Matt Harris is co-host of The Matt and Ramona Show on 107.9 The Link. Last year, he and his wife Amy experienced the stillborn birth of their daughter. Matt wrote about that experience in this winter's edition of Little Ones Magazine. We've reprinted the piece with the magazine's permission.
In October 2008, my wife Amy was 35 weeks pregnant when we were told our baby daughter, Grayson, would not take a breath on this earth.
I keep thinking that “tomorrow” is the day I will wake up and the pain and memory of that day will be gone … but tomorrow never seems to come. I still have complete meltdowns out of seemingly nowhere. Some days are a lot closer to “normal” than others. Most days there is more laughter and joy than tears, but the tragedy still hovers over us.
Usually my articles are somewhat funny – at least that’s my hope. This time I want to use my column to educate.
In this article I want to let you know the “do’s and don’ts” of what to say to someone who has lost a child. I have been very lucky. My family and closest friends have been great. In fact, almost all of my encounters have been positive. So I know it’s possible, using a little common sense, to talk to parents in pain without saying completely moronic things. All of us in this situation know it’s hard to find the right words, so we cut you much slack. We know most people don’t want to hurt us or sound like jerks.
I have heard so many ridiculous things that were said to parents who lost a child, but I’ll just give you the five most common themes of what not to say. The following are all true things that were said to me or my new Kindermourn friends:
1. Don’t pretend nothing happened. The first face-to-face meeting with the parent must include some mention of the death. I don’t care if it’s six months down the road. Let’s not ignore the big white elephant in the room. A quick, “Sorry about your loss” works just fine. Believe it or not, I know a mother whose close family member never mentioned the death because he said it would bring him down.
2. Don’t go with the “get over it” theme. “You need to get over it” or “You will get over it” are big no-no’s. I’m pretty sure you never “get over” holding your dead child. You manage to live with it, but not get over it.
3. Don’t try to brush it off as no big deal. Don’t say, “She died for a reason” or “People lose babies all the time.” I actually had someone say, “At least you didn’t get to know her.” Or this: “At least you don’t have to worry about those 3 a.m. feedings.” Nope, those classics just want to make us punch you in the throat.
4. Don’t go with the replacement theme. This theme includes, “Don’t worry, you’ll have another baby.” We want the baby we lost. We are not 7-year-olds whom you can just take to the pet store to buy a replacement hamster.
5. Don’t be nosey. If you’re not family, don’t ask how it happened. The details aren’t important to you; you’re just nosey. If we want you to know, we will tell you. If you’re pregnant, don’t say, “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to my baby.” Trust me, when you hear we did everything right it won’t make you feel any better.
The “do” list of things to say is much shorter. Keep it simple. Tell the parents you are very sorry, and if they ever want to talk you will be there for them. Remind them of that often. They may not want to talk then, but they may want to weeks or months down the road.
Oh, and dropping off meals is great. I know it may seem trivial, but it means a lot.
As I wrote before, I owe a big thanks to the 95 percent of you who got it right. After a tragedy some bonds are strengthened and some bonds become weaker. I hope none of you ever have to find that out for yourselves.
The Matt & Ramona Show airs weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 107.9 The Link. Send Matt your thoughts by emailing him at email@example.com.