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What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts)

First off, I think that everyone over the age of twenty-one years old needs to read “What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts).”

My psychologist sent me a copy of the book after three appointments in which we talked about what people have said to me that just did not seem real. Comments such as, “so, are you trying again?” (from my dentist), "why haven't I seen you in so long?" (from colleagues at work), "well I had a miscarriage..." (from people that are trying to relate), and even extra long (sometimes unwanted) hugs.

Everyone grieves differently, but this book goes over the best rule(s) of thumb when dealing with someone close to you that experienced loss.

I am going to quote some passages of the book that really resonated with me (and in some instances, sharing why).

Disclaimer: These are just the quotes that resonated with me. Everyone grieves differently. In case you do not get anything else out of this post, just lead with empathy.

“This loss was uniquely mine. It could not be compared with anything else. I do not want to hear about a loss of theirs of anyone they knew” (Page 28).

Now, if you have experienced a stillbirth yourself or immediate friends/family, I would love to connect with you. If you have a second cousin, twice removed, that had a stillbirth, I do not want to hear about it.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but a miscarriage is different than a stillbirth (in many ways).

In conversations, I have had people say “I had a miscarriage.” And in the heat of the grief, I wanted to scream, “yeah, I had two of those PLUS a stillbirth.”

The major difference for me was that I held my almost one-pound developed baby that had eyes, an adorable nose and the cutest feet I have ever seen. With both my miscarriages, there was nothing physical to hold onto or see (since they were early on). Once I held our son, I knew my miscarriages were NOTHING compared to a stillbirth.

“I was told that I was ‘doing so well’” (Page 30).

Living with anxiety and depression my entire life, I have been getting good at looking like I am doing well. But hidden below, I can hide so much.

“I cannot find the courage to begin the conversation” (Page 32).

The awkward silence of seeing someone for the first time after the stillbirth.

The last time we may have talked was about something exciting like the gender reveal, or the upcoming baby shower (which I had to cancel), or just general baby things.

What can you even say to someone after a stillbirth?

I hated the awkwardness that I remember saying something along the lines of “yeah, I birthed a baby, but the baby was dead,” just to rip the conversation band aid off.

What I realized was that I wanted to talk about it, but I didn't know how. I wanted people to ask me about it, but I know that can make things more uncomfortable. So this meant it just was not talked about and ignored.

“'You’ll be fine. You’re strong.' [...] I may be strong, but I’ll never be fine” (Page 40).

“When told I was strong, it felt like I wasn’t allowed to show weakness” (Page 41).

“If you ask me what I need, and I say nothing or I don’t know, that is probably truthful and full of lies at the exact same time- not because I want to lie to you, but I honestly have a hard time processing that question” (Page 53).

The best things people did for me in the height of grief was when they did things for me without me asking or just offering to do things without the open ended “what can I do to help?”

Those things included de-constructing the nursery so I did not come home to a room for a baby, without a baby or doing my pile of laundry from the hospital so I can continue to wear comfy clean clothes or offering to come with me to places with the rest of the group/friends.

"[When people asked 'how are you?'...] ‘I’m fine’ isn’t quite right, [...] ‘I’m terrible’ seems whiney. ‘I’m angry!’ seems unacceptable” (Page 55).

If I was smiling, I felt guilty. If I was angry, I was upset that I couldn’t just not have a reaction to triggers.

When people ask how you are, most of the time, they just want to hear “I am good,” and move on. People are not ready to hear the true answer.

Even with grief, when you answer truthfully, people do not know how to help.

Sometimes there is nothing to do to help, and that's okay. I just wanted to express how I was really feeling without the awkward conversation of people trying to help me when I did not want or need help.

“Showing up sounds simple [but…] we have offered to help, but they haven’t called, so we stay home. We figure they have other, closer friends who are taking care of them and that they wouldn't want us around since we don't know them well. We think they probably just want their privacy to be left alone. We are simply afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. [...] ‘We are here for you, whatever you need, just ask,’ it wasn't helpful. Often they were hurt when I didn’t ask, and then I needed to manage those tensions in our relationship in addition to everything else we were dealing with” (Page 70-71).

Grief is just so lonely because everyone assumed we wanted to be left alone, but sometimes being alone left the loudest silence to fill with dark and sad thoughts. I wanted a distraction, but not many came.

“Grief is incredibly, relentlessly lonely” (Page 78).

“I felt like I had ‘the woman whose baby died’ emblazoned across my forehead” (Page 105).

“We want the world to stop and take notice. That’s what a blog post written by a grieving person is meant to do. [...] It’s a grieving person’s invitation to the world to stop, at least for a moment, to remember and be sad with her. It is grief in search of companionship” (Page 121).

“Most of us are humbled as we remember life before- before the loss that changed everything about our lives, before we knew how much it mattered that every person in our world at least acknowledge our loss. This realization serves to diffuse our simmering anger and indignation” (Page 175).

Some of the things I learned from this book, I already knew about. There were many examples and real stories shared that it made me feel less alone.

I would suggest not reading it when you are grieving yourself (as it could be triggering), but I would recommend this book to anyone that is supporting someone who is grieving and/or wants to be prepared for support you may provide to someone in the future.

Personally, through this grieving process and this book, the big things that stood out to me was:

  1. Show up

  2. Reach out (even if its just to say “I am thinking of you”)

  3. Fully listen and be present

  4. It is okay to ask questions, but lead with empathy in those questions (and follow the griever’s lead)


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