I Don’t Care How Long It’s Been—Can We Talk About My Child?
Bob Baugher, Ph.D.
Since your child died, you found that your friends and relatives do not understand much of what you are going through. As the months and years have gone by, have they come to expect you to either be “somewhat better,” “much better” or even “over it”? Worse yet, have the people in your life decided it’s best not to mention the name of your child or even acknowledge that he or she lived? As you well know, the best way to help with the bereavement process is to talk about your grief, the life of your child, and what your life has now become.
What follows are some suggested steps to encourage people in your life to talk about your child: 1. Think of the people you are willing to contact to ask if they will talk about your child. 2. Decide how the contact will be made. In some cases, a text, an email, or phone call out of the blue will work. You don’t need to have a reason. Or you may want to contact some people in person. Whatever way you make your contact, the content of your request will basically be the same. 3. Your first words should go something like, “I was thinking of you the other day (you are thinking about this person now, right?) and I wanted to say a couple of things.” This introduction is a great way to get a person’s attention and to make it clear that you have a message to deliver. 4. Once you have their attention say something like, “I have three requests. Here’s my first: Sometimes when we connect, I would love it if you would mention something about my child, OK? My second request is: ask me how am I doing with my grief. Doing this will not make me feel worse. Believe it or not, it will help me in my healing. Yes, I might cry, but do not be afraid of my tears. They are steps on my long (yes, long) journey of bereavement. I will never ‘get over’ this loss. I will miss my child the rest of my life and that is OK. But you can help me on this journey. You can.” 5. Then say, “My third request is that you tell me a story about my child.” Many people have difficulty coming up with stories on the spot. To help with this, ask them to tell you a story about any of the following topics that may be related to your child’s life: ▸ Locations: vacations, shopping, school ▸ Outings: parties, picnics, concerts, sporting events ▸ Food: restaurants, particular foods, smells ▸ Organizations/groups/clubs: scouts, sports, hobbies ▸ Emotional: embarrassing moments, funniest moments ▸ Media: online social media, books, television, movies ▸ Work experiences ▸ Spiritual Beliefs: church experiences, readings, prayers ▸ Relationships with others: children, parents, spouse, siblings, friends ▸ Values observed in your child: honesty, commitment, joy of living ▸ Support given to or received from your child ▸ Possessions: pets, toys, clothing, games, car ▸ Music: favorite songs, instruments ▸ Talents ▸ Holidays In addition to stories, there is a chance that people have pictures and/or videos of your child that you never knew about. Ask. You might be surprised at what gets sent to you.
I must offer you a note of caution. Be prepared for times when you do not get the intended results. Remember, most non-bereaved people are surprised to discover that bereaved parents yearn and ache to hear stories of their child, no matter how long it has been. When I lecture on loss to my college students, I ask them, “How many of you have you had a friend die when you were growing up?” Most raise their hand. I then say, “I want you to consider contacting your friend’s parents.” You should see the shocked look on their faces. I finish with, “I want you to trust me. They will love you for this. Whenever I ask a group of parents if they would like to hear a story from a friend of their child, their hands don’t just raise, they shoot up in the air. Now, do it.”
Don’t let people’s non-compliance stop you from continuing to ask others to help you with your requests. This is a vulnerable time in your life. Only take risks like this if you think you can handle rejection. But remember, hearing the beautiful sound of your child’s name and reliving stories and pictures of his or her life can be well worth the possibility of rejection. Your precious child’s life, no matter how long or short, touched many people. As a bereaved parent, you have the right to hear from others the wonderful stories that have yet to be told. Keep asking and you may receive some precious gifts as a result of your efforts. Your child lived a life and left you with many stories. Take the risk to discover even more stories. You’ll be happy you did!