The B-Word

This one was difficult. There were lots of "B" words I could have covered.  Beauty, Bodies, Bossiness.  All kinds of ways to talk your ear off.  But frankly, those are things we talk about a lot.  Someone is always trying to tell women how to be beautiful or at least to feel beautiful, and someone is always trying to tell you about your body.  

What is something that no one is prepared for?  What is something that's not spoken about often until it's too late?  

When I was a teenager I got a book for a gift.  I would totally recommend it, as it was a great help to me earlier in my life.  It's called "How to Say It."  I was full of great things to write in thank you notes, resumes, baby or birthday cards or what to say at various times.  A friend who was autistic said it was extremely valuable to him, as someone who just didn't know what to say in various social situations.  Here's a link if you want to get one:

However, about six years after I got it, I found myself throwing the book against the wall.  Someone I knew well lost her teenage son, accidentally and very suddenly.  No time to say goodbye, no drawn out illness.  He was there one moment and wrapped around a tree the next.  It was horrible.  I kept trying to write her a card, and I couldn't.  The book had lots of words of sympathy, but none of them were good enough.  I had no idea what to do or say.  The book had promised me words for every situation, and it had some very good ones, but they felt meaningless in the face of that kind of tragedy and pain.

What do we do or say for someone who has lost a loved one, a spouse or a child?  I took some time at the card shop to look at the words in some sympathy cards to see if I got any good ideas.  Note:  I have put them in curly script because for some reason, cardmakers have decided that block letters clearly don't comfort those dealing with loss.

As my friend puts it bluntly (love you Luce!): that feels like a bunch of "trite shite."  Maybe they're good enough for a random coworker's granny or something, but if someone is your friend or someone you love, I suggest that this "trite shite" is simply not enough.   I felt legitimately embarrassed by reading some of them.  Others, I think, got it right.  Most just had a picture of flowers or birds or a landscape with "In Sympathy" written on it.  The inside of almost all of the sympathy cards were blank.  That seems more in order.  

I may actually start buying sympathy cards from Etsy.  One seller hit on the head exactly what I want to say (without involving swear words).  I may just buy a case of these for everyday use anyway.

I vividly remember being at a classmate's funeral in high school (and yes, there were more than one of them), where, while hugging the mother who had just lost her daughter, a gruff boy said what we were all thinking:  "This fucking sucks."  Truer words were never spoken.  In fact, if it was socially acceptable for people wearing dog collars to swear, more funerals would probably forego "Ashes to ashes" or Psalm 23 for that boy's sentiment.  

So what do we do?  Most of us are aware and partake in the usual conventions of cards and meals for the family, but is there anything tangible or practical that we can do to care for people who have lost someone?

Just to clarify, I'm talking about all loss here.  The most common loss at my age is not tragic accidents or parents, unfortunately, it is miscarriages.  I've known more than a couple of friends who have lost much wanted pregnancies very early, but they feel completely alone because people have told them "At least you can try again" or "it wasn't very far along anyway."  That's a whole other load of trite shite.

Some people don't talk about them because they don't want to, but in my experience, if someone tells you about their miscarriage, they want you to share in something that they have lost or feel upset or angry about.  It's just as much a loss of a child for them as if the child had been born, and even though we don't hold memorials or funerals for babies lost that way, the effects are the same.

That said, I have talked to a number of friends and consulted some people who I think are pretty wise, and I have made a little list of dos and don'ts.

1.  If you can't think of the right words to say, DO NOT SAY ANY WORDS.  This goes doubly for people who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths.  No one would tell someone who has lost a teenager that they can just try to have another child or just adopt, so maybe don't ever say something like that.  The one thing that people said over and over was "Someone at my loved one's funeral/memorial said something stupid, and it's the one stupid thing I remember from what should have been memories of my loved one."  I was really surprised by this, and I'm a talker.  Sometimes the phrase "words can't express" actually means that.  

2.  If you know them well, physical presence and hugs are really good.  Again, I thought it would be words or cards, but it wasn't.  One particular woman I consulted said that she felt like people were walking around on pins and needles around her, and the person who really helped was someone who just hugged them at work and didn't mind when she got mascara on a white blouse.  A literal shoulder to cry on.  

3.  Practical stuff.  Everyone I talked to said that people brought food, but sometimes practical things seem to be the stuff that were hard. Imagine having to clean out someone's house full of memories, file a load of paperwork, plan a service, carry on your daily life AND mourn someone you love.  Offer to take care of children, take laundry out of their house to do it, or get a cleaner for a few weeks if you are financially blessed.  Understand that they may like for you to do those things while they are there crying.  To be honest, this is a good rule for people with mental illness or families with newborns as well.  Are you like my father-in-law, a lover of paperwork and filing?  Maybe offer to help with that.

4.  Give financially.  Maybe not directly to the family, but several people said that the gestures that meant something to them were gifts to a charity the deceased would have liked or a charity related to their disease if they had a terminal illness.  Send a card saying that you have given a memorial donation or ask the family if there is a charity or cause that the loved one would have specifically supported.  I've known more than a few people who have started foundations or funds in the loved one's name, and ongoing support to those organisations is a great way to remember them.

And perhaps the most important one...

5.  Even if you have forgotten the person who died a few weeks or months later, the survivors may still be going through the various stages of grief.  No one wants to think that someone they dearly loved will be forgotten, so make sure you remember.  The loved one's birthday, holidays and the day they died will probably be significant for a long time.  If you knew the due date of a friend who has suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, they might appreciate knowing you remembered. We found out that Josh's cousin died on our first anniversary, and although it is almost four years on now, I like to spend a few minutes on that day thinking of him and what a kind, interesting person he was.  I know that his dad and brother and sisters are probably doing that too.  People I spoke to said this was the most meaningful thing.  Think about something good about the person and on their birthday, send a card, text or message saying that you are doing it.  This shows that you care about them, long after the fact.

I've provided a few really good links to look at or just google bereavement.  There are so many charities with such good advice and support.  Many hospices offer support groups for families and hospitals or doctors can often pinpoint you in the right direction.

To close, I'd like to tell you a story of a guy.  He lost his precious children, all at once, in a terrible accident.  His three closest friends came, and when they saw him, they couldn't do anything or say anything to comfort him, but as it turned out, that was the very thing that comforted him:

Helpful Links:

Care for the Family's Bereavement Support

SANDS - for families who have had a miscarriage or stillbirth


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