Sunday, March 6, 2011


I know that often it is hard to know what to say when you learn of someone’s devastating loss. I know. Even after having been on the receiving end of every conceivable word of sympathy, I still struggle with the right words to share with others when I learn of losses they may have suffered, large and small. And I’m especially sensitive to trying to say something comforting because I know how much it can mean. So I know how hard it must be for people who haven’t necessarily experienced losses of their own to know what to say.

But still.

For some background, although the past week or so has actually been pretty tolerable, maybe even halfway decent, I have still found myself at some very low points at many times during the day. There’s just no predicting when I will be struck, again, by the sheer enormity of what has happened. Our ultrasound appointment last week was in the same office building as Hudson’s pediatrician. That appointment was the first time we’d been back there since we took Hudson there on that awful Monday morning, the morning we knew too little. I was quickly overcome with PTSD-like reactions as soon as we pulled into the parking garage—I could remember exactly where we parked that morning, exactly how limp Hudson felt on my shoulder on the way in and on the way out. As we passed through the lobby, we walked by the lab where we sat and waited for Hudson to get her blood drawn and her chest x-rayed. I remember my surprise when she barely flinched at the needle going into her arm. And I thought again about our time in the office, when I started crying when the doctor told us to take her home and keep pushing fever medicines and fluids—I was worried sick and just couldn’t go home without having some better idea of what was going on. Our kid just didn’t run 104 fevers. I thought again about whether this all might have turned out differently if I’d skipped the pediatrician and gone straight to the ER several hours earlier. As I thought of all of this as we headed to the elevator, my chest tightened, that familiar burning wound its way into the space behind my eyes, and I began to cry.

Last night, Ed and I dropped a friend off at the McPherson Square metro station, at the corner of 14th and I Streets. As we pulled over to the side, Ed recognized the spot and said, “I think you picked me up here one time, or we parked here or something.” As soon as he said it, I knew instantly what he was talking about. “We parked here for the kite festival last year.” The kite festival, where the photo at the top of this blog was taken, one of the several very vivid memories of our last two months with Hudson, the one I’ll write about next Sunday. After our friend got out of the car, I began to cry. “That still seems like it was just yesterday. I can’t believe it was almost a year ago.” I remembered parking there (there was some commotion with police cars about half a block up), getting Hudson out and loading her into the backpack, walking down 14th Street to the mall. I remembered all these details almost better than being at the festival itself. I just don’t know how a year could have gone by.

Today I was running errands in the car and just started thinking about her, about how desperately I miss her and want to see her, about how I still don’t know how to keep living on without her, how afraid I am of her fading into the background of our lives as we have more children, and I began to cry. Hard.

It takes so very little. There have been dozens of these moments over the last several days, even as the days themselves seem to be improving. These moments hurt. A lot. And then they are over. But I still cry. A lot.

Back to my original point. I was at my yarn store today trying to get caught up on the class I missed last weekend when I was in Chapel Hill. A nice employee was helping me figure out the finer points of decreasing stitches and using double-pointed needles so I could finish a hat I’ve been working on for Ed.  Here was our conversation as I was checking out:

“When are you due?”

“May 24.”

“Is this your first?”

“No, my second.” As usual, I cast my eyes down and smile awkwardly when saying this. I have grown accustomed to just leaving it at that most of the time. It answers the question and I figure if they want to know more, they will ask. I’m still not totally comfortable with this approach—because it leaves out the most important part of the story, I can’t help but feel sometimes as though it is a betrayal of my sweet girl’s precious life. But I’ve still gotten used to doing it this way. And every once in a while, there’s a follow-up.

“So do you have a boy or a girl.”

Here’s where I start to get flustered. Do I use past tense or present tense? Do I have a daughter or did I have a daughter?

After fumbling for a second or two, I say, “I have a daughter. She passed away last year.” And I began to cry.

“Ohhhh” (in a sympathetic voice). “How old was she?”

“Seventeen months.” Having trouble regaining control. Fumbling through my wallet trying to find my store membership card.

“Ohhh.” She is quiet as I sniffle and try to hold back the floodgates. I purposely laugh because I can’t find the damn card.

“Don’t cry.” Wait a minute. Really? Not “I’m so sorry.” Not “How terrible for you.” Not “You poor thing.” No, she says, “Don’t cry.” Now I am stunned. Completely befuddled. No idea what to say in response to that. So I give another fake laugh combined with a slight scoff.

“I’m sure that you have wonderful memories of that precious time with her.”

Yes, we do, you fucking moron, but I was supposed to have many decades’ worth of more memories with her. Have you ever lost a child? Do you have any idea how it feels every time I have to say out loud again that she died? Every time I have to acknowledge a truth that I desperately want not to be true? Do you have any idea what it takes not to cry at a moment like this? What it takes not to cry all day, every day? Do you have a fucking clue about anything at all?

“Yes, we do.” I muddled through some small talk as she finished checking me out and then got out of there. I jumped in the car and began to cry again.  Hard.

I know people mean well. I know what a shock it is to learn that someone’s child has died. I know how hard it is to know what to say. I know when she said, “Don’t cry,” she probably meant, “I am so sorry for you. But I am happy for your new baby,” or something like that.

I know. But still.


  1. oh for God's sake

    you're so kind

    I want to slap her face

  2. If people are not capable of responding decently when the worst possible answer is given, then they have no business asking the question.

    So so sorry.

  3. I despise when people say "don't cry." I know it is likely meant with good intention most of the time and I'm sure I'm guilty of having said it before without thinking but I just think it is a crappy thing to say. I'm sorry.

  4. Here's a possibility... and it is just that -- only a possibility. Maybe this otherwise lovely person spoke before she thought and then wished like crazy that she could have taken back the words "don't cry." You're probably very right -- she likely has no idea what you've been through and she probably has no good word choices in a situation like this. As much as we'd all like to believe we would say the right thing in a situation like this, the fact is that we often fail to come up with the right words. Maybe lady said "don't cry" without even thinking and probably thought to herself, "Wow -- that wasn't what I really wanted to say." Then recovered a bit and said some very nice words about you having precious memories of your daughter. The fact that she didn't come up with "I'm sorry" is very unfortunate, but maybe her head was spinning after realizing she didn't say the right thing to start with, then seeing how upset you were, she fumbled with what else to say or how to make it right. I wish like crazy that she had done a better job of choosing her words... maybe she feels the same way.

    I offer this as a possibility because I've been in a similar spot. I've had someone tell me something very personal and heart-felt and my first words of response were not as supportive as I wish they had been. They weren't un-supportive or judgmental at all -- just not the words I wanted to use. Then as soon as I realized it -- just seconds after the words came out -- I felt like I couldn't course-correct or get back to what I really wanted to say.

    I offer this up to you in hopes that as you continue processing this interaction and others like it, maybe it will comfort you a bit. Like the lady in the store, I have no idea how hard this must be for you and my thoughts, prayers and good wishes are with you every day.

  5. Oh, ouch, that sucks.... I also hate it when I'm having a rotten day (though not nearly on the same level as yours), and someone will come up to me and say, "Smile!" Yeah, right, whatever. Smile. Don't cry. That will make it all better, huh?

    I'm so sorry that you had this encounter ~ I wish that we all as human beings had the ability to say just the right words at just the right time, and be able to TRULY comfort the other person...but so often, the foot goes right in the mouth and what we're left with instead is a wonderful, loving mommy crying in her car over what was supposed to be but never will be.

    Hugs to you, Mandy...I hope you have a more "up" day in your very near deserve it, dear!


  6. Through my tears, I laughed out loud at "yes, we do, you fucking moron."
    I ditto Melynn.

    Susan L

  7. I often don't know what to say either Mandy, although I would hope it wouldn't be 'don't cry'. I will say that I am still here, still listening, enjoying your beautiful story of Hudson, anticipating days when you can cut up little pieces of chicken with purpose again and open your cabinet to find it once again stocked with organic cheddar bunnies. Don't stop feeling, don't stop crying, don't stop being brave, don't stop sharing the gift of your first amazing child with strangers. Even if it hurts. Even if you cry.

    kirsten 2lilbirds

  8. Mandy, I'm crying with you now too. F*&K!!! I hate those flashbacks you've had.

    Re lady at sewing store -- What a f*&king imbecile! I've encountered my share too. Some of the stories are so awful they're downright humorous. One that stands out -- about 3 weeks after V. died, I was having a really hard time...sobbing. My MIL, trying to comfort me, said, "Oh, I know this is so strong. But gosh, I don't know what I'd do if my kids died. I don't think I could go on living.", should I blow my head off now? Oy vey!
    Sending you a big hug.

  9. I'm sorry that happened, Mandy. I'm so sorry you have to be in these situations where you must struggle to convey your story to perfect strangers, and then deal with their shock on top of your own grief. As someone who generally does a very bad job myself in situations like those, I will apologize to you on behalf of all the people like me. It is just impossible sometimes to know what to say, and the alternative -- saying nothing -- is also impossible. Nonetheless,I echo you, in thinking, "but, Still."

  10. I'm sorry this encounter upset you.

    This is really a dicey topic. The problem is that the same words that comfort one person, actually damage or injure another person in a similar situation. People probably should just mind their own business, particularly in a customer-clerk "relationship." Along that line, I have to say that this woman's presumption that you are expecting at all was risky. I don't care how pregnant someone "appears," I would never presume that they are. Even a close friend that I may suspect is pregnant, I wouldn't ask or assume. I would figure that if they wanted me to know, they would tell me. I would bet this woman will get herself into a sticky situation if she assumes a customer is preggers - she's bound to find someone who just gave birth, is just "fat in the tummy," has massive uterine fibroids or any number of things.

  11. Sending a hug in this message Mandy....I can so relate to this story... It doesn't get any easier.

    I know after Savannah died I also felt I was somehow being a terrible mother if I chose NOT to tell someone about her.

    I know now its a survival mechanism and its ok to pick your battles when you are feeling brave enough....even today, I sometimes choose who I tell as I don't want to have to deal with what strangers sometimes come out with that can hurt.

    Be gentle on yourself Mandy and its ok sometimes not to have to explain if it is too painful.

    I wish you strength when you need it and crying is good, it lets out 'some' of the pain.
    with love
    Diana x

  12. I just spent a week with my 3 yr old nephew. When his mom or my baby started crying, that was the first thing out of his mouth while he tried to pat their hands or give them a hug.

    Maybe she just has a low EQ, and it was the best she could come up with on the spot. She just may not have ever had to deal with such a heavy issue before and didn't know what to say.

  13. Oh dear. What a tough situation with the yarn lady. "Don't cry" is probably exactly what she wished for, and definitely not the most supportive thing to say. If you don't cry, you cannot heal. Cry away, Mandy, your tears will water the garden of Hudson's memory. I'm sorry you have anything to cry about at all, let alone the deepest sorrow on imaginable.

  14. er, imanginable, not "on imaginable."

  15. ARGGHH! I wish I could erase my comments! I cannot type today!

  16. Oh, Mandy, this all sounds so familiar—and hard. Cry as much as you need to. Hugs.

  17. Don't cry!? For reals? Um, ok lady. I would be irritated too even though I always tell myself, "People mean well Brianna, don't be too harsh with them." But "don't cry" would have sent me spinning.

  18. I'm so sorry. I know that must have been upsetting. Thinking about y'all.

  19. This just sits so heavily in my heart. I feel surrounded by 'stupid' people like this lately... I am so bitter and angry at the friends whom I can literally see backing away from me. I want to scream and cry and moan about how insensitive they all are.. and I would really like to slap a few...

    Know that there are people put here who 'get it' Mandy. People who can handle seeing the snakes and who don't mind staying with you along this journey.
    I am thinking of you...