Losing my firstborn was the most life-altering experience I've ever had. It started out as intense pain, a shock that did not allow me to believe in the reality even after I had physically buried my son, then continued as physical pain when my breasts were engorged with milk which my child was no longer around to drink and continued as a deep feeling of loss, which, at that time, made me wonder if there was even a purpose to my life.
My little angel Alistair had arrived early, at 34 weeks, in very traumatic circumstances, after three almost-miscarriages. He died in a flash when he was at his healthiest, after gaining 3 times his birth weight within 3.5 months of being born. It happened so quickly that everything seemed to have ended in a moment, and life for me came to a standstill. It took me more than 2 years after his death to muster up the courage to put down what I actually felt, when that ill-fated incident happened in my family.
When I look back now at the events that followed afterwards, I only wish that no one I know ever has to go through this. If I had to sum up my feelings in the first few days, even upto a year after losing my firstborn, they would mostly comprise extreme sadness, rage, frustration and yes, overwhelming guilt. It does get better with time and it is helpful if you have another child quickly (at least it helped me), but happiness and closure don't seem even remotely possible during the early days of loss. At that time, life simply stops making sense.
Some of those feelings were probably due to the inappropriate reactions from family and friends. Though many of my closest friends were empathetic, there were an equal number of people that I wanted to slap hard for their insensitivity. Even today, those people have no place in my life.
Everything I'm writing here is stuff I heard and hated. Here is what you DON'T say or do in the situation that I faced.
"Really? Are you kidding me?"
Some knee-jerk reactions that I received were these. These infuriated me. Please watch what you are saying. No one will crack a joke about their kid's death.
As someone who experienced death, I did not want to relive the incident that led to the death of my son. Yet, I was asked this question a zillion times. And I relived it a zillion times. Even though I did not want to.
Do not analyse the situation
Telling bereaved parents what they could or should have done is probably the worst thing you can do. You are not only making them feel guilty for probably not doing the right thing in the past but you're inadvertently telling them that they have been terrible parents. No one wishes the worst for their child and will do everything in their capacity to give them the best.
Getting all 'social' about it
Social media is the bane of our times, and more so in situations like these. Most people think it is an extension of life but it really isn't. Do not publicise the death of someone's child on public platforms. I couldn't imagine someone would even think of doing this until I experienced it firsthand. Word got around about Alistair and a 'helpful' friend posted about the death of my son on Facebook without informing me or asking for my permission first. People who didn't even know me or my son's existence were sending me sympathy messages on Facebook. I didn't appreciate it at all.
Please understand that grief is personal. If the grieving parent puts up updates like these on social media or any other medium, it might serve as a release for them. But it is certainly no one else's business to make a public event of their grief.
"Time heals all"/ "Let go and move on"
Parents can never heal from the death of their child. Parents never forget. Children aren't supposed to die before their parents. When someone tells me not to think of Alistair, I tell them to move on from my life because I will take my son with me everywhere I go and he is present with me in everything I do.
"I understand how it feels"
No. You can't. And I truly hope that no one ever does understand "how it feels". I wouldn't wish a loss like this on my worst enemies. No one can explain the depth of the grief you feel when you lose your child especially when you had no control over what happened to him.
I did not believe there was a god when I lost my son. Asking me to have faith in god and telling me that he will give me another child only made me angrier. How could they say I would have another child? How do they know if I would ever conceive again? And though I did have another child immediately after losing my first, I will never forget that I lost my first born. Alistair was and will remain my oldest child no matter how many kids I have in the future.
"Everything happens for a reason"
People try to make sense about the death of a child by relating it to other incidents or people. Newsflash! Life is unfair, life is unpredictable and sometimes, the worst things imaginable happen to the best people around. We haven't been able to find a reason why this happened to us even after two years after losing Alistair.
Happy New Year/ Diwali / Holi / Christmas
For bereaved parents, there are no happy occasions for a long time. So please don't wish them with these greetings for some time.
"You seem to be getting on fine"
Just because you are wearing a social mask a few days after the death of your child, it doesn't mean you are fine. How can anyone be fine? Don't offer silly platitudes that sound encouraging but only tell parents that they need to bury their grief without really taking the time to actually deal with their loss.
After a list of what not to say, here is what you can do:
Let the parents tell you what happened only if they are ready to on their own. Listen without interrupting or asking for details. Don't advice, don't judge. Just patiently hear. This is probably the most healing gift you can give to bereaved parents.