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January 31, 2016

What Not To Say To Grieving Parents

Throughout the process of this pregnancy, many well-wishers have attempted to offer us comfort and advice. Let me start off by saying I have no intention to offend anyone - I truly and fully realize those that have offered us this advice have nothing but the best intentions and it comes from their hearts. I understand that not many people have been in our situation, and because of that it's hard to find the right words when trying to offer comfort to someone that's suffering through a trial of this scope. And I certainly appreciate those that have tried to help and comfort me at such a low point in my life.

Often the first thing someone says to us when they find out our Little Fire has a significant chance of not surviving for long after his birth is the phrase, "maybe he's just a special spirit that only needs a body". As a parent that has the possibility of losing their child hanging over their minds every second of every day, variations of this phrase ringing in your ears starts to sound hallow. When there is still a chance your child could survive, your mind becomes desperate to find any ounce of hope wherever you can. That phrase has a way of diminishing the small ounce of hope you managed to hold on to that day. And the truth is, no matter how special he may be, the last thing you want is to lose him.

I think it's especially easy for people within the LDS faith to quickly put out these phrases based upon our belief that through temple marriage our families have the opportunity to be together forever. Trust me, I believe that my family will be able to be together into the eternities. And again, I understand perfectly well people say this to us with only the best intentions. I appreciate the sincerity they have had as they struggled to find the right words. But on the other hand, why quickly diminish our situation by assuming this child just isn't supposed to live due to being "too special"? Why automatically go to the worst possible outcome and sugar-coat it by including the "special spirit" part?  What if he does survive - does that make him less special? It would be so nice to hear something that leans on the fact that he may still live instead.

Uttering a phrase that automatically jumps to the worst possible outcome to the situation gives off a tone of finality. People in such a desperate situation need to hear hope wherever they can. But giving a false sense of hope is just as damaging. "I have a feeling everything will work out fine" is just as crushing to hear someone say. Someone put it perfectly by telling us, "No matter what happens, he's your son. And he's an important part of your eternal family." That was refreshing to hear and offered us hope. After all, that's true! No matter the outcome our Little Fire IS our son and IS part of our eternal family.

If the worst does happen, we can talk about him being a special spirit then.

The next phrases David and I have heard just as often are, "Don't be angry at/blame Heavenly Father" and "Don't ask why". The truth of the matter is, in this situation, there are many days that I'm feeling very angry with Him. I have uttered many tearful prayers asking him how He could do something like this to me, my other children, to my little boy, my entire family. I've pleaded with Him to give me the chance to raise my son. And I'll admit I've had plenty of prayers angrily chewing Him out for putting my family and I through something like this after all the trials we've already endured. The emotions of fear, anger, confusion, stress, anxiety and sadness running through me have been very intense and deep. The moment someone utters, "Don't be angry with God" causes my emotions to be dismissed and not validated. It forces another emotion of guilt into the mix, when realistically you have done nothing to feel guilt about. That's an awful feeling to have on top of all the other deep emotions I can't help but feel right now.

Our wonderful bishop told David and I something that we desperately needed to hear. He plainly said to us without any prompts on our end, "Don't feel ashamed about being angry with Heavenly Father. And don't feel like you can't ask why. You should and have every right to feel angry, and you also have every right to keep asking Him why." As those words left his mouth, I felt validated and heard for the first time. And the guilt that also settled in for feeling those emotions left. Then our bishop finished that by telling us, "Just remember to seek the answers to 'why' in the right places, while also remembering that they might not come right now. But don't stop asking and seeking. And after allowing yourself some anger, give Him the chance to offer His comfort. He'll understand why you are angry, and He will still love and comfort you through your anger if you let Him."

We all know that anger is a natural part of the grieving process, and anybody that's in that situation has a right to their own moments of anger. The best thing is to remind them that it's normal and allowed. But in turn, gently remind them how important it is to not allow that anger to over take you. Our Bishop was absolutely right when he said we need to make sure we search for answers and comfort with the same man we are so upset with. Help those in moments of anger find answers through prayer, scriptures, conference talks, etc - not dismiss the anger they have.

David and I are so thankful for all the people that have reached out to us. And we are especially thankful for their sincere attempts to comfort us when there is realistically not much anyone can do. My only hope is that this post can help someone find better words to say when a loved one or friend is going through a similar situation. After all, helping someone in a time of need is the pure love of Christ at its finest.