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Feb 12 2014

17 Things to Say to Someone Who’s Lost a Child

By at 3:21 pm

17 Things to Say to Someone Who's Lost a Child

What do you say to someone who’s lost a child? I’ve thought about this from both sides, and I get asked often enough that I might as well write down my thoughts in case they’re useful. This might be a bit specific towards parents who have lost an infant, but I’d guess that a lot of this translates pretty well across all sorts of grief. So, my standard advice goes something like this:

1. Say something. So many people don’t say anything because they’re afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing, but there’s really no *right* thing. Nothing is going to make things *right*. So say something.

2. If you don’t know what to say, try “that sucks.” Really. You don’t have to have something deeply insightful to say, and everyone else is trying to fix the unfixable. Recognition that it sucks is meaningful.

3. Make food for the person. This seems to be universal around tragedies… somehow, it’s just hard to handle the day-to-day. Make food and drop it off. My suggestion is not to ask, because people will often say no out of some sort of guilt. But some people might get upset if they said no and then you did it anyway, so just don’t ask.

4. If it’s someone you’re not super close to, feel free to go above and beyond. When my son died, someone I’d never met on a poker site mailed me tasty BBQ from his hometown because it was his comfort food. I still tear up thinking about that. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 11 2014

My Daughter’s Birth Left Me Scarred, But How Can I Grieve?

By at 4:04 pm

candle

My daughter’s birth was complicated. The morning after I had my baby, a post-partum nurse asked how I was feeling. I made the mistake of answering honestly: The birth left a bright pink scar skidding across my pelvis, and other people’s blood pumping through my veins. After a long labor, my daughter’s heart rate decelerated. It was not rebounding. I had to be rushed in for a Cesarean section under general anesthesia. The last thing I remember was staring up into the ceiling light in the operating room, crying quietly. My husband had not been admitted into the OR; he was left alone in a room somewhere to wait. My daughter was pulled out of me, and born into the hands of strangers. The doctors called my husband in while they were sewing me back together. My husband saw and held our baby first; I didn’t meet her for endless hours. It took a while longer before I was functional enough to attempt breastfeeding. The transfusion I needed caused other issues.

My daughter was fine and thriving.

I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2013

A New Website That Gets Real About Grief

By at 12:19 pm
moderloss

Gabrielle Birkner (left) and Rebecca Soffer (right)

 

When my father died just over a year ago, I was struck by how lonely the experience was. Even though I found myself surrounded by family and friends, all reeling from the same massive loss, I felt isolated from everyone. There were taboo issues no one could bear to talk about, bizarre dreams, poorly-timed emotional outbursts, and on top of all of it, very young children who needed my attention. It was–and often still is–a really dark time. Gabrielle Birkner and Rebecca Soffer, two women who lost parents as young adults, can relate. They’ve just launched Modern Loss, a website that promises “candid conversations about grief” along with essays, resources, how-to’s, links, events, news, and “ways to connect” with others who are grieving. Both Birkner and Soffer are about to give birth, but they took time to talk with me about loss, legacy, and living with grief, every day.

What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about grief?

GB: One misconception is that a catastrophic event changes who you are. Yes, it changes your circumstances; it changes how you feel, what you need, and, perhaps, what you prioritize. But I am fundamentally still me, and want, essentially, the same things out of life as I did before my father and stepmother were killed. When those three women in Cleveland were freed after years of being held captive, Jaycee Dugard–another kidnapping survivor–said: “This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them.” I found that very profound. A trauma need not define your life.

RS: A big misconception is that there’s some magical 365-day period when the grief is the worst and on Day 366, you wake up and look in the mirror and suddenly feel differently. You don’t necessarily. And sometimes it gets progressively worse long after that time before getting better. And that’s totally cool. Because it really will. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 23 2013

On Losing My Mother & The Lesson of “And”

By at 10:19 am
rachel hochheiser schwartz and mom

My mom and I, pregnant with my firstborn.

It all started with a Groupon. I had bought it months earlier for a mani/pedi and massage at a favorite salon. As I do with every Groupon, I didn’t use it until I realized it was about to expire and then I made an appointment for the expiration date, May 15, 2012. It was a Tuesday, but I didn’t want to miss out on using it and with my daughter’s 2nd birthday two days later and me being 33 weeks pregnant, I decided to take the entire day off to get pampered, treat myself to a nice lunch, and take care of the party preparation.

That day, the one scheduled based on an expiring Groupon, was what I came to think of as my last happy day.

On May 16, 2012, as I was driving home from a play date that had followed a swim lesson for my daughter and her friend, I received a call. The caller ID read Mom, but it wasn’t her. It was her colleague calling from her office. My mom, a psychologist, hadn’t shown up for work and her colleague couldn’t reach her since she had been on the phone with her three hours earlier and the call had suddenly dropped. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 29 2013

How to Help a Recently-Widowed Parent

By at 12:32 pm

how to help recently widowed parentAbout a month ago, one of my husband’s closest friends lost his father. As so many deaths go, this one was one of those that happened too soon and left little time for his family to contemplate and digest what was about to happen to their family and to say goodbye. A gorgeous, sentimental obit appeared on Facebook thereafter, and my husband, Heath, quickly hopped a flight to support his friend through the trauma, albeit necessary and cathartic, of burying a parent.

Naturally, Heath remained in touch with his friend over the next weeks to see how he was doing. After one late-night conversation, Heath asked me if I wouldn’t mind calling his friend to suggest “what to do with his mother.” As if I were some expert on how to handle the parent who survives? I immediately bristled and went to bed before I could compose a single thought about “what to do” with the parent who just lost the love of her life, and who, it seems in the moment, won’t be able to survive the death of her soulmate.

I still haven’t called our friend. But I’ve been thinking about him, and his mother, for weeks. In these weeks, I’ve also been thinking about whether I’ve done my part in helping my own mother survive my beloved dad’s passing (it was six years ago this past June). I can’t say I’ve been as dutiful as maybe I should have been. Read the rest of this entry →

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