Passed away? Lost? No, died.

*Before I start this one I want to just put a reminder that these are my own feelings about death. I don’t care how others refer to those who have died, but since this is my blog I’m sharing my thoughts.*

Passed away. Lost. Died. Went to Heaven. There are so many different ways to refer to  death. I have some pretty strong feelings on some of them.

Anyone who is friends with me on facebook knows that I usually use the word “died”. I actually did that from the beginning. I think it’s more shocking for people to hear, but in my opinion it’s just more real. I’ve realized that terms like “passed away” and “lost” tend to be more comforting for other people.

When someone says their child passed away it seems more gentle. But why? WHY should a parent be more gentle when talking about something as serious and earth shaking as the death of their child. Who does that help? It helps the person hearing the words but not the person saying the words. I have said it a few times and it just feels wrong. It almost feels like a lie. He didn’t just slip away. His heart stopped and he died. I don’t want to sugar coat that fact so that someone else might be more comfortable.

The other phrase that I haven’t used much is “lost”, as in “I lost my child”. I feel like that one just makes no sense. I didn’t, after all, lose him. I didn’t misplace him. I didn’t get separated from him at an amusement park or mall. Saying that phrase implies that I will find him. I am certain I will see him in Heaven again, but saying I lost him feels just as weird as saying he passed away.

Both of those phrases really seem to focus on making the person that is NOT impacted so much by the loss more comfortable which really is quite screwed up. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here but I remember the night Gabe died a close friend came to the hospital. That friend had experienced the sudden death of her not yet 2 month old baby. And she told me that over the next days and weeks, and especially at the visitation and funeral, I would be comforting everyone else. And you know what? She was so right. That is exactly how it felt. I think anyone who has had this experience probably knows exactly what I’m talking about. Often when you are standing there, next to the casket, those coming up to express condolences are very upset, and the grieving parents are not crying at all or crying very little. Hug after hug, friend after friend, people express their sorrow and it feels like you are holding things together for them. I think most of it is shock- reality hasn’t set in that early- but it is an interesting phenomenon.

I really think that example combined with our choice of words around death just shows how neat, clean, and sugar coated we think life should be. We don’t like sadness. We don’t like grief. We don’t like situations that we can’t fix. So when something goes wrong we try very hard to make things easier for everyone else- even if we are the one who need everyone else to just be there.

I’m so thankful for all the people who came and expressed their condolences. I’m also extremely thankful for some friends who were truly there- early on and now- who didn’t place any expectations on my grief or seem to need me to sugar coat things for them. Who listened and who didn’t look uncomfortable when I used those words “When Gabe died”. Because he did. He died. And for the rest of my life those words will be true.

At Least

*One of the purposes of my blog is to help people know what things are just not helpful to say to a bereaved parent. Many of these things can be downright hurtful. I know they come from a good place, but it is so very important to think about what you say before you say it. As I would say to my preschoolers “choose your words”. Would you want someone to say those words to you? This is one of those things. *

“At least”. It’s a short, simple thing that can be attached to many things. It’s something that I’ve come across time and again in this bereaved parent world that I am now a part of. I vaguely remember hearing a few “at least” phrases early on, but thankfully I was too numb to process it. The following are some examples that I have seen a few times:

-“At least you have other children”

-“At least you can have more children”

-“At least he doesn’t have to feel any more pain”

-“At least he lived a full life”

 

Those are just a few of the “at least” phrases I have seen. It makes my skin crawl every time I read those words or hear anyone speak them, when it’s in reference to a death but specifically the death of a child. There is no “At Least” in child loss. Ever.

I’m tackling this subject because I know that when a child dies people don’t know what to say. And sometimes things slip out that the person saying just doesn’t realize are hurtful. This is one of those things. I think during horrible times people often look for the silver lining. They look for one thing that somehow isn’t so bad. Something good to come out of a situation. But here’s the thing. During this specific, horrible thing- there is no silver lining.

Let me repeat- there is no silver lining. Leaving the hospital without your child, seeing their friends and siblings miss them, and seeing them in a casket. Well, there is nothing good about that. The fact that there are other children in the family? It doesn’t take away even one bit of the sadness for the one missing. The fact that a couple who lost a baby during pregnancy, stillbirth, or as an infant can try again to have another? It doesn’t take away the pain or replace the one that didn’t get to come home.

The fact that he won’t feel pain anymore? Yes that is a good thing, but I would much rather have him here, so that I could help him through those hurdles.  The fact that he lived a full life? He had so much more to live- driving, prom, college, graduation, and the rest of his life. Those things were taken. I love that he lived a full life but I would give anything for it to have not been cut short.

Are there good things that happened in the wake of Gabe’s death? Of course. We saw a beautiful community, friends and strangers who reached out to us,  and new friendships were formed. Those things are intertwined in the death of my son. That makes them all very bittersweet. I am so thankful for the love that was extended to our family. The fact is, though, that my child is gone. And none of the good that may come from his death will erase the fact that he is gone. No “at least” can make it feel better.