I have struggled so much that nobody in my life gets me and how I feel or what I might need to survive my loss. I have sobbed and screamed the words to Nath on numerous occasions of “No one understands” and it is such a horrendous place to be in. I look at my life, surrounded by so many amazing people trying their best but all of us knowing deep down that not one of them gets it 100% and no one will ever understand why I do and have done things or said and say things.
I’ve thought about this a lot recently and I have become very aware they never can or will unless they have been through it and I have had to realise that means there is no one at fault, because this is something I hope none of my friends and family ever will understand and so cannot understand where I am at. I am aware that they do their best, even in small ways of what they are capable of, but what still makes it very hard when it comes to grief and talking about how I am day to day/week to week is not always that there is no one that understands, but rather that there can be a lack of understanding… It is this that causes lonely feelings . It is this that hurts not just me but other bereaved parents and it is this that we see as one of the biggest barriers with infant loss in every day life!
Bereaved people get angry, that is a fact. It is a stage and proven phase of grief. But they hope that whether in this or another stage that people around them would have a desire to listen and hold them in their care without trying to fix it or give answers because they know there are none. Nothing other than time can make this better, and even then we will never be fully recovered. Part of us will always feel a little sad that we lost our child and part of us will always wonder what they are doing in heaven (if that belief is there) and who they might have been in our family.
I want to show you what loosing my baby has taught me about what understanding is…you may not grasp the day to day loss aspect and you don’t need to feel bad about that (just know it is horrendous). But, if you truly want to support a bereaved family member or friend you most certainly can show understanding, and that is something that will aid them, help heal them, bring peace and help you not to loose them too from your life.
What is understanding ?
1. It is the ability to grasp it, comprehend and absorb, because you know.
People at SANDS offer this to me in my life, I go there because I am understood. They have been there or are still there and so get it; they get why I say and do what I say and do and get why certain things make me feel pain. They comprehend the feelings and emotions of my soul and so with them I am 100% honest and there is no offence or upset or judgement because they are able to absorb that and help because they have been in and walked in my shoes. I offer the same to others and can speak the words they need, because I know too. Support groups are the ideal place for the bereaved parent to find people that understand. You do not need to try and fill this role, it would be impossible for you to.
2. There is another definition for understanding and that is sympathetic, awareness and tolerance. Whilst not easy, this level of understanding is what we hope from others and something that is possible from everyone even if you don’t know what it is like to lose a baby at term. This means being kind to a grieving mother, sympathising with her pain and being aware that she may not always be her old self or a certain way in situations.
Tolerance means that you forgive them for behaviour because you understand its not them, but more their grief. It means you are patient and know its going to take time…a lot of time. Most importantly it means you “tolerate” or put up with opinions and behaviours that you might not actually agree with because of love for that person, just as you would do if you disagreed with lifestyle choices, religion or political views of a different friend or family member… you cannot see it from their perspective and probably never will because you are not them, but you can love them, help them and be their friend despite it when you apply tolerance and kindness. It is an attribute that brings a lot peace to potentially contentious situations.
So now you see that when I rant that no one understands, or when your friend is so angry over their loss and is looking for an outlet; when they scream out in pain and anger because their head is bursting with emotions never before felt (but were born when their sleeping child was), be aware that they are aware that only those having had this in their life will grasp it, but are just yearning and hoping that those that don’t will just be understanding. That means not judging but being a little kinder, constantly tolerant and sympathising. Love them through it and be their friend despite. Hold their broken heart until THEY figure out how to mend it in a way that it works in THEIR life again and most of all they just hope and pray you won’t walk away and be awkward because you saw them weak and vulnerable. So much has already been lost..
If you want to be there for them know this cannot be fixed! I know that its hard to see someone you love hurt, but you cannot fix it for them. Do not try. You will not succeed.
Know that you do not have the answers and anything you say could quite possibly be the wrong thing, but that’s okay – speak anyway, they may ignore it and keep ranting, they may shrug it off, but we know its nice to know somebody wants to listen and talk about it that day and will always be grateful you said SOMETHING!
Know that as I am aware you do not get it so will they. You need to know that what I and they say isn’t always us, but that we are figuring it out. You need to know life has become broken and hopes shattered, we need reassurance that not everything in life we rely on will be go too…though sometimes it does! We need to know you are here to stay no matter how hard this is and we need to know you will always love and tolerate rants, crying, withdrawing, madness!!!
Know that we need extra kindness and not attacking – we hurt enough. We need love not crossed words and cannot be judged on the same level as someone who has never lost a child – you don’t know so don’t expect a certain behaviour or mood in any given situation or conversation, don’t assume you know how they might be and don’t presume because you think you’d be a certain way that we should too. I thought I knew how I would behave and cope – I was completely wrong!
I recognise that this is hard, I know that not everyone can endure this pain with some one who has been through infant loss. I personally choose only share my pain when I feel that someone really wants to know, help and try to understand. I never would if I didn’t think they could cope, in fact my usual answer is “yeah Im doing okay thanks” because I know that most people want to hear this and do not have the time or an ability to go to anything deeper. That is not an attack on them, that it is fact and if someone seems genuine and I trust that they care and love then I will always be honest if I am anything but “okay”…sometimes I find though, that they too find it too much as they do not realise what a mammoth task it is to be friends with a bereaved mother, that again isn’t their fault and I often wonder if I would know how to be if the roles were reversed??
Whilst I wish more people could have more understanding I also wish that I remembered more and had more awareness of others lives. I do try my best to remember and ask, I try my best to set aside my grief and consuming loss to ask about friends lives, achievements and adventures, but sometimes I forget, because sometimes I am barely hanging on. I wish too though as I feel the need to explain that they could just understand that, tolerate my ignorance some days, know its not personal and be kind, because it isn’t personal (though my sisters and I have had some good “debates” that might suggest otherwise) its just the season I am in or your friend is in. This will over time not be at the forefront of their minds, and they will regain the capacity to be thoughtful and aware of others more than themselves, but for now what they offer is all they can…is it enough for you? Can you take the call knowing its all about them that day? Can you meet up with awkward silence because they’re reflecting on it all that day? Do you think you could be understanding without really understanding?