Don't Be Afraid...Promise!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"What brought you here today for the pet therapy handler training?" the instructor queried. 

As that questioned was answered by student after student, I contemplated my own response:  tell the truth or tell the answer that would be easiest for the class to hear.  I opted for a combination of both.  I shared that my daughter was the inspiration behind wanting to visit the pediatric ICU and how, though short, her life brought much meaning and motivation for many.  I kept it short, sweet and upbeat. 

However, as our class took a couple periodic breaks and then we headed to lunch, I noticed that people avoided making eye contact with me.  It was quite the mixed group of students but I kind of knew right away why they weren't looking at me. 

Her death.

You see, I get it.  It makes people uncomfortable.  It isn't the way the world works, a child's death, and it just plain and simple makes us uncomfortable. 

Except when the death happens to your child.

For us, we must speak about our child, my Everly, just like I must have air to breathe or food to eat.  Whether it's just the mere mention of her in my count of "how may children do you have" (which I was asked for the first time this weekend) or I expound on her life and Trisomy 18 diagnosis because someone is truly interested and this is new for them. 

I survey the lay of the land, the situation, the person or persons I am addressing before I speak.  I try to temper my statements based on all of these pieces of information.  When asked at my training class, I wanted to answer the question as to why I attended the class honestly but keep it upbeat and moving. 

But even though I did that, I still was received politely but almost with a bit of avoidance. 

It just boils down to the fact that we, as a society, have a hard time reconciling an event that seems almost is out of balance with nature.  Children don't die.  They just don't. 

But, alas, my friends, they do.  And we have to help make those people in this awful, lonely, isolating club feel okay and loved.

But we have to take it one step further.  Please.  We must help our children, too.

I know what you're thinking because I did, too, at one time.  I can't tell my child about xyz event (death, divorce for example) because it will shatter them, scare them, on and on.  I know the drill.  I did it, too.  I wanted my boys to think nothing bad would ever happen.  That there was nothing scary out there. 

The only thing is that it's not real life.  Bad things will happen.  While I don't think that making all the details known or giving out a scary impression is the right way to go, I do promote that sharing certain events with your children is not only appropriate but healthy.  Obviously, each child is different so maybe this isn't feasible for all.  But you know what I mean, I hope.


Because my 8 year old son needs kids his own age.  He's told us that he doesn't want to go to the park because there's no one ever there that he can talk to.  I asked why and he said because when he tells them that his sister passed away, they either run away or ignore what he says.     

Now keep in mind, this is a MATURE 8 year old who attends youth grief counseling bimonthly, lives in a house where Everly is openly and frequently spoken about and understands how others may not grasp the gravity of his situation.  If you know my son, you know he's open and honest.  He's also  super proud of being Everly's brother.  However, he must want to share with these particular children but, unfortunately, these children weren't prepared to respond. 

Understandably so. 

It's not in our parenting manual for "how to teach your child what to say when his/her friend's sister passes away."  But it doesn't mean we couldn't equip our child with a sentence or two for tough, general situations.  And even more important, how to be empathetic and show compassion.  That running away or ignoring his statement is very hurtful and saying almost anything (I'm sorry is an easy response) is better than nothing.

That brings me back to my training class.

At the end of class, one brave lady approached me and engaged me in conversation about what I had shared and our dogs.  I'm so thankful she did! 

As we've counseled Kendan on these experiences, which I might add have caused him to avoid one park in particular because it's happened more than once, we've shared with him that so many people, including adults, just do not know how to handle this type of news.  That most parents haven't taught their children how to respond and handle difficult situations when confronted.  Ourselves included.

Until now.

It's happened to me a number of times now since Everly's passing; it also happened to my mom, Jimmy, Garren and my dad.  We've all had similar scenarios to Kendan's. 

Folks might see us out but are fearful of approaching, engaging or just mentioning Everly or anything regarding our grief in general.  

Don't worry.  We understand.  We get it.  I know this awkwardness exists. 

But it doesn't have to and we want to help. 

I've had three braves souls tell me personally that they haven't reached out to me sooner because they didn't know what to say.  How I appreciate the honesty! 

So, here we go.  Below are 5 statements that might help:

1.  I'm sorry.  Short, simple and truthful.  Just knowing you acknowledge and that you care goes, oh, so far!

2.  How is your day today?  Each day for us is different so this question allows us to answer better than just how are you...but, honestly, that question is okay, too. 

3.  My favorite picture of Everly is _______.  Something that never gets old for us. 

4.  What are your plans to continue to keep Everly's memory alive?  This gives us a chance to share something positive and something that gives us joy.

5.  What do you think Everly is doing right now?   This type of statement does make us smile.  We love to think about her being tube-free, happy and not confined by earthly constraints.

Please know that the only question that hurts is the one that is never asked. 

I have an article here that we think is well-written and offers helpful advice.  If you aren't sure how to approach a situation like ours, how to help, what to say...this is a great resource. 

My prayer is that this post will help.  Please know that we try to meet you with a smile and are ready to connect and visit.  Don't worry about making us sad, or that we will cry the minute you mention her name. 

We may cry if you don't.

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