The first three months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven were full of social obligations.
Dominic left us in mid-April. My youngest graduated college five days after we laid Dom to rest. My eldest son graduated as a veterinarian two weeks after that. He married two months to the day from Dom’s funeral.
Friends and family members stepped up and lent a hand. Most people present were very aware of our recent loss and didn’t force small talk. My living children were amazing-flexible, supportive and loving even in their own deep sorrow.
But I’ll be honest, it’s mostly a blur.
I have photographic evidence of each event, but not a lot of personal memories.
Fast forward a few months and there are other social occasions I must attend.
By this time, for most folks, Dominic’s death was an event marked on a calendar they discarded at the end of 2014. For me, it was as fresh as ever and the pain had actually increased as the absolute truth that he was gone, gone, gone was settling in my bones.
Without a thought, people I’d known for years trotted right up and said, “How are you?” They didn’t really want to know.
They were tossing me the conversation ball in the only way they’d been taught to do it.
At that moment, I had a choice: I could give in to my inner child and shout, “How the heck do you think I’m doing???? I buried a child!!!” OR I could extend the grace I long to receive and say something more controlled and measured.
Now, I’m not nearly as grace-filled as I ought to be or long to be, but I did manage to construct some “pre-recorded” answers to that question in a sincere attempt to be kind. They continue to serve me well.
Heres how I do it:
- I give an honest, brief response that does not leave room for additional questions. Something like, “As well as you would expect” or “It’s hard, but I’m trying to hold on” or “I’m here” or “Today is a hard day” or “Today is a better day”
- I turn the conversation back to them. I might ask, “How are you and your family?” or, if I had information about a specific event or person in their family, “How is so-and-so doing?” or “I heard you had a new grandbaby-tell me about him/her!” It’s absolutely amazing how easy it is to get people to talk about themselves.
- If the person is insistent or persistent in questioning me and digging for details I politely say, “I can’t talk right now. I want to be able to enjoy the (whatever event we were attending) as best I can. Sorry.”
I also plan a physical escape route if needed:
- Whenever I enter a space, I scout the restrooms and exits so that if I need to, I can leave a conversation usually by saying I need to go to the restroom.
- I take note of who’s present and keep an eye out for a safe person I can migrate toward in a crowd.
- If it’s a sit-down event I make sure to choose a seat where I can get out without having to depend on anyone else-the end of an aisle, table near the door, etc.
- If I feel myself losing control, I try to leave before it becomes obvious to anyone else.
And I come prepared:
- I carry tissues,
- drink plenty of fluids,
- have some aspirin and usually an anxiety pill with me,
- wear one of the special pieces of jewelry my children have given me in honor of Dominic and touch it often to keep myself grounded, and
- wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
I choose a focal point if I must look in the same direction for a long period of time (like at a wedding) and force myself to consider details so my mind won’t wander as much and possibly take me places I don’t want to go.
I remind myself that when that one person I thought would be there for me and but wasn’t floats up like there’s no rift in our relationship, this is not the time nor the place to correct that.
I smile and wave and preserve the dignity of the situation.
Most of all I try to remember that the people most likely to be insensitive or rub me the wrong way are blissfully ignorant of the weight of the pain I carry. They can’t see the fragments of my shattered heart. They don’t know how much courage it takes to show up.
I thank God they don’t and pray they never do.
4 thoughts on “Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss”
Excellent suggestions, Melanie. Here’s one I use when music starts to get to me, like at church: In my head I recite social security numbers of my family, or bank account numbers, or I do math in my head. I think it gets me on the dominant side of my brain and away from the emotional side. Doesn’t always work but it is an emergency tool when I don’t want to call attention to myself by leaving the room.
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Great idea Kim! I do something similar by counting ceiling tiles or touching each finger to my thumb while counting. It does help.
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