Seeking Validation as a Grieving Parent and Extending Compassion as a Peer
Yesterday, while sitting at my daughter's dance class I was chatting it up with a few of my friends whose daughters take dance with mine. One of my friends was holding her seven week old son on her lap when a little girl, two years old, wandered up to check out the baby. (Little girls are magnetically attracted to babies...so am I.)
The mother of the little girl followed close behind - her older daughter was in the dance class. She was immediately apologetic for the interruption created by her young, curious toddler. With my circle of friends no apologies are warranted - we know what it is to have little ones who are curious, so innocent and spirited. We were happy to welcome the both of them.
As we engaged in small talk with the little girl's mother, the question of How many children do you have? came up.
The mother hesitated, then she explained how one of her daughters passed away four days after she was born. She would be three years old, now. She tried to back track in telling us and then tried to make light of the information she had just shared with us, complete strangers. This grieving mother was almost apologizing.
As we are mothers, ourselves, our hearts became heavy for her loss, for her sadness, for her pain...for her unfathomable void - a completely tremendous gaping hole inside of her heart.
Validation immediately came into play. I feel in my own heart that it is important to validate a mother who is grieving for her child, and to honor her baby girl. That mother was one of us in the fact that she is a mother who loves ALL of her children. Just because she buried her baby girl does NOT erase how deeply she loves her. And, I told her that.
I remember what it felt like to learn that my son had a stroke, and that he will live with the lasting neurological effects from the stroke - while it is nothing in comparison to loss of a child - it was devastating, knowing he would face struggles and endure what most don't. For years after the diagnosis I longed to have my feelings validated. Most people wanted to downplay my feelings mainly because they didn't understand them - lacking the sympathetic consciousness of my feeling of distress. Maybe, they almost feared those feelings, and shied away.
When I learn that a child has a medical condition or that a parent lost a beloved child (regardless of the age of the child or the circumstances) my compassion-mode kicks in strong. It should. As a mother I love my children, that will NEVER stop. Not even in dying.
What I have learned over the years is that people, when they feel great sadness and despair, over a loss want to be validated. A way for a person who has not been through such a loss can do this is by being compassionate - show sympathy and concern.
Don't fret over what you think you should say; simply be present, actively listen, and acknowledge what is being shared with you.
Another important act is to not abandon the person who is grieving because you feel uncomfortable.
With a sudden distraction by another mother/acquaintance of another little dancer, the mother of the little wandering toddler quickly ran off after her, disappearing as quickly as she had appeared (anyone who has a toddler knows what I am talking about).
Before I left, I made it a point to find her to thank her for telling us about her daughter, as it was terribly difficult for her.
I expressed to her, with a smile, that any time she wants to talk - in between chasing after her toddler - we were there; we won't shy away from her.
*This post is dedicated to my friends who have lost a child.