Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 05/13/2014

Oh, the stupid things people say after our child dies….

Picture1Many “bravos” and thanks to our brave readers this past month for participating so candidly in the comment/chat thread about well-meaning family or friends saying the most hateful or hurtful or downright stupid or thoughtless things to us following the death of our child. Thanks for sharing how you coped with their comments after another anniversary of the death, or as a sentiment for Mother’s Day, or when they say dumb things just to show us they haven’t forgotten our loss. Too bad for us, that what they say makes it worse and not better. And in return we go off on them or we suffer silently, we smile and thank them or hurriedly walk away, or we change the subject.

People certainly do say the oddest things to create a bridge to us or to offer us hope or to try to show us they understand. Too often, what they actually do is reinforce how much they do not understand. They do not know. They could never imagine. Nor do we want them to know it or imagine it or even try to understand it. We just want them to let us experience it our own way, with their unspoken love and support. If they must speak, how great it would be to hear,  “I could never imagine and don’t want to imagine your pain — only to support you in your grief, however long it takes and whatever form it takes”. We want the “If you want to talk, I’ll listen, and if you don’t want to talk, we won’t” kind of friend to bring us chocolate and wine and then shut the hell up.

And yet… yet in our solitude, we still want to speak with someone who DOES understand. With other grieving parents, or at least, those who feel some of what we feel or express or experience grief somewhat as we do.

Unfortunately, and I’d like to address this now, here — this elephant in the room for some of you — the person who best “understands” may or may not be your spouse or partner. And that sets partnered people up for all sorts of other emotional battles.

I was lucky, in a strange and twisted way, that I was no longer married to Daniel’s father at the time Daniel died, so no one expected us to “help” each other. Otherwise, I probably would have murdered him within the month. I was flat out physically, emotionally and mentally devastated after my son’s death, while he went back to work.  He worked the next day, too, and the next — right up until the few hours before the funeral. Neither of us was “right” or “wrong” in our grief, but it shows that we expressed our grief in ways that would only aggravate the other.

My ex-husband’s pain was so great that his mind shut down to protect him, and he went on numb autopilot, finding relief in schedules and routine. My brain went into emotional and dramatic overdrive.  I had endless, looping thoughts about God (or the lack of God), and about life-after-death possibilities. Privately, I dwelt on the seduction of suicide, and the fear of sleeping and having to wake up to the reality of Daniel’s death every day, and… well, you know. I sat on his bed sniffing Daniel’s pillow for hours, crying, fearing I’d someday lose or forget his smell. People grieve differently, even two parents of one boy.

Today, I’m married to a man who is a great partner for me. He is emotionally available and kind and supportive, and though he never knew Daniel, he gives me the grace to be able to share my memories if I want, and he goes with me to the cemetery where my son’s body is buried when I want company there (so often, I do NOT want company there, and he understands that, too.) But even this well-intentioned, loving man can say the dumbest things. For example, on Mother’s Day, he said, “I know you must be thinking about Daniel today” as a kind reminder that he remembered my grief.

I replied, “Yes, I thought about him today, just as I do every day,” and he smiled and I smiled too, and the moment passed. But secretly, I resented him just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit for not getting it that I miss Daniel every single day, not just on special occasions. It reminded me that while he knows I still grieve, he doesn’t understand (can’t comprehend) the depth of the grief. Nor should he.

It is a scar I carry with me, a process I will go through every day for the rest of my life. I am functional, I am able to laugh and to feel joy again (a huge accomplishment) and to hope for silly things again in the future, and for great things as well. I’ve learned to take a memory into the future, instead of a beautiful living, breathing boy, and I imagine what his life would have been like, had he lived. I never left my son behind, to be “remembered” — he’s with me every day, in my heart. I will always be his active mother, actively loving him and caring about him, and bringing him forward. I don’t think a parent can ever bury a child, and that’s what other people really don’t get. We can’t bury them. We bury their bodies, yes, we understand we can’t avoid doing that without threat of being locked up. But we don’t bury them.

Thank you for talking to each other as well as for listening when I blog. I think the best I can say sometimes is nothing at all, but rather I stand back and listen in as you talk and support each other. Together, we make a safe place to talk about our grief and our loss and our fears and our dreams and yes, also our loves.

And we can hold one another up and hear with an open heart and mind because the person speaking and the person listening … both do know what it’s like.

Mother’s day down, Father’s day looms. We’re with you, Richard (thanks for the great comments you post here) and with all the bereaved dads out there who will ALWAYS be a dad.

We get it.





  1. I am glad you have the support you need now. We need to be with those who honor our child and our loss. My husband and I are grieving differently and it took me a few resentful months to catch on to “everyone grieves differently.” When he stopped crying with me every day, I became afraid that he was “over it.” And that assumption compounded my pain. My husband is definitely still grieving our daughter but in his own way. He cries every time we go to the cemetery. I rarely cry there. While seeing her name is painfully sobering, I know she isn’t there. We share our moments together yet are ambushed differently as the reality sets in more and more each day. Our individual relationship with Amy was unique so it makes sense we would grieve differently.

    I have had to start a blog in order to deal with the stupid and insensitive words said by others. And then there are those who say nothing which is equally as hurtful.

    Thanks for this post. I found it very helpful.

  2. Dee, Jody, this week, I found myself referring to time as “before Lindsay was killed” and “after Lindsay was killed”, and explained to someone that I’ve noticed that is how I now define time – events or recollections before that terrible day and those that have occurred since. The person told me I should just “stop thinking of things that way”. It was very difficult to explain that it’s actually involuntary and comes from a place of emotion and trauma; it has just become my subconscious frame of reference, and I am incapable at the moment of thinking of time by any other marker. A month to the day and hour after Lindsay was killed, my beloved dog Ethan died suddenly. Although undoubtedly due to an unforeseen medical issue, I couldn’t help but feel because of the timing that Lindsay must have needed him more than me (self-comforting, I know). I told someone in the family this, and he told me (one month to the day and hour that Lindsay was killed) that I “have to stop thinking about these sorts of dates and times in that way”. My daughter had been gone a month…….sigh.

  3. I too think of time before my son Ethan died, and after it. I tell people I’m not sure whether I was living in a dream before and this is reality, or that life before was real, and this now is some wierd dream. Feels like the latter actually. And it is getting close to 3 years on. Time and my life definately stood still and stopped forever, the day my son’s heart finally stopped and his last breath left his body. I try to explain it to people who cannot understand it (everyone and anyone around me) that it is like leaning to live with a major disability. Saying to someone who has lost a child that they “should be over it now” or “stop making others feel bad by your sadness” is like saying to someone with paralysed legs that they should be able to walk by now. My husband walked out on me 3 days after our son died. He never spoke to me at the funeral, and left 15 mins into the wake. I never heard from him again, except a simple text message advising me to go to the CAB after he’d emptied our joint bank account, leaving me penniless with a huge mortgage and loads of bills to pay. Our divorce was finalized 13 months after our son’s death. Even though I would not want to be with someone who treated me badly, I also know that Ethan’s dad is the only person in the world who loved Ethan as I did, knew him as I did, experienced the challenge of being a parent to a sick child as I did, and witnessed his death, as I did. Yet he would not even speak to me on Ethan’s anniversary, or any since. I have just been out with some new friends this evening, and we have had a good time. Yet I feel so alone now, being back home on my own, no distractions, late at night, thinking about my beautiful boy, longing for everything to be put right again, and knowing it can never be. I wish I had the love and support of a partner, but I cannot be with someone who does not understand my pain and takes life for granted (which it seems almost every person I have met is like). I wish I had the opportunity to have more children in the future, because I don’t want Ethan’s death to be the last experience I have as a parent. However, I also would feel frightened that another child would detract from the focus and love I have for Ethan, and also be a cruel reminder of all the milestones Ethan never had the chance to reach. I am also 41, so time is also running out for having more children anyway. I’m sick of feeling sad. Sick of the reality of my child being dead. Sick of being so alone in my sadness. I want the pain to stop. I want the bad dream to end. Yet the only thing that could make this happen is for Ethan to come alive again. I dream about this. I want this to be possible. I know it cannot happen and so I feel stuck in this timewarp forever.

  4. My dear Anna I am so sorry . I can do nothing but feel your pain and wish I could comfort you..People are such clods they say things without thought. Be gentle with yourself you have had grievous blows and have weathered them alone with courage .xx

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