Knowing what to say to someone after the death of their child can be challenging. It’s important to have open conversations with parents to make them feel supported and less alone when they are going through the unimaginable. In this blog, mum, Lorna, talks to us about her beautiful daughter Essie and how to approach these difficult conversations.
Tell us about yourself and your daughter Essie
I am Lorna and Mummy to triplets born at 32 weeks old: Roman, Essie and Eva. Essie suffered a brain injury at birth which meant she was severely disabled (limited sight, limited hearing, no movement as quad CP, severe epilepsy and non-communicative). Essie was on oxygen and a feeding tube her whole life. We were told Essie was life limited at 11 days old, but our little lady came home from hospital at 12 weeks old and fought every day to give us – and her triplet brother and sister – 18 months of precious and priceless memories.
When somebody meets a bereaved parent for the first time after the death of their child, what should they say or ask?
Ask how they are. Ask about their child. Ask what their child’s name is. Ignore the tears that will sting their eyes and just keep talking. Saying nothing as you don’t want to “make things worse” or remind them of their pain is not the best thing to do. Silence is terrifying and we feel lonely and isolated already, as we know that we’ve been through something that most people are too terrified to even imagine. But it’s our reality and the death of our child is something we will have to live with for the rest of our lives.
What’s something they shouldn’t say?
“I’m sorry”. This shuts downs the conversation and means we have to say “thank you, it’s ok” when in reality, it’s not ok but that’s just how we’re expected to act out of politeness.
“At least you have…” or “lucky you have…” followed by the name of any other child we might have. We aren’t lucky, we don’t have at least another child. We are going through a truly awful situation that will stay with us forever. Don’t diminish the memories that we have and want to protect.
“You’re so strong. I couldn’t cope with what you’re going through.” I’m not strong, I have no choice but to live and make precious memories in my daughter’s name. We know how awful our situation is, it’s honestly something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But don’t call us strong. We will have many days where we have to fake our ability to cope, for fear of completely crumbling and not being able to function.
When Essie died, what did your friends do that really helped you?
So many things, which might seem little but meant so much. We had people cook meals and leave them on our doorstep. Friends sent regular messages that didn’t need any answers. Even to say “I have no idea what to say, but know I’m thinking about you”. I remember the people that kept in contact and didn’t run away from our reality, as unfortunately not everyone did this. We felt our situation was too horrid for some people to comprehend and face.
If somebody doesn’t know what to say, they could start with…
Tell me their name and a memory you have.
If a parent is returning to work, what advice would you give to their colleagues?
Don’t avoid the elephant in the room. Ask us about our child and say that life can be cruel. Let us cry freely and know that tears will spontaneously fall without notice.
Always keep talking when the tears fall. There will be a lot of tears. Many a morning I’d be on the train to work with tears falling down my cheeks uncontrollably as I’d thought of a memory (there are lots of flashbacks), or heard a sound or song, or felt a huge wave of sadness engulf me.
Please know that our grief is forever. We never get over it. We just learn to adjust. Time isn’t a healer.
Remember the dates that matter – the child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, what should have been their first day at school. We have constant daily reminders of what we don’t have. Pregnancy announcements are hard but shouldn’t be hidden. Think about trigger warnings that people might need to be protected from. I really had a tough time for many years seeing anyone with three kids, as it felt like a punch to the stomach and such a visual reminder of what I no longer had.
The struggle of the first year is real. We don’t know what we’re facing and how we’ll respond and feel. Give us space and time to learn how to live and adjust to our new normal. But always keep talking to us and invite us along to things, even if we’re not ready to go.