Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Wishes-The Dialogue of Loss

It is New Year's day morning and so many have wished me and my family well for 2013. I have  wished many good health, peace and joy for 2013. But everytime someone wishes me and my family well for the New Year I  mentally rewrite their good wishes -they mean well, really want me to be happy and are not suggesting that I can ever be as happy as I would have been with Casey here, but that to the extent that I am able, really do want me to be happy and do want the best for me given what has happened.

That is what I do today three and one-half years after Casey's death-mentally rewrite others' statements to supply a "missing ingedient" so I do not question their compassion and ability to empathize.

 I remember closer to Casey's death being  angry at those who would wish me well, for how could I be well, or how could I want to be well, without Casey here. Didn't they understand that? Did they even try to understand how every day  was filled with such pain, anger,sadness and just feeling so different from almost everyone else?  What was wrong with them! Contemplating being happy with my child dead was not conceivable.

So that was a while ago and things are a little easier now as I have learned to do the mental rewrite which supplies a "missing ingredient" in others' messages. But is that fair of me-to judge anothers' statement as missing something because it did not satisfy my needs? Sometimes I feel like I am entitled to some leeway because of what I have suffered, i.e. "cut me some slack." But that is not at all  helpful when it comes to improving the dialogue of loss-how we  think, feel, communicate, comfort, understand and try to empathize following terrible losses, for that is a two-way dialogue and requires me, as someone who has suffered a loss, to also be understanding of those who do not know what to do or say to comfort those who have suffered such losses. So in response to genuine New Year's good wishes I have responded with anger, by mentally rewriting and supplying missing ingredients, by not being sensitive enough to just how difficult it can be to comfort others, and by silently being critical of attempts to comfort that did not meet my standard.

Could it  be my responsibilty now, afer several years of mourning, to help others understand how their statements may be less than helpful in an attempt to improve the dialogue of loss, but also to suggest what might be helpful from my perspective? If so...

  I am thinking of you and Casey as this new year begins, knowing that I can not understand how difficult it is for you and your family. I am not sure of what to do or say to help so please tell me-I am willing to listen and learn. Allow me to help. It is my hope that when you think of  Casey,  those memories may bring a smile or even a laugh.  Know that as a result being witness to your suffering and your family's suffering, I am trying to value family and friendships more and not take for granted the precious gifts of  friendship, love, health, and life.


  1. Your posts are always so insightful and moving. I am now in week 32 of this new, unwanted life without my son. My husband and I avoided people through the holidays (we don't live near family) and stayed home as much as possible.
    At this point, the words "happy" and "merry" seem like feelings we used to be familiar with, but which are part of a past that is now gone. I have been amazed at some people who have actually not been able to figure out why I didn't respond "appropriately" to their gleeful holiday greetings.
    The most sensitive people are those who have suffered tragic loss themselves. Dannica's mother (from the blog Hollowed Out) wrote: May 2013 be far kinder…. Another bereaved mother, instead of Happy New Year, wrote - Have a restful day.
    And an aunt of mine, whose husband died last year, wrote in a xmas card: I hope the holidays will not be too hard for you.
    I truly appreciate these comments because they acknowledge my loss and make no effort to cheer me up (which simply can't be done with a meaningless holiday salutation).
    So, I wish you and all bereaved families, as good a new year as possible and moments pf peace and serenity (read the latest post of the blog Beautiful and Terrible).

  2. Before Casey died I recall that when going to funerals or paying visits to those who were mourning I would plan what to say because I thought I was supposed to go and cheer people up. Now when I go to funerals, and most are of elderly folks who lived full lives, those in mourning look at me and say "our loss is nothing compared to yours." So on both sides there is doubt, fear,hesitance,and outright ineptitude-maybe our job now is to , once we are able, teach others what we need and what to say and do?

  3. When I returned to work just 8 weeks after my son died, I specifically asked people not to say "How are you?" to me. Instead, I told them they could say "How is your day?".

    I think "I'm sorry" is about the best thing anyone can say. I like it when people ask me to tell them about my son and then just listen.

    As far as comparison of losses of elderly people vs. young adults and children - it is VERY different. I was 22 when my 53 year old father died of a heart attack. It was shocking and heartbreaking as he missed so much of our lives and we missed his loving influence.
    My mother died at 83, just 4 years ago. That, too, was terrible for me because she was my best friend and the most remarkable person I've ever known.
    HOWEVER, it is still not unnatural for a parent to die before a child. And although my father died much too young, he did have a family and a career and many fine years.

    When a child dies, so much is lost. That child loses their future, their chance to leave a legacy, they don't get to have their own children and marriage and careers.They miss all the simple pleasures of life.
    When a child dies, parents lose the chance to enjoy the fruits of their deep investment of love, care, and time; they lose the son or daughter who will love them as they age, they lose all the hopes and dreams that they shared with their child.
    Siblings lose the person who shared all their memories of growing up, who would have shared the ups and downs of adult life and been there for each other for important occasions. Siblings comfort each other when parents die.

    When a child dies, all past memories are changed. Seeing photos of happy occasions brings tears. A feeling of tragedy or doom somehow surrounds the family.

    Parents who have lost a child exist in a parallel universe to everyone else. They are damaged goods and can never return to a feeling of safety or innocence or the belief that if you do the right thing, all will be well.

    So - I believe that losing a child is the worst tragedy, whereas losing a parent is very sad, but natural and in time, we do adjust to it.

    1. It helps to know that others understand what it is like to lose a child. http://annaleahmary.com/2015/03/too-often-too-little-too-late-a-conspiracy-of-silence/ and http://annaleahmary.com/2015/03/real-pain-real-peace/

  4. I appreciate your comments. So as parents who have lost children we find that many do not know what to say or do to help us, and often, say the wrong thing. Your telling co-workers not to ask how you were-that to me is taking action, whatever the motive or feeling, but action nonetheless, to teach others how to help. One of my legal clients was a 21 year old who was paralyzed and he said he got so tired of people looking at him and not saying anything or saying really stupid things, that he beagn telling people that he was paralyzed, how it happened and what they could do to help him.

    That makes sense to me now, at this stage of my mourning, to teach others how to provide support to parents who have lost children in the hope that more comfort, understanding and support will be forthcoming.

    What do you think about "our role" in that teaching-learning process?

  5. Regarding our role as bereaved parents in teaching others ...I find that what I say depends very much on person with whom I am speaking, as well as the situation.

    Some people are excellent and caring listeners and want to understand my feelings. I find that I speak freely to those people. These are not necessarily people with whom I am close. Yet I sense their compassion and I respond accordingly.

    Many people really don't want to know or understand... they are very uncomfortable with others who are in pain. I probably represent their worst nightmare and they are probably thinking that I failed as a parent. Many brush me off with cliches, although they probably think they are helping. In fact, their responses demean the profound depth of my loss.

    I only share my thoughts and feelings with those who show a sincere interest. Otherwise, I am wasting my breath and their time.

    Sometimes in order to help some people understand me, I email them with links to powerful blog posts written by other bereaved parents. I want to show them that my sorrow is not abnormal or unusual for someone who has just been robbed of their past, present, and future.

    I'm hoping that my website http://www.scoop.it/t/grief-and-loss
    helps not only bereaved parents and siblings, but friends and family and others who want to understand and learn how to care for those who have experienced the worst tragedy of all.

    Your blog is beautifully written and I identify with much of what you write. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with the rest of us.

  6. You are right sometimes it is those who we are not closest with who provide the best support and thise that have been friends for so long are overwhelmed or clueless and fail miserably to help.A young woman we recently met learned about Casey and was clearly moved by her story.
    She asked which photo of Casey was our favorite and we gave her the link to the website. A few days ago she asked if she could stop by for a few minutes to show us something. She showed us the preliminary charcoal drawing she had done of Casey. It was magnificent and of course we all cried.

    Anyone else been blessed with gifts by those who were not in our cirle of friends at the time of our child's death but somehow knew what was needed and what could help?