Saturday, February 7, 2009

Replies on the Inside

In the normal course of conversation-casual and professional, I encounter images and words that render me speechless. I am silenced and the replies remain inside me. In these cases, I choose the silence. I can't participate in some conversations. I won't reply when I know my words wouldn't be understood by one who is not a bereaved mother. I won't reply when my response is a macabre non sequitur. I won't reply when it's a grief response meant for me to work with alone.

1. "Well, for those of us who have children, we can't make it on that day as they don't have school and we have to be home."
My reply on the inside: I have a child. I have a child. But, I understand it would be odd to correct that statement and say, 'for those who have living children.' After all, who says that? Me, actually and other bereaved parents with no living children. Relationships and love don't die with the person, but apparently our language does fade.

2. Public display of the first baby picture--the ultra sound on electronic community with a "we can't wait."
My reply on the inside: Please, be cautious. Fear. I hope they get the storybook happy result. And "Please, don't be so public, it hurts." This reply is so selfish, I can only post for others who wear similar shoes. Images and sounds evoke memories, and I have worked for over a year to massage and make peace with many of my memories--ultra sounds that reflected our excitement, then ultra sounds showing birth defects and the doctors gentle descriptions of what those meant. I have had over a year and continue to reconcile that my "can't wait" is spirit.

3. "I want to finish my degree before I have children."
My reply on the inside: Don't wait too long. But, then I reflect on my fellow bereaved mothers much younger than I who said goodbye to their children at birth. There are a dozen standard ways non-bereaved and those with living children might respond, such as "well that's wise," and "good for you, you'll want to have lots of time to dedicate to your children." I remain silent with my knowing that there are no guarantees in life, and so I just nod with solemn hope.

4. "Her mother died, and now the couple has to find a way to take care of her 32 year old adult child with Down Syndrome."
My reply on the inside: Oh, my God, this life is impossible. Parents with children with special needs worry so much about dying before their children. And their best laid plans for their child's care beyond their death are left to the good will of others and not the fostered independence of the adult child. It means something different to leave a child who cannot care for him or herself without you. I wondered if this mother could have had a peaceful death. I wanted to die before Caitlin, and these words spoken to me made it painfully clear that this mother and I lost both battles. We would do anything for our children to live--but there is nothing we can do when they die and nothing we can do when we die. And we do what we can while we live. 


  1. Surely you must grow weary of my unoriginal comments...why is it that all I can ever write to you is "beautiful" or "thank you for sharing that". I think because your words stand alone, what more could be said? So, once again, thank you.

  2. Natalie, I don't grow weary of your comments. I'm grateful that you take the time to send an electronic hug in the form of "I hear you." So, once again, thank YOU.

  3. yeah, the internal responses are common place for me too. the conversation ensues, I often nod, but have a completely different response screaming within. two different realities. do the others ever know what we really think?

  4. Amy, No I don't think they do know what we really think. And sometimes when I've shared my thoughts, they are often surprised and I end up comforting them. I think you wrote about that in one of your posts. (((hugs))) Liam's mom.