To The Person Who Gave Me Advice On My Grief–Here’s What You Need To Know

To the person who gave me advice on my grief--here's what you need to know.

When someone is grieving, people want to offer support.  Instead, they offer advice. 

Advice is not always supportive.  Especially if the person offering the advice has never been through the same experience as the person they are trying to support. 

I once had a conversation with a family member who felt like they were helping.  They had a lot to tell me about how they thought I was handling the stillbirth of my daughter.  In the course of a very hurtful conversation they shared with me that I was dwelling on Dorothy’s death, I was letting negativity swallow me whole, and I had lost the ability to recognize goodness in the world.  They also wanted to remind me that my daughter’s death did not define me and that I should just let it go.

I know what you’re thinking–yikes (or something a little more explicit).  I felt that way too. 

That conversation was the first time that I felt like I was doing this “grief thing” all wrong.  I know that person wanted to be supportive, but instead they left me doubting myself.

“Do I dwell on Dorothy’s death?”  

“Have I let negativity swallow me whole?”  

“Have I lost the ability to recognize goodness in the world?”  

“Have I let Dorothy’s death define who I am?” 

By giving me advice, they hoped to give me a sense of closure.  All they gave me were questions.  

So, here are my answers.

“Do I dwell on Dorothy’s death?”  

In the literal sense of the word, yes.  I do dwell on Dorothy’s death.  The definition of the word dwell means to keep the attention directed on or upon a topic OR to speak or write insistently on a topic.  I definitely do that.  

But, I ask you, what parent doesn’t dwell on their child?  

What parent’s mind is not focused their child?  What parent does not speak insistently about their own amazing, incredible child?  

Am I not to be afforded that same privilege because Dorothy isn’t here with me? 

I’m quite comfortable with how much I share about Dorothy and I guarantee I will dwell on Frances as well.  I also like to think I figuratively dwell in Dorothy’s memory.  Her memory is a comforting blanket that I like to snuggle into and live inside of.

“Have I let negativity swallow me whole?”  

In a way, yes, I have.  This will come as a surprise to no one, but there is a lot of negativity associated with the death of a child, or any loved one for that matter.  There is nothing positive about watching your daughter be carried away by a nurse, knowing you will never look upon her face again.  There is no positive aspect to signing the paperwork of what to do with your daughter’s remains.  There are no positive memories associated with returning home without your child in your arms. 

The death of a child is a negative experience.  

And in order to find the gifts that Dorothy’s death has left us with, Mike and I had to walk through the negative.  We had to let it consume us and we had to consume it.  That’s how we got through to the side where the joy could be found.

“Have I lost the ability to recognize goodness in the world?”  

Absolutely not.  Anyone who truly knows me that underneath my cynicism and raised eyebrows is a person who loves her life.  There is so much goodness in this world-watching my students the first time they realize they are reading, when Edie shows me her furry belly so that I may rub it or the cover of an Ina Garten cookbook.  I love the way the sun shines on the beautiful floors of my home, anytime Mike smiles at me in that way, or the opening credits of a John Hughes movie.  

These moments of goodness still exist, but there are days when my child’s death is bigger than all of those moments.  There is no goodness in her absence.

I still see the goodness in others and I am constantly thinking of ways to recognize the goodness of those who have supported us.  I have seen your goodness, your kindness, and your love.  

“Have I let Dorothy’s death define who I am?”  

Yes and I’m okay with that.  I will never stop feeling the pain of my daughter’s death and I’ve accepted that.  I will always feel pain, because I will always feel love.  My love for Dorothy hurts because I have to settle for sending it out into the void instead of wrapping her up and whispering it into her ear.  She will never see me write my love in a birthday card or hear me profess my love at the end of a phone call.  That’s why it hurts so much.  It hurts so much because I’ve never seen my daughter with her eyes open.  She never felt my kisses on her forehead or the weight of my arms around her tiny body.  

I have all this love for her that she will never consciously know but that won’t stop it.  

Dorothy’s birth and death are a part of who I am.  They are defining moments in my life, just the way that I know Frances’ birth will add to the definition of who I am.  

Dorothy made me a mother; a bereaved mother, but a mother all the same. Dorothy opened the door to a world I didn’t want to enter, but now that I’m here I owe it to her and myself to live in this world honestly and openly.  I know that not everyone agrees with my beliefs on this.  I know they may seem extreme. I am not asking people to agree with my grief or to truly understand it. 

The feeling of losing a child is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been there.  

I need the support of those who are willing to love me and care for me when I’m not easy to love or care for. I know it hasn’t been easy to be my friend or loved one these past 10 months.  I’m sure at times it has been exhausting and depressing.  It’s been that way for me too and I’m so grateful to those who can be there for me.  

I am grateful to those who understand the difference between advice and support.

Photo by Eunice Lituañas on Unsplash

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