This is such an emotional and slightly awkward topic that I’m not sure how to start. Should I be blunt and just say I have a dead kid? Make it sound peaceful and say my child is in Heaven? As much as someone who hears this probably gets nervous, I do just as much.
At the dentist, getting my nails done, meeting new people, often times the fact that I have a son who has passed away (how’s that one sound?) ends up coming up in the conversation. I worry about it often because it’s not something most people are prepared to handle talking about. Should you be overly sympathetic? Ignore it?
See, now I’m unsure of how to handle this just talking to you guys. Er, let’s just jump to my story.
I got pregnant senior year of high school. A few months into my pregnancy the doctor noticed that my son’s head was much larger than it should have been. First they thought he had Down syndrome, but eventually ruled that out. After a few months the verdict was, “Well, we don’t know what’s wrong but something sure ain’t right.”
I ended up having an emergency c-section at 34 weeks. I kept waiting to hear him cry but never did. Thankfully they were able to help him breathe. The next 3 months were spent in the NICU. Multiple heart surgeries, infections, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, stomach surgery. It was incredibly difficult trying to be a mom when I lived 2 hours away from the hospital.
But at the end of those 3 months, David came home. It was scary but absolutely wonderful. He still was being fed with a feeding tube, and I had to give him shots daily, all the while living with just my parents (the father was never in the picture). But my gosh how I cherished those moments.
One day in February, my mom, David, and I came home from some shopping. As I was pulling out his car seat, I noticed he wasn’t breathing. I yelled at my mom and I took him inside. Since he had stayed at the NICU I got trained in CPR. I started right away, not even really thinking about what was happening. We’d had so many scares before, gone through so much, there was no way he wouldn’t be fine.
Three ambulances, two fire trucks and two cop cars pulled to our house and tried to stick a tube down his throat but they were having trouble. They headed for the hospital, my mom and myself following behind at an overly illegal speed. I rushed into the ER and told them they had just taken my baby by ambulance. A woman rushed me into a small room with a few chairs.
We waited. My mom was with me, and this lady said a few prayers. I told her I wasn’t worried, he’d been in the hospital many times.
The doctor came in.
“We tried everything we could.”
“No. NO!” I screamed at her. “NO!” There had to be some mistake! My son, my baby, he can’t be gone. He was just here! Everything had been going fine! I yelled and cried, pounding my fists onto the chairs. Everything I was living for, what my whole life revolved around, was suddenly taken from me.
Everybody deals with death differently, and I think that’s a very important fact to always keep in mind when talking to someone who’s lost a child.
I asked to see him and they let me. He looked so peaceful, as if he were sleeping.
Everybody deals with death differently, and I think that’s a very important fact to always keep in mind when talking to someone who’s lost a child. What people are looking for you to say may also change depending on their stage of grief. Often I’ve seen the best thing to say to someone who’s lost a child recently is “I have no idea what you’re going through, and I’m so sorry. But I’m here whenever you need someone to talk to.” You’re not claiming to know how they feel — you’re sympathetic, and you’re offering to be there if they need you.
For someone like myself where it’s been a few years, I prefer for someone to say they’re sorry and then move on to something else, since talking about it is sad and often involves a detailed conversation as to how he died (Which I forgot to mention earlier — because he was in the NICU the doctors forgot to test him for certain things. Turned out he had Galactosemia, and thus shouldn’t have been having milk. It’s painful to know that every time I fed him I was making him worse). But this is more of something to play by ear. Some people may want to talk openly about their child, but others like myself may prefer to just drop the subject. Usually just start with “I’m sorry.” If they start into their story after saying thank you, you’ll know they want to talk about it. If not, just move on to something else.
Dealing with baby loss on holidays
Handling Mother’s Day and the child’s birthday is another thing that will vary from person to person. For myself, I love being acknowledged as a mom. And for my son’s birthday, I usually eat cake and visit his grave.
I guess the bottom line is, if a mother has lost a child, never assume she’ll act the same as someone else in the same situation. The best thing I personally think you can do is to ask them what they want. I wish I had a sign on me that said “By the way, I’ve lost a kid. It’s sad and I miss him, and you can ask me briefly about him, but then let’s change the subject, ‘k?”