Acknowledging Someone’s Loss Validates Their Pain
“How many kids do you have?”
It’s the question that many parents who’ve lost a child struggle to answer – whether their child lived for decades or only a few days in the womb. Every time I’m asked, my mind manufactures a quick judgment call: Does this stranger really want to know my grief, about my baby who died before I could hold her? Or does she only want to know how many kids I physically take care of here on earth? Do I even feel like explaining the wound in my heart today?
At that particular moment, mingling at the funeral home for the visitation of my grandma’s passing, exhausted with death and the way it makes simple questions so difficult, I didn’t count her.
“Um…three,” I hesitated. “I have three kids: a four year old, a two year old, and this one on the way,” I said as I pointed to my swollen abdomen.
But then my mom, standing by me in our small circle of conversation, gently stepped in. “No, Kendra. Four. You have four kids.” She nodded her head at me, silently nudging me to explain.
“Yes, I actually have four. We lost a baby between our two oldest.”
The stranger smiled with sympathetic eyes and said that must be so hard.
She was right; it is hard. It’s hard learning to navigate my little world since my baby died. It’s hard to even give myself permission to grieve when my pain doesn’t seem to end or stick to a neat timeline.
Which is why I was so grateful for my mom’s gesture that day.
She counted my baby, acknowledging that no matter how short her life was, she existed. And if my baby existed, that means my pain of missing her exists too. I felt so validated, liberated even. When others count my baby, it makes the tiring work of grief a shared burden more than a lonely battle.
So if you’re walking alongside someone who has lost someone, understand the value of acknowledging that loss, be it weeks, months, and years down the road. They certainly haven’t forgotten their loved one has died, but hearing that others also remember and miss them is such a gift.
I don’t expect every stranger I meet to take on my grief as we exchange “how do you do’s.” But it means so much when the people closest in my life count my baby, and therefore acknowledge both her constant absence from my arms and her constant presence on my mind.
That might mean naming her in my grandma’s obituary. It might mean including her when counting all my parent’s grandchildren. Or it might mean gently stepping in and saying, “No. You have four kids.”
Grace and Peace,