Talking to a Bereaved Parent
Most people know someone who’s lost a child, but we don’t necessarily always know how to talk to them about their child. Mothers are continuing to suffer alone when it comes to the loss of their child, whether it be through miscarriage or through infant loss. If we don't continue to talk about the loss, it's always going to feel shameful and awkward.
My dear cousin, Elaine, lost her child when he was just 58 days young. She was beyond thrilled and thankful to hear that I wanted to share Gus' story. She LOVES talking about Gus and wants everyone to remember and talk about him as well. I mean, why wouldn't she?! He's her son and will always be a part of her!
In the fall of 2018, after deciding to take a break from trying, Elaine and Tyler found out they were expecting their first baby! The first few months of their pregnancy were filled with hours of imagining what their little boy or girl would be like, what he/she would do in life and how they would roll their eyes as a teenager. As friends and family celebrated and gifted them with first-time parenting advice, Tyler and Elaine couldn't wait to see their son or daughter at their 20-week ultrasound. The morning of their ultrasound, Tyler had made plans for them to celebrate putting all of their fears of the unknown behind them in hopes that they were going to receive news that there was nothing wrong. Elaine exclaimed that, as always, it was amazing to see their bundle of joy and anxiously waited for the results. A few minutes later, the nurse practitioner delivered the news and their worst fears were confirmed. The back of their son's brain was undeveloped and the fluid buildup on his brain was causing his head to grow at an exponential rate. No one new why it happened or what it meant, but what it did mean, was that their lives were changed forever. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but this little boy that they already loved so much, was about to take them on the most wonderful adventure of their lives. The next few months were a blur of doctor's appointments, specialist visits and unanswered questions. Along the way, Tyler and Elaine met so many wonderful people. The doctors and nurses treated and cared for them as if they were family and that Gus was their own. At around 27 weeks gestation, Gus' head was growing so fast that he would need to be born soon so it didn't put Elaine's health in jeopardy. Still with no answers, they readied themselves for any amount of time that they would have with their son. At 2am on March 1st, Elaine held her baby boy for the first time, wondering if this would be the last day that she got to hold him. She remained calm in knowing that God's plan was much bigger. Gus came into this world angrily and shocking everyone around him. He needed minimal interventions and was breathing on his own. Elaine says, "One of my favorite memories was to give Gus a bath. Most babies hate them, but Gus loved it! For some time, this made us feel like normal parents taking care of our normal baby." Gus was getting stronger and healthier by the day and the only thing keeping him from going home was eating. He was refusing the bottle, so the decision was made to put in a feeding tube. Later that night, Tyler and Elaine got the worst call of their lives. Gus kept going into cardiac arrest. As they raced through the hospital to be with Gus, they prayed and prayed. They watched the most incredible team of nurses and doctor's fight for Gus' life, but code after code, Tyler and Elaine decided that it was time for Gus to be with God and held him through his last breath, singing "You Are My Sunshine".
Elaine explains that, "since Gus left us, we have seen a side of humanity a very small amount of people get to experience. We have been surrounded with so much love and support, more than we could have ever imagined. Being the mother of a little boy who is no longer on this earth has definitely come with its challenges, with how to answer when asked if you have kids, how to respond when you mention your C-section to someone who knows you don't have kids and how to share Gus' story without feeling bad you have to upset those around you. Something that people often tell me is that they don't want to upset me by discussing Gus. What they DON'T know is that talking about Gus only brings me joy. I love to talk about my son. The best way I have to describe Gus' life is that he was one of the best and hardest things I have ever done. Sadly, because he is no longer with us, it feels as though this incredible thing I did, didn't actually happen. When people ask me about Gus, it brings me SO much happiness. The hardest part for me is that I never want to cause anyone grief. I don't want to blindside anyone who asks me why I haven't had kids yet or make someone sad by telling them my son is in heaven and I think that this is something that I will always improve on. If I could give anyone advice on how to speak to someone who has lost a child, I would tell them to just listen. Listening is one of the greatest gifts that you can give someone."
First, grief is not a communicable disease, so treat the parents like normal people! They may cry to you, but that is all part of the healing process. Having someone there willing to listen and grieve with, will help exponentially. Just knowing that you care, is everything.
Secondly, love never dies. Bereaved families will never stop loving and thinking about their child. They want to talk normally about and hear their child's name just as much as parents with living children do. Maybe you could include their child's name in holiday conversation, wish them a happy birthday every year or simply let them know that you're thinking about their child in that moment!
Thirdly, a bereaved parent may know the deepest of sorrows, but they also know of unspeakable joy! Because someone has lost their child, it does not mean that their life is lacking happiness and joy. It's actually the opposite. It may take some time, but a bereaved parent lives in a deeper place. Because they've grieved and have experienced the loss of a child, the joy they feel is much deeper, intense and more meaningful. My cousin, Elaine, has crawled her way out of the depth of an unimaginable pain and sorrow, and because of this, she is so much stronger and fully embraces the meaning of life.
So, all in all friends, treat every parent as a normal parent and embrace their children, whether they are living or not!