To the Friend of a Bereaved Parent

I know you care for me, and I’m so glad you’re reading this. I know you can’t fully comprehend, nor would you want to, what it means to be a bereaved parent. Honestly, I’m still finding out for myself. To live without my child is not something I ever wanted to learn, and yet it’s what I have to.

I see that you want me to feel better. Let me assure you, you’re doing the best you can to soothe my pain, yet it is here and will be here… until it lessens. It won’t ever go away completely, and this is OK. Can you be OK about it with me?

Parents with baby in incubator in hospital

I hope you will have the courage to remember my child with me until we part. Please remember this: You may speak her (or his or their) name, you may remember her birthday or anniversary with me, whether that is by sending me a text message, card or flowers — it doesn’t matter, it’s the thought that counts.

Please do not fear my tears or my sadness. It means I’m thinking of her or missing her. It’s not that I am permanently broken or sick, just broken-hearted and grieving. Please have the courage to sit with me and my pain, without needing to fix it.

At times I might say, “I need some time to myself,” but more often, I do appreciate you being here, even without any words, keeping me company or doing something with me. Other times I might need distraction and I might even laugh and experience some joy and then feel guilty again and cry in the next moment. It’s OK, this is life and death: complex and paradoxical and not always to be understood.

You probably feel I have changed. You might even hope and wait for me to return to the “old me” again. I’m sorry, but that won’t happen. I’m forever changed. Losing a child is like losing a limb. Even though the scars of the amputation will heal, it’s a permanent change, and as much as it sucks, it is what is. I have to get used to it. Will you bear the chance to get to know me as your “new normal friend”?

I’ve chosen you as my friend because you have a big, compassionate heart, yet I know it’s (almost) impossible to understand the unimaginable. Don’t say things like: “Wouldn’t it be time to move on?” or “At least you have…” I know you might say those kind of things in an attempt to support me. I know you’re well-meaning, yet I’ve become sensitive, and certain sentences are like shards of glass on an already wounded heart. Even if you don’t understand, would you allow your heart to reach out and trust the sensitivity of my broken heart? (For examples on what to say instead, click here.)

I might not be up to celebrating pregnancy news. I might even feel jealous of those mothers who are joyously carrying their children. It’s not that I’m mean; it’s because my heart longs for my child, and seeing those mothers with their children is a reminder of what I don’t have.

With time and healing, I will be sad less often or cry less often as at the beginning. This does not mean I’m “over it.” My child lives on in my heart, and I will never get over the fact that I’m never to hold her hand in life. Please do not confuse my healing with “been there, done that.” My child might have gone with the wind, yet I’m still searching the world for signs of its fleeting presence.

Thank you for being here for me and with me.

Thank you for being my friend and having remained my friend through this.

Thank you for creating a new friendship with my “new normal,” self even though we wanted everything to remain as it was…

Thank you for remembering my child and therefore honoring me as her mother.

A version of this post also appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

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