My mom has always made comments to the effect that I'm lucky my baby died as an infant and that it would be worse if he had been 4 or 14 or 34. This makes me feel like my grief isn't valid and that I'm crazy for feeling so sad. Is there anything I can say to my mom to stop these hurtful comments? I'm not very strong when it comes to sticking up for my feelings.
From Ann Douglas . . .
Despite what some people would have you believe, there's no "right" time to lose a child. The fact that you lost your child in infancy doesn't make your loss any less painful than it would have been if you had lost your child in an automobile accident at age 18 or to a heart attack at age 45 -- or much later on in life, for that matter. While parents of older children grieve the loss of shared memories, you grieve the loss of the memories that will never be.
I would encourage you to be open with your mother about how her comments make you feel. Have a heart-to-heart discussion or, if it's easier, write her a letter explaining your feelings. Sometimes people who haven't had first-hand experience with the death of a child simply don't understand that their efforts to try to cheer us up by telling us how "lucky" we are not to have experienced some other sort of death don't make us feel better. Instead, they make us feel that the other person is trying to minimize our loss. Once your mother has a chance to see things from your perspective, hopefully she will stop making insensitive comments.
Since I have lost two babies and a teenage son, I can certainly relate to the question. First, grief cannot be measured. Please give yourself permission to grieve. My definition is grief is the process of facing the death of a dream. Your dream was just as real as one who lost an older child. I have noticed that people around us want to do anything they can to help us get "over" our grief. We know that we will never be "over" it, but our friends and family will most likely always hope they can talk us out of being sad or of hurting so much.
I think the best thing to say to your mother is the truth, "I feel like you are trying to minimize my loss, and it doesn't help me. Please validate my loss and my grief by just giving me time to work through this at my own pace."
I have learned that the hardest thing about losing a little one is you don't have a stockpile of memories. I have also learned that the hardest thing about losing a teenager is you have a stockpile of memories.
She is rationalizing - trying to explain why you hurt and she hurts. Or maybe she wants so badly for you to not hurt that she wishes you would believe that it shouldn't hurt so much, then maybe it wouldn't. Or she has bought in to the age old, but slowly changing belief, that babies are not as real as 4 year olds, that one should be able to get over them faster.
In all cases no one, not even your beloved mom, knows exactly what you are feeling. She and others may not understand the importance of grieving and mourning, which are the key to your healing over time. Putting the loss down, pretending or hoping it was not so "significant" does not make it so. You are right to feel what you feel. That is not crazy, it is grief. According to pastor and author of Don't Take my Grief Away, Doug Manning, "Grief is not an enemy; it is a friend. It is a natural process of growing, standing up to the pain and others and saying, 'Don't take my grief away from me. I deserve it and I'm going to have it.'"
He's right - if you can't say it, write it. Send your loved one a note explaining what helps and what does not. You may do this as kindly and lovingly as you can, but be clear. You could write something like, "Comments such as those do not help and in fact hurt more. Please let me feel what I feel and do what I must do in order to live through this horrendously painful tragedy. No one will replace this baby. And besides, is it the length or the size of the body that determines how much love is present in one's heart? Does the degree of suffering and support correlate with how long you have known someone? Or is love just love - as deep as the sea sometimes, from the moment of falling for someone - even a baby we never met physically but longed for forever. When we love someone no matter how long, our deep sadness and anguish cannot be measured, just as our love for them cannot be measured. Please, don't take my grief away from me. I deserve it and I'm going to need it in order to heal."
Telling someone with a broken leg that it would hurt worse if both legs were broken does not make the leg that is broken hurt any less. Unfortunately, some people use a similar reasoning when trying to comfort parents who have lost a child by telling them that it would have been worse if the child had been older. Whether or not that is true is irrelevant. It simply does not matter. What does matter is your pain and sorrow. No one has the right to tell you when it is acceptable to grieve, or when the loss has been enough to warrant pain and sorrow. Only your heart knows that answer.
One possible approach in dealing with your mother's comments would be to tell her that you know she is trying to help, but those comments are hurtful. You do not expect her to understand your grief, but even though your child died as an infant it still hurts. Even if it would have been worse at 4, 14, or 34 that does not matter. All that matters is what you are feeling now and how your heart is broken. The fact remains that the child you love dearly is gone.
Perhaps you could also mention that you wish you had all those years of memories to hold onto instead of just the ones you have. (A mother who lost a 27-year-old daughter told me that she wished I had more memories of my son instead of just a few days of them. She expressed how glad she was that she had 27 years worth of memories of her daughter.)
Unfortunately, there is the possibility the comments will continue even after you tell your mother your feelings about them. Some people continued to make similar comments to me even after I tried to explain how hurtful they were. I decided that I could not control their statements but I could choose to walk away, ignore them, or explain yet again why it still hurts. It has been four years since my son died and occasionally someone will comment I am lucky he died as a newborn and I am in the position again where I have to make the decision how to respond. It is not an easy decision to make. My thoughts are with you as you grapple with the issue.
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