Raising Arrows author Amy wrote a post entitled How Well-Meaning People Unintentionally Hurt Those Who Grieve.
A number of years ago, Amy lost an infant daughter suddenly, from an illness that turned a corner for the worse rapidly. She lists comments or practices we should avoid around grieving parents, and in order to add my comments about grief, I feel it necessary to include her list below:
1. Not being there (Not going to the funeral or to the house afterwards)
2. Saying “it was for the best”, “she’s in a better place”, or any variation thereof
3. Trying to find someone to blame
4. Putting grief in a box (Thinking a person's grief should follow a certain pattern)
5. Not acknowledging their loss (Not bringing up the loss, or the date of death, etc.)
6. Making this about you (She means refrain from telling your own story of grief.)
7. Never being normal around them again (Don't walk on eggshells, in other words.)
I think this list illustrates how hard it is to support a grieving person. No two people are alike in grief, but I think this is a good list and one we should remember as much as possible. I am guilty of making a couple of the mistakes on the list, in regard to grieving family and friends.
First, I have talked about my own baby loss, and secondly, because of having babies and toddlers at home, I missed two funerals for two distant elderly relatives, partially because of not having a babysitter available, and the fact that they were open casket, which I don't care for with children around, especially. Also, one of the funerals was a Jehovah's Witness funeral, and there was no way I was going to allow my boys--still developing their own faith--to listen to such a sermon.
My husband and I will be cremated, and we cremated our infant son. To each his own of course, but I very much dislike open-casket funerals, despite them being the standard in our culture. Saying goodbye to an empty, dressed-up, made-up body holds no meaning for me, and I've always thought it a bazarre practice, though I'm in the minority in this view of it, considering it's been done for hundreds of years (I think?). I walk by the body out of respect, but I never linger there, and I just hope my not lingering has never hurt anyone.
For my part, I didn't mind at all when women told me their own miscarriage stories. It comforted me, rather than aggravated me. Although, I didn't want to hear about multiple miscarriages, as I still wanted the hope of another baby. At least two people told me their stories of multiple miscarriages, and that did haunt me. Try not to say anything that may rob a grieving person of hope.
As well, I didn't mind when people said my baby was in a better place, because this was a huge affirmation of my own belief. I knew the grieving was my thing (and my husband's), not my baby's. It was about our lost dreams, our lost hopes. Isn't our love far inferior to what our baby receives in Heaven? This is my perspective, but I wouldn't assume another grieving mother would feel the same, and many don't, for sure. Thus, I have never told anyone that their loved one was in a better place, and I wouldn't recommend it.
I usually just hug the grieving, and say I'm sorry for their loss. Perhaps I'm in error on this, but I think brevity is a good thing, especially right after the loss, as is sending flowers and cards and meals.
I have never made an issue in my mind about exact dates of death, but most people do, so this is important for us to remember, and to mark on our calendars for the sake of our loved ones, especially in the first two years of their grief, which are always the most intense.
The most important item on the list, in my mind? Acknowledge the loss. I personally wouldn't mind if someone missed a funeral, since people have many reasons for that, but I did get hurt when people would see me in the weeks after the loss, and never acknowledge it at all. That did hurt, and I think perhaps this would be true for 95% of grievers--that failing to acknowledge their pain is always a mistake. Even my husband--and men grieve very differently than women--disliked it when people failed to mention our loss at all. The first miscarriage occurred in the fifth month, so everyone knew we were pregnant.
This was not so with the second miscarriage, which occurred at ten weeks and was fairly private. I recognized that I was handling the second miscarriage far differently than the first, and that this fact would bring judgement upon me possibly, from those who thought all baby losses are equally as devastating. They are all devastating, but in one I faced the thought of never being a mom at all, and in the second the sadness differed--not as catastrophic, for one thing; I had two small boys at home to care for, who called me Mommy (Peter and Paul).
That said, we should never say "at least you have children at home" or something like that, because it is hurtful, as though the loss was barely a blip on our radar, which is far from true for any mom, for any baby loss.
I think, too, that grief is different for different causes of death. Accidental death, death from illness, miscarriage death, infant-loss death, and elderly-person death, all come with unique sets of issues. We have to treat each case differently, but in each case, acknowledging the loss is the most important thing.
What would you like to add, from your own experiences?