5 Phrases My Loss Mom Heart Can’t Take

By | 2017-02-09T20:59:07+00:00 February 10th, 2017|Parenting After Loss|7 Comments

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 it’s 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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About the Author:

Elizabeth Thoma
Elizabeth Thoma lives in the Bay Area, California, with her husband, Chris, and two cats, JJ and Pepper. She found out she was expecting their first child Mother’s Day weekend, 2014. With mild symptoms and no significant early warning signs, they adjusted to pregnancy and eagerly planned for their growing family. At the second trimester anatomy scan, they found out they were having a son and that he had an abdominal wall defect, an omphalocele. Ever the planners, Elizabeth and Chris prepared themselves and their families for what the omphalocele meant in a best-case scenario, and some of the possibilities that couldn’t be diagnosed in utero. Their son, Oberon, was born six weeks early and had his omphalocele surgery within his first twelve hours of life. The surgery went well, but Obie was having trouble breathing. At first, the doctors thought it was related to his large tongue, one of the many indicators that he had Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome. When Obie was one week old, the doctors told Chris and Elizabeth that somewhere along the line, Obie’s brain stopped developing. While they could control his seizures somewhat with heavy medication, Obie’s brain would never develop and he would not be able to walk, talk, or even communicate. At this point, they decided to switch Obie to comfort care and try to take him home from the NICU. They successfully broke out of the NICU and Obie rode home in an ambulance. Bringing their son home brought much comfort to their family. Obie passed away at home in his daddy’s arms at 33 days old. Elizabeth found out she was pregnant with their second child a week after Mother’s Day, 2015. Her second son, Everett, was born January 7, 2016. Elizabeth and Chris blog at about their family at Our Little Beastie.


  1. Tlc February 10, 2017 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    After my loss I realized how casually we use the word dead or death to describe everyday occurrences that don’t actually have anything to do with actual life or death. My husband and I were walking through Home Depot a couple weeks after losing our son and it was very unusually empty that evening. Before I realized it I said to him (referring to the lack of other customers) “wow, it’s really dead in here!” Immediately I wanted to take those words back. I’ve found that now I am a lot more careful in my phrasing.

    • Elizabeth Thoma
      Elizabeth Thoma February 10, 2017 at 4:52 pm - Reply

      Oh, yes. I am surprised I forgot that one. “Over my dead body” is one that made me cringe the other day.

  2. Chels February 10, 2017 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    One of our children is a twin. Her twin however was never born, never held, never even known about until after she (in my heart it was a girl) had already died. The surviving twin is our most rambunctious, spirited, hyper, fun loving, most difficult to parent child. People often see her in all her crazy glory and laugh and say “can you imagine TWO of her?!!”. And I can.

  3. Jess March 3, 2017 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    Any comparison someone makes to a loss they’ve had in their life that was not a miscarriage or stillbirth. Someone said to me “well I lost my husband to another woman.” I couldn’t believe she wanted to compare her experience to the loss of my sweet baby girl. I understand we all have loss and heartbreak in our life, but it does my heart no good to make those types of comparisons.

    • Emmy January 4, 2018 at 8:26 pm - Reply

      This is the absolute worst.

      My cat died. My dog died. My grandparent died. My husband left me. My kids were taken by their mum/dad. I lost my home. My car was totalled.

      I’m not saying these aren’t losses, some hurt more than others and many are irreplaceable, but they should never, EVER, be compared to the grief of losing our children forever, holding our dead child, burning or cremating our babies.

      I even have a hard time when people come back right away with ‘I know how you feel, I had a miscarriage, my 1yo died of SIDS, my teenager died in an accident etc.’ These are also awful, but none are the same situation as mine and the comparison either way is not helpful. It also tips the conversation from comforting the newly bereaved to them feeling they need to comfort the other person, and that in itself isn’t fair. There are kind ways to introduce the information, but clapping back with ‘well this is what I’ve been through’ feels competitive and not comforting, no matter what the thing is.

  4. Courtney March 4, 2017 at 8:56 am - Reply

    The only time I got stabby about something someone said was at a Halloween party where someone was dressed as Frida Kahlo and was getting ready to take a selfie with a friend. She casually stated, “Wait, I’m having a miscarriage”. This was less than 4 months since I delivered a stillborn baby and just about 5 years that I had an early miscarriage. My best friend literally had to grab me because I went fists first at that idiot screaming “That’s not funny!!!”.

  5. Heather February 1, 2018 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    I experienced the miscarriage of my first pregnancy in November. During the holidays, I got teary every time the one Christmas song got the the phrase “And every mother’s child is going to spy… to see if reindeer really know how to fly….” Because not every mother has a living child to do such things. I certainly don’t and I felt personally offended, as if the song was trying to demote me of my motherhood because my first pregnancy miscarried. Motherhood is not something that can be undone. I am a mother, because I couldn’t possibly be grieving the loss of my baby if I wasn’t. So, no, not EVERY mother’s child is going to be spyign at the reindeer.

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