A PSA From Matthew’s Mom
I woke up this morning, heart racing and angry. It took a minute to orient myself to figure out what, exactly, was my problem. After realizing where I was and when I was, it dawned that I must have been dreaming and then it came flooding back. In my dream, I was finally getting a chance to authentically, respond to people that have had the audacity to tell how I should be handling “moving on” after loosing Matthew. My guess is that it was happening in my dream, because in real life, I am not all that crazy about confrontation, so consequently, I either say nothing, or as calmly as I can, explain myself (while on the inside, I am fuming because I don’t understand why I have to repeat myself over and over and people still don’t seem to, if not understand, at least, keep their mouths shut). I told Mike that I was going to blog about it to get it out and he suggested that maybe I just write it down, without sharing and move on. This was not him being insensitive. In the time since Matthew passed away, we have realized that, for us, there are very few people that we talk to, about how we feel on any given day. If you have never lost a child, no matter how sympathetic or empathetic you are, you do not understand what it does to you. Talking about Matthew and talking about how we feel, are not the same. I can talk about my handsome boy all day long to anyone who is interested, but talking about my emotions tied to him is something that I might share with Mike, or more likely, keep to myself entirely.
With all of this being said, I have decided to write a list of dos and don'ts to keep in mind if you are talking to a friend or family member that has lost a child. The holidays can especially hard, so it seems like a good time to share this.
First the Don'ts:
Don’t say “You should…” Anything that follows this is NOT ok. There are no “shoulds”. If you have not gone through it, you are not an authority. The end!
Don’t expect parents to move on. I don’t care if it has been 1 month or 20 years, parents do not move on from missing, loving and grieving their children. The world keeps going and others get on with their own lives, but parents who have lost children will never “recover”. We will get better at getting through the day, and we will get better at seeming “normal”, and we will carve out a new way to be as a person, but we will never be the same again.
Don’t expect holidays to be the same. Holidays are a time of family and celebration. For many parents who have lost a child, holidays take a huge amount of energy just to get through. You want your family together, but we are acutely aware that we will never have that again.
Think before you talk about how much you miss your child that is at college or on vacation or even living and working in another state. While you are totally justified to be feeling all of your feelings, it pales in comparison to what we feel every damn day! Your child is safe, learning, growing and living their lives. That is as it should be.
Don’t think that if you ask about our children, that you will be reminding us that they are gone. We know this with every ounce of our own being. Trust me, we have not forgotten them or that they are gone.
Now for the Dos:
Do let us to talk about our children. If we bring them up, we need to know that they still matter. For many of us, our biggest fear is that our kids will be forgotten.
Do check on us on meaningful days like birthdays and anniversaries. We may not answer if you text or call, but we appreciate that you are remembering our kids are so grateful that you checked in.
Do understand that even if it has been years, our kids are on our minds constantly. Our grief will change, we will handle it differently at different times, but it will never be gone.
If you knew our kids, and had a memory or were thinking about them, please share it with us. For some parents, it is hard to hear, If you are not sure, give a warning before you share the story. We love to know that people are thinking about our kids! For most of us, our biggest fear is that they will be forgotten. Other people thinking of them is how we know that are still remembered and loved.
If we do open up to you, please be open to listening. It may make you feel uncomfortable. If we are talking to you, we probably really need to talk about it.
Do know that we appreciate your support. Even if we struggle to be social.
Do realize that any situation that requires meeting new people, often involves the question “Do you have kids?”, or some version of that. A seemingly benign question can cause a panic attack no matter how long it has been. Small talk very often revolves around kids and family and can be exhausting. Parents that may have enjoyed being social before, can become very selective with which social engagements we attend.
If you have stuck with me this far, thank you. If you’ve met me personally, hopefully you know that I am not trying to be preachy or judgey. If you have not met me, my hope is that you read this and know that you don’t have to have been in our shoes in order to be supportive. Please remember that just because our kids are no longer with us, they mean every bit as much to us as they always have! We will always be their parents.