Last week I wrote about some strategies I employ when in a social situation: Surviving Social Situations After Child Loss.
But if you are the friend, family member or acquaintance milling around who bumps into me or spies me across the room, here are some things you can do and say that will help me as well:
Be aware that the greeting, “How are you?” sometimes feels like a challenge instead of an invitation. I’m scrambling for words to express my true condition without ruining the mood of the gathering. It would be so much better if you simply said, “Hello” or “I’m happy to see you” without additional comments about how long it’s been.
Don’t pose or push for answers to questions that are primarily designed to satisfy your own curiosity. If I give a brief reply, take the hint and move on. If I say I can’t talk about it, drop the subject. If I turn the conversation back to you, pick it up and carry the ball. Public spaces are not the place to try to draw me out. If you are concerned about me or want to REALLY know how I’m doing, take me to lunch or bring me dinner or invite me out for coffee.
Notice my body language. If I am fidgeting or hugging myself or backing away or crossing my arms it’s time to let me go. I may hold my tongue but my body will give you abundant clues that I’m nearly at my limit for social interaction. Give me permission to end the conversation and preserve my dignity.
Hugs are almost always wonderful. Physical touch conveys love and compassion without requiring any response. If you know me well enough to hug me or squeeze my hand, please do.
Don’t corner me-physically, emotionally or spiritually. Backing me into a tight space makes me feel trapped. If I’m on the end of a pew or aisle, don’t ask me to scoot down so you can join me. I’m there in case I need to make an exit. Don’t stand too close to me while we’re talking-my need for adequate personal space has greatly increased since Dominic ran ahead to heaven. Don’t throw Bible verses at me or ask me how Jesus is meeting me in my sorrow. These are things we can talk about together, in private, in a way that makes space for me to be honest and express emotion without fear of embarresment.
Don’t make comparisons between my missing child and person featured in the wedding, baby shower or engagement party we are attending. Trust me, I’ve already done the math. I already know the distance between Dominic’s homegoing and this day. I am already mourning one more thing I’ll never get to see him do.
Please don’t use this time to tell me about another bereaved mother you “just want to introduce to me”. I am open and willing to walk with others on this journey, but this is not the time nor the place to put me on the spot. If you know of another mom that needs my help, write me a note, give me a call or text me.
If I leave a room, don’t follow (unless you are a very close friend). Let me go. I will return if I can and if I can’t, I won’t. Text me if you’re concerned. If I come back, let me slip in without any fanfare.
If I cry, hand me a tissue or a handkerchief. Don’t ask, “What’s wrong?” Besides the obvious, I may not have an answer for you.
Please help me move conversation along when I lose my train of thought or seem at a loss for words. Grief makes it hard to think sometimes, especially when in a crowd and/or a place with lots of background noise. Give me permission to end a conversation-it probably doesn’t have a thing to do with YOU-I’m just running out of steam and need a few minutes’ respite from having to talk.
Attending social events is exhausting for me now. I want to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations-but that means a lot of people and a lot of unknowns. Dozens of potential triggers, any one of which might conjure a grief wave that can drown me.
I do what I can to be prepared.
But I’ll take all the help I can get.