adeyling. Know that treating me like you still love me and want to be my friend regardless of my grief actually brings normalcy to my life.
I think it’s important to talk about grief, to have these dialogues, and to try to understand. To talk about this reality of life. Oftentimes, well-meaning people say the wrong things, avoid talking about death or change the subject when the deceased person is mentioned. Sometimes, knowing there’s nothing they can say to make it better, they try to avoid the grieving person altogether. I ask you today, to do none of that. A good friend will be at a loss of words and will not know exactly what to say or do, but a good friend will also try to learn how and in which ways they can make their you “feel better.” No matter how much time passes by.
Sage was born on January 29, 2020 and lived for 61 minutes before passing away from respiratory failure caused by Thanatophoric dysplasia.