“They can’t seem to understand what I am going through.”
“I am never going to be the same person I was – “
“They should stop trying to push me to get back to normal!”
“They don’t know what this feels like and will never understand!”
“I feel like I have to take care of my (family member) because whenever we talk about my child, they completely fall apart. I don’t get a chance to express MY feelings.”
Many times, a grieving parent will tell us that their friendships or family relationships have become more difficult after their child has died.
Misunderstanding by friends and family are very common after a death, especially after the loss of child. Death and grief can push a stable foundation off balance. Changing roles and dynamics often clash with different ways of grieving, confusion, anger and sadness.
One of the first things we can try to think about when dealing with a friend or family member is- what was our relationship like with them before our child died? Often the relationship has not changed but the circumstances have. We expect that the person will accept a greater role than they know how which can be extremely difficult and can add pain to what is already excruciating. “Can’t my (family member) understand that what I need is support and not advice?” Sadly, they may not be capable of providing that. You may need to ASK for support. Or, seek out others who can provide what you need- such as other friends, a counselor or support group.
Another common issue is that a friend or family member who used to be close to you is now completely absent. How can it be that someone who was very involved in your life and your child’s life can no longer care? Generally, they DO care- it’s that they are having difficulty dealing with the situation and the grief themselves, and they may not know the best way to support you. Grief is also painful on many levels and they may want to avoid the trauma or be terrified about losing their own child(ren); they may not want to say the wrong thing, so they choose to say nothing out of fear.
Well-meaning friends and family may push you to return to “normal,” because they may think it is best for you. There is no way they could ever understand that your normal has been shattered and will never be the same, no matter how loving and supportive they are. They probably have not, and hopefully will never, experienced the death of their child.
As difficult as it is, it is important for you to set limits with these well-meaning loved ones. Let them know what you can and can’t do right now. Don’t be afraid to change your mind and leave a restaurant, the grocery store, a party or any place that you cannot tolerate.
You don’t need to give an explanation or excuse, simply say “I am sorry, but I need to leave now.” The life-long family traditions that are essential for the whole family to follow may no longer work for your family at this time. It is okay to start new ones, and your extended family may appreciate the freedom it gives them to make a change as well. It also does not mean, that in time you will choose to have those previous traditions return. It can be important to educate others on what your needs are now and explain they will most likely change over time.
Being honest with others about your needs can feel very awkward when you may have always been the caregiver, but consider sharing your needs with your loved ones, as best you can, so that they can know how to approach and support you. We may find ourselves consoling others and maybe this is a typical role we have had in our lives, however, now is not the time for you to play this part. They will often feel incredible relief to have your guidance.
Ultimately, family and friends want the best for us. They are grieving a loss and trying to wrap their minds around the how’s and whys too. There are no right or wrong answers, no playbooks to follow. Everyone reacts to grief in their own, personal ways. No one is an expert in this situation. No one can take away our pain with words or actions, but they can reduce the impact of the pain and provide the support and love needed to help us heal and achieve a new normal.