Thursday, April 5, 2012

Please, Yes, Do ask me about my child who just died (Part 2 of 2)

Part 2 of 2 - Continued from Sunday, April 1st, 2012

By Katie Allison Granju – Knoxville, TN

And now I am one of THOSE parents, and I find that I am in almost daily contact with people who are well aware that Henry died at the beginning of the summer, but who likely just don’t know what to say to me, just as I used to not know what I should say when faced with the parent of a dead child. How do I know that people are unsure what they could or should say to me regarding Henry?

Well, I base this observation on the fact that about 90% of the time, people I see socially or happen to run into or whatever simply don’t address the fact that Henry just died at all. The subject never comes up in any way, shape or form. They don’t ask me how I am doing. They don’t bring up his name. They don’t invite discussion of my grief or loss in any way. And I have to tell you, that feels really weird and painful to me. If I spend time with a friend or acquaintance who is aware of Henry’s death and that person doesn’t touch on it in any way, or if they act like everything is all hunky-dory-normal with me, it feels completely bizarre. It’s like there’s a big, dead elephant in the room that nobody dares touch.

I totally understand that people are afraid of hurting or upsetting me if they mention anything related to Henry’s death, and I in no way want to make anyone feel bad for NOT mentioning him (I’ve been there with being unsure of the protocol when dealing with a grieving parent, remember?). But I am here to tell you that only a few months past my child’s death, I absolutely want and need to still be asked on a fairly regular basis how I am doing and how the other kids are doing.

I welcome questions about how the criminal investigation is coming along because that makes me feel like people still care whether anyone is held accountable under the law for what happened to my child. If we both know you read a sensational and disturbing story about my son on yesterday’s front page of the local newspaper, please go ahead and bring it up. That’s far better than us both wondering what the other one thinks about what was written in the story and in the online comments appearing below it.

In other words, when you run into me at the grocery store or go out to lunch with me or drop by our house, please do say Henry’s name out loud. Invite me to say it too by asking me about him; I welcome the opportunity. Basically, what I am saying is that I would like it very much if people would actively acknowledge in whatever way they are comfortable that I am still in the fairly acute phase of parental grief. Please don’t act like what just happened didn’t happen. That hurts.

I am different. I am changed. I am in pain. It’s okay to acknowledge that. Acknowledgement won’t make me feel worse; it makes me feel better. And don’t worry; if you are thoughtful enough to bring the subject up, Henry’s death doesn’t have to be the only thing we discuss when we see one another… or even the primary thing we discuss. But just hearing a genuine expression of concern with the words, “how are you?” from someone who then takes the time to actually listen to my answer without flinching or turning away makes me feel much more whole and sane. When people proactively ask me how things are since my child died, it helps me to feel like Henry didn’t just vanish without a trace.

So yes, please do ask. It’s totally okay to mention the fact that my teenage son died not so very long ago. In fact, it’s more than okay. If you care about me, I still need you to ask.

Again, thank you to Pauline Emmett in Sneedville, TN for sending me this wonderful article to share, which Pauline received last fall, shortly after her own little girl Cheyenne died as a result of a traffic accident… And yes Pauline, in those first few months and years after the death of our child, you are so right - the following is so well written and very reflective of the way in which so many of us feel and can’t quite express. Oh how we want to be asked our child who has died, we want and need to hear their name and know that they and we are not forgotten….…

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