“I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
If your baby has died, you have heard this phrase. I’ll guess you’ve heard it more than once. Maybe it was written in a sympathy card that you could barely bring yourself to open in those first days of grief. It’s what so many choose to say when they hear that someone’s baby or child has died. They say they can’t imagine, but it’s just not true.
We can all imagine what it’s like to have your child die–we just don’t want to.
To imagine having a miscarriage or a stillbirth or watching your infant die in the NICU is a horrific thought. Imagining the countless ways that a child’s life can end feels like a nightmare. No one wants to put themselves in such an awful hypothetical situation, so they don’t. Instead they say that they can’t imagine.
But the truth is, we can all imagine. We can all imagine what it’s like to have our children die and I believe that those who do dare to imagine tend to be more understanding of those who are grieving. They are the ones who regard the bereaved with empathy instead of sympathy.
The parent living without their child does not need pity, they need support.
Take a moment to imagine. It will be uncomfortable and it will cause your heart to ache, but on the other side there will be a chance to better support your loved one who is hurting.
Imagine what it’s like to find out you’re having a baby. The rush of daydreams and visions for the future. You’ve thought about names and nurseries and what life will be like with them. Then, the baby dies. With their death comes the end of all of those dreams. Imagine what that must be like.
Imagine what it’s like hold your beautiful baby. To hold them in your arms and stare down at a face more perfect than you ever imagined. But, the baby is dead. Someone comes to the room to take them away and you know that when that door closes you will never hold your baby again. Imagine what that must be like.
Imagine what it’s like to go back to life after your baby is born. You return to work or go out to run errands, prepared to see the people who knew you were expecting a baby. But, there is no more baby. Your arms are empty and the people you encounter don’t really know what to say. So, they pretend that you were never expecting a baby. They act as if the baby never existed because they don’t want to hurt you. But, you hurt anyway. Imagine what that must be like.
It is possible to imagine what it’s like to have your baby die–it’s just that no one wants to.
No one wants to think about babies dying and dreams ending. Just contemplating such heartbreak feels a bit like agony. That’s why so many don’t want to imagine. That’s why they don’t want to hear stories of babies who die and parents who are forced to endure life without them. These stories are just too painful.
Imagine how painful it would be if it actually happened to you because that’s all you have to do is imagine.
The parents whose babies have died–they are living it. They don’t have to imagine what it’s like, but they do imagine what life would be like if their babies had lived.
The next time you come across a story about someone’s baby dying or you hear about it happening to someone you know, take a moment to imagine. Even though it’s scary and even though it’s heartbreaking, take a moment to lean into those feelings. Your imagination is just a sliver of the reality they are living.
You imagined for a moment what these families will live for a lifetime.
It takes courage for us to imagine such a nightmare. But, the courage it took for you to simply imagine, that’s just a whisper of the courage it takes a grieving parent to live everyone’s worst nightmare.
Imagine what it must be like to be so brave.