It’s a story I’ve heard many times, “Everyone disappeared after my child died”. So many bereaved parents watch as one by one, friends stop coming by or stop calling, and soon they are left grieving alone. It’s called a secondary loss, a secondary result of the primary loss.
I’ve learned from speaking to the non-bereaved they are unsure of what to say, scared of making it worse. While there are many things you could say to make it worse (“It was God’s Plan”, “They are in a better place”, “Time heals all wounds”) there are plenty of things to say to show support. Grievers are also silent as they do not want to overwhelm others with their pain. I encourage asking questions, as this invites the griever to share without feeling like they are a burden.
When I first came up with the idea for the “Ask Me” series of products, I was tentative. I know many bereaved parents are afraid to share their child with strangers, worried that they will make others uncomfortable talking about their loss. I am hoping not only to encourage people to ask, but also to embolden loss parents to talk about their child. Here are a few suggestions to ask, and a couple to stay away from.
How did you choose their name? Choosing a name is such a fun part of having a baby. Many people use family names, others use names from other cultures, and some even make up their own names. If the loss was a miscarriage, ask what names they had chosen for each gender. I put a lot of thought into choosing the names of my children and love to share the meanings of their names and why I chose them. Liam means “strong-willed warrior and protector” and I know he protects us everyday.
Did your child have a nickname? How did they get it? Almost everyone has a nickname, either a shortened version of their name or something totally random. I love hearing stories about how people get their nicknames. My oldest went from Reese’s Pieces (his name is Rhys) to just Pieces. I called Liam “Little Stinks”, and I honestly have no idea how it even came to be. My youngest two are “Bear” and “Bun Bun” and those nickname stories are adorable (in my biased opinion).
What was your child’s favorite (food, sport, color, etc)? Our child’s story is much more than their death. Bereaved parents typically don’t want to talk about how their child’s life ended, they want to share the joyful memories of how they lived. One of my favorite stories to share about Liam is that he LOVED bananas. He would eat two whole bananas in one sitting, quite a feat for an 18 month old! Telling this story and sharing memories about Liam makes my heart feel so full.
How old would your child be now? What do you think they would be like now? A bereaved parent can tell you exactly how old their child would be, even if they were lost before birth. We also imagine what they would look like, which parent they would resemble, and how their personality would be. Liam would be 6 this year, just finished with Kindergarten. He would be playing with his brothers and loving on his baby sister.
Are you going to have more children? This is a sensitive subject, especially for miscarriage and stillbirth losses. Personally, I also think this is a selfish way to divert conversation about the “hard” subject to something less uncomfortable for the asker. It also seems as though more children would be the solution to the pain, which is most definitely NOT the case. I had two more children after Liam’s death, and while I love them more than my life, they can never replace Liam in my heart.
How did your child die? It is so weird to me that this is often the first question that people ask when they find out my son died. Even 5 years later, it is still too painful for me to talk about, and it gives me anxiety to even think about it. If a bereaved parent wants to share, they will. Otherwise, please resist the urge to ask this.
I think what many people do not realize is that if you ask about a deceased child, you won’t get the details of their death. You will hear stories of love and joy, memories that bereaved parents hold close to their hearts, and you will bring them such happiness to share that joy with you.
What questions would you like people to ask about your child? What no-no questions have you been asked? I’d love to hear them in the comments.