What do I Say?
Harsh reality struck again today in the middle of a conversation that before January 1 would have been entirely unremarkable. I was chatting with a mom at work before her child’s speech session, and I offhandedly made the comment, “I totally understand. I’ve got four kids.”
Wait. Do I need to back up and say, “Well, I did have four kids until January 1,” or “I have three kids on earth and one waiting for me in heaven (if I wanted to make things really awkward).”
Which leads me to things people say to others who have experienced a loss. I’m not going to list a bunch of stupid things people have said to me, because up to now (thankfully), most everything has been welcomed, appropriate, sensitive, and not stupid. I think that’s because I know what it’s like to want so badly to say the right thing, the thing that will bring comfort and help alleviate someone’s pain. I’m pretty much tolerant and appreciative of most every effort as long as the person is authentic and not motivated by a desire to be the person who said the perfect thing.
Even though I lost my mom at a young age, it didn’t teach me the right things to say in every situation to every person. Grief takes on limitless shapes and forms based on so many factors. I don’t know how it feels to lose a baby. I don’t know how it feels to lose a spouse. I know how it feels to lose a dad and a mom and a child. But my relationships and my circumstances are different than anyone else’s.
That said, personally, I don’t mind when people say, “I understand….I lost my child,” or “Yep, I get it. I lost my mom.” There is a level of understanding that no one can have unless they have experienced that type of loss. But the nuances are as varied as there are people who have ever died. No grief process is EXACTLY like another.
I do have to share a priceless response someone offered Charli. She was asked by an acquaintance, "How's your brother?" She shared that he had passed away. "Screw that!", he proclaimed. "That happened to George Bush!"
So back to, “I have four kids.” I refuse to be the grief Nazi, so I won’t tell anyone exactly the right thing to say in any particular circumstance. Actually, I don’t know how I will feel from day to day—I reserve the right to become the grief Nazi at any given point in time. For now, I choose to say, “I’ve got four kids.”