on grieving

There are probably a billion posts on other blogs out there about how to handle people in mourning and grief and stuff like that, but here’s one more. My take.

Before we begin, an aside: for someone like me, who prides herself on her independence and ability to keep this house up and running, it was so hard to be out of commission and watch other people clean my house and rearrange things and vacuum and do dishes. I inherited this guilt from my mother, who does everything always and never stops and can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before she’s taking care of another task (usually the kind of task that lesser mortals would procrastinate).

For those of you who read my blog and also helped me during that week of recovery: thank you. Thank you so much. I really, honestly could not have done without you. Joshua came home an hour early from work every night that week to put dinner on the table and setup for the couple of social events we had scheduled weeks beforehand. He was a great help.

So anyway, this post is really more about grieving and things I’ve learned about how to deal with people in mourning. You might be surprised how many people put their feet squarely into their mouths when they try to comfort. For the record, the safest thing to say (and sometimes the only thing to say) is, “I’m so sorry,” and “I don’t know what to say.” Here are my thoughts on some things people tend to say without thinking (and if you said this to me, no hard feelings – I understand that you weren’t thinking clearly at that point, and I am using capital letters and exclamation points merely to make a point, not because I am deeply offended) and also things that are good or fine:

  • “You will have more children.” Um. ARE YOU MISSING THE POINT????? Would you ever even THINK about saying that to someone who DOES have children and lost a pregnancy?! Who cares [right now] about having more? I wanted THIS ONE. THIS was the one I wanted. Another one will be DIFFERENT. I wanted THIS ONE.
  • “This happened to me – I know exactly how you feel.” Well, I’m kind of ok with this one, *only* in this particular case (other women may differ on this point, so it might be best to avoid it altogether). If I had lost a parent or sibling or close friend, please don’t say this. But an unborn child, especially if you lost one in the first trimester, ok. It does feel similar for all women. It would be most true if you also struggled to conceive and also had no children when you had your miscarriage, but I’m ok with you empathizing.
  • “Oh, there was probably something wrong with the baby to begin with, so it’s best that it didn’t make it.” Interesting. So are children with genetic defects lesser humans? Would it be best if all the people with faulty genes just “didn’t make it”? I don’t think I agree with that. And, if you’re talking to people who have been wanting children for a while, DON’T SAY IT. Note: obviously, once again, I should make it clear that I KNOW people don’t mean this when they speak these words. But just be advised that this is what might be going through my mind. And we don’t think clearly when we’re grieving. This phrase just isn’t comforting, that’s all.
  • Any type of personal story is fine. If you’re trying to “steal the limelight”, so to speak, and drag all the attention onto yourself because YOU lost YOURS at six months, and this was “only” 10.5 weeks…not cool. This is not about you – this is about me. But if you’re telling me your story to communicate to me that you understand, in some way, what I’m going through, that’s fine. I’m fine with that.
  • “Have you tried [insert fad / legendary remedy / drug] [to get pregnant]?” Advice on getting pregnant? Really? Right now? Maybe you should reconsider your timing.
  • “Do you think maybe you overdid it? Do you think maybe you didn’t take enough vitamin B? Do you think maybe you shouldn’t have had that glass of wine last Shabbat? Do you think maybe you didn’t give G-d the glory?” Stop. Just stop. This miscarriage was NOT my fault. And you trying to blame it on me is definitely not helping.
  • “Drink as much [alcohol] as you want this week!” YES. Thank you! As Proverbs 31 indicates, strong drink is for those who are perishing, and wine for those whose life is bitter. And trust me: life is very bitter when you deal with the loss of your pregnancy.
  • “Delight yourself in the L-rd, and He will give you the desires of your heart!” There is a time and place for this verse. It’s when you are greeting the proud parents of a healthy newborn. When someone has just lost their child, this verse is a double-whammy. First, don’t TALK to me about DELIGHT. I am GRIEVING. As Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time for weeping and a time for rejoicing. It’s not wrong to grieve. It’s not wrong to cry when life is sad. I can still believe that G-d knows best when I’m crying. I can still trust G-d when my heart is breaking. LET ME GRIEVE. Secondly, you’re indicating that my lack of children is my fault. Must be because I haven’t delighted myself in the L-rd enough (WHATEVER THAT MEANS). I didn’t realize that was the ONE KEY TO LIFE! Delighting myself in the L-rd! THAT’S what I missed. If only I could do that, I could have as many children as I wanted, because G-d would give me the desires of my heart! Woohoo! Yeah…I don’t think that’s how it works. Save this one for another time, please.
  • Nothing. Saying nothing is ok in two circumstances: first, if you’re not very close to me anyway, and you heard about this third-party, and you don’t see me until a week or two or three after the fact…that’s ok (might be a nice touch to ask me how I’m doing when you next see me, though). Second, if you come to my home and sit beside me and hold my hand and just say nothing – you’re there with me – you care for me, but you don’t have the words. Fine. Saying nothing is NOT ok if you’re family or a close friend. If either of those is the case, you BETTER communicate to me in some way that you care about my life. Do not make the mistake of waiting for the perfect moment or waiting until the timing is convenient for you. I am HURTING and I NEED YOU to tell me you love me and you care about me and my baby.

So. Let me reiterate that I was not offended at all by anything anyone said (and not all of the above was said to us this time). I understand that people don’t know what to say, and they’re desperately trying to find the words to communicate their feelings about this event in your life. I get it. But for next time, let’s just keep it safe. Practice it: “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.” That’s really good. 🙂

Two last things: I cannot believe how many cards we received. I didn’t count them or anything, but they filled our kitchen table. And some of these notes were covered in handwriting, expressing sorrow, telling personal stories, truly grieving for us. I was so touched. I didn’t know people would care that much. Even the text messages and emails – I just read through some of them again as I typed this, and they make me cry. People truly grieved with us, and again – I didn’t know they would care so much. Wow.

Also, one woman took the time to write us a note AND write a note to my parents. She understood that they, too, experienced loss in this situation. That it’s hard, especially as a mother, to watch your child go through a lot of pain and sadness. I thought that was such a sweet touch. It was kind of like the extra mile. Something to ponder.

So let’s be good grievers, shall we? May we not have much opportunity to practice this, but when the time comes, let’s be good at it.

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4 thoughts on “on grieving

  1. Great post. Someone said “you’ll have more babies” and I think I felt my soul shrivel with agony. I wanted that baby. The one I’d planned for and made space in my life and heart for. It was a crushing moment. Besides, when in life would you say something ao flippant to someone grieving for a mother or brother/sister or father? Loss is loss.

    Whereas another friend couldn’t say a word but when she saw me she threw her arms around me and let me sob huge, earth shaking sobs while I held on to her like she were the only thing saving me from drowning.

    I wish I could give you a similar hug now. I may not have the words to do justice but I understand every emotion you’re feeling.xxx

  2. I have experienced two miscarriages in less than a year and I really appreciate you writing this. Some things ppl say with good intentions can be hurtful or upsetting. So its good to give advice on which words bring comfort and which ones are better left unspoken. Something we did that really comforted my heart was holding a memorial at my house on our baby’s due date. My sister gave us a river stone with the babies name on it and that really comforted my heart because every time I see that stone, I am reminded that I will see Jordyn one day in Heaven and that he/she exists. We also painted the babies names on a flower pot and planted fresh flowers in it. I hope sharing this is helpful to you. I think miscarriage is something only ppl who have gone through it truly understand. It hurts more than anything else I’ve experienced in life. And even starting a new pregnancy, I still grieve and carry sadness and fear of experiencing the loss again.

  3. First of all I want to say that I am so sorry for your loss. Secondly I want to thank you for writing such a heartfelt post. I think that most people are clueless on what to say or do around one who grieves. Maybe your post will help.

  4. Sweet Julianna,
    I’m so sorry to read about your and Joshua’s loss. I just discovered this post tonight, and so I wanted to reach out and give you a hug across the miles. We had great difficulty conceiving, and I still remember the words spoken to us by well-meaning friends that left me feeling lost, forgotten and confused. Bless you for putting those thoughts about how NOT to comfort those who mourn out there for others to learn from. I love you both, and will be able to pray more specifically for you guys. Wish the distance between our families wasn’t so great–we just have such a special place in our hearts chiseled out for each of you!
    May His presence dwell among you richly this Pesach~
    Allison

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