I really like today's premise: "educate people on the art of empathy". I've always said that empathy is the one quality all human beings should have. If we all truly had "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another" the world would be such a better place.
Today's post will be a positive one where I hope to give some sort of guide of what helps me, so you can help someone in your life that lost a baby or child. I am in no way, shape or form an expert here but I am going through hell and certain things have actually helped me keep walking. Remember, one size doesn't fit all.
1. Remember this is about the person going through hell, this is not about you and what you need to make yourself feel like you are lifting that person.
2. One of the most important things in life: Talk to your audience. If you want to make sure to get a message across, you need to make sure you speak the language of the person your are talking to. Not everyone talks or listens in the same way, so take some time and understand how to talk to them.
3. Be VERY careful with the language you use... This is one that haunts me at night, because I know people never mean bad when they say or write certain things, but once I heard/read it, you can't take it away. I won't try to squeeze it all in one paragraph, but you can find the PERFECT guide to language when talking to a bereaved parent here. Remember, there is absolutely nothing positive about this and no silver lining...
4. Last basic rule: Be kind. A few weeks ago I was at Olivia's bench having a bit of a meltdown when I found this article by Orla's mum "Please be gentle with the heart of a bereaved mother" and it is truly a lesson in kindness for everyone around mums like us.
Now, what actually has made hell burn less:
1. Be there. I don't mean telling them "I'm here if you need anything", I mean be there when they ask for nothing. Keep in mind that we don't know what we need, like you, we never knew this could happen to us so we didn't prepare for this and as we are living it, we just need to remember to breathe. It's been great having people coming over and just being here, with no agenda or planned questions but just a heart full of love and ears empty, willing to hear everything that we want to share or happy with the fact that we let them in our space at all. Keep in mind that actions speak louder than words, so make sure you walk the walk. If you are lucky enough to be physically there for us, let us break in front of you without asking questions or giving judgement and just be there.
2. If you are thinking about them or their child, TELL THEM! I've gotten countless of messages saying that people think about us non stop, and I am grateful for that of course. But you know what is amazing? When my friends send me a message (or 30) just to remind me that they are thinking about us. The absolute best ones though, are the ones that only very few people have sent, the ones when they tell me they are thinking about Olivia or that they got one of her winks. The moment when I get those messages, are some of the few moments were I smile BIG, because these people love and miss Olivia as well and they are not afraid to tell me in the most amazing way, by telling me they thought about her spontaneously, or because she winked at them. Some amazing examples: anything yellow, sunflowers, all yellow flowers, Olivia the book when walking into a library and the best one, when their children asked about her. Thinking about this as I write makes me smile.
3. Do your research. There is A LOT of information out there on how best to make the attempt of being there for someone like me... I don't even have a clue on how best I could support a mother who lost a baby and that little person's future. So, before you approach your friend, PLEASE do some research. I know that empathy is truly understanding the feelings of others, but I know that nobody can or wants to try to understand my feelings.... and I don't blame you. This is horrible and even if you would imagine this happening to you, you will never get close (but thanks for trying if you did, it does make a difference). So, go out to the amazing world of information we have and research how in the world can you support your friend.
4. This might be weird, but after reading Amanda's blog, I know I'm not alone... Send stuff to them! I can't explain how amazing it was to get non stop cards and packages through the door for the first 2 months. The first few cards made me cry and I almost wanted to burn them because they didn't say congratulations on Olivia's arrival, instead they said how sorry they were that my chiquita wasn't with me. I didn't burn them, I kept getting them and reading them and each one of those cards helped me in a different way (if anything, I got out of bed to open the door to the mail man!). Then there were the people who got creative and brought food (both home made and already deliciously made), the friends who sent us boxes of frozen meals to last a lifetime, the friends who carefully thought about the things we like to eat and sent a full shopping cart of love. Each time the doorbell rang, I was excited to see if someone had sent something! It was like my birthday (and I love my birthday) but we were celebrating nothing. The best non food things I got? A bracelet with an O, a necklace with a pearl with ears (pearls are Olivia's birthstones) and a personalised candle with Olivia's footprints. Thank you to my sisters from another misters and my brothers from another mothers for EVERYTHING!
5. Don't give up communication. Still now, sometimes all I can manage to reply to amazing messages is an emoji (and I am NOT a fan of emojis), but I just simply have very little words to say. That being said, I am thankful for those who are ok with my emoji or monosyllabic replies and they get that sometimes they might get nothing. The most amazing part is that those people don't go away, I still receive hello messages when I can't answer and I appreciate each and every one of those messages. I know that it is almost impossible knowing what to say, which is why I truly have appreciated the messages that say "there are no words", because you are right, there is nothing anyone can do to make the pain go away.
6. Don't forget about us. Understand this, this is not a phase we are going through and this too shall not pass. This is our reality and our new normal will always have the absence of one of our children. The idea, I think, will be to maybe one day balance the horrible emptiness that comes with Olivia being in heaven, and the joy of the amazing things that I know we will have in life. So, when you think that the dust has settled, it hasn't and we understand that the show must go on, but things going back to "normal" is a very sharp double edged sword. I got a postcard in the mail yesterday from two friends/colleges that just wanted to say hello and that they were thinking about the three of us at an amazing place. That meant SO much to me, because I know they understand that my reality will always be Olivia-less. You don't need to send non stop reminders, but once in a while, don't forget to say hello.
7. The most important one, talk about our children and celebrate them! I am the happiest when I hear Olivia's name and even happier when someone recognizes milestones. I have always been annoyingly excited about dates and milestones in life, and I am frankly terrified about those without my first daughter. Christmas terrifies me, every 19 is received with mixed emotions and I'm already planning her 6 months and 12 months "celebrations", even if I actually end up doing nothing. If this is happening to someone truly close to you, please set reminders and alarms and make sure you acknowledge and celebrate their children. You can take pictures if you did something for them, or you can just tell them about it. One thing is for sure in here: sharing is caring.
That was longer than expected, but I will gladly write for hours if it meant that someone else will feel loved and supported in this journey because I shared what works for me.