My boys, photo by Abby Alger Photography.

I never know when I’m going to get hit in the face with grief. Sometimes it’s random, but sometimes I can trace it. A conversation, a Facebook post, a movie…often it’s something someone says.

For example, I was recently in a meeting discussing a project and when it would be completed. A colleague joked that the project would never truly end saying, “there is no finality until mortality.” People laughed, but I just looked at the table. A million comebacks racing through my head. I didn’t say any of them, because I wanted the interaction to end as quickly as possible so I could catch my breath somewhere private.

It got me thinking about other phrases people use and how they sound so different after a loss.

Stop growing up so fast!

There are many versions of this one. “Stay little forever” is probably the worst. Loss moms know what it’s like to have a forever baby. A child they don’t get to watch grow. The alternative to growing up (even quickly) is to stop. No one wants that alternative, so complaining about a healthy reality hurts that much more.

Keep them alive.

This has been written about here at PALS before, but it bears repeating. I’ve heard it more than once, people using the phrase either to praise your parenting or quell your fears. Of course I want my kid to be alive, but the fact that my kid is (or isn’t) alive isn’t an appropriate judgment on my parenting. Congratulating me on keeping my child alive for a year makes me queasy. Being a mother to a living child has its challenges, but being a mother to a child who died is infinitely harder.

Everyone.

At a restaurant they ask me if everyone is here. Responding to an invitation I’m asked if everyone is coming. The answer is always no, but I say yes. This one comes in many forms as well – the whole family, all my kids, etc. The whole family will never be anywhere because we aren’t a whole family, and we never will be. In family pictures, like the one in this post, my first son is represented by a Molly Bear, a picture, a tattoo, or some other trinket. We’ll never have a picture of “everyone” together.

How are you doing?

This will never feel normal to me. I can get by it much better now, two years away from my loss, but it still makes my heart skip a beat. I want to say, “making it through one day at a time” or “pushing down the sadness to keep people comfortable”, but I say “doing OK” or “fine.” Even if I’m having a good moment, it feels disgusting to say “good.” How can I ever be “good” without a caveat? Is “bittersweet” an appropriate response? “Good and bad”? I wonder if this nicety will ever return to its former meaningless state.

I’m really glad I don’t have kids because _______.

Of course, not everyone wants kids and that’s OK. But that blank is usually filled with something that isn’t very personal. It gets filled with political lamentations, economic woes, and even philosophical ideals. Things that often apply to me as much as they apply to the speaker. For example, if someone says, “I’m really glad I don’t have kids because the planet is overpopulated anyway,” there’s no response for me that doesn’t hurt. If I agree, then I condemn myself for having my rainbow. If I disagree, then I wonder if the speaker only thinks of my living child as a population problem or worse, is glad my first child died. This is not to say that concerns about population growth (or whatever else) aren’t warranted and shouldn’t be discussed, but as a loss mom I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me.

These are just a few of the things I hear (or read) that bring the emotions of grief and loss to the surface. What seemingly innocent phrases bring it up for you?

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