When Friends Want the "Old" You Back
by Kara L.C. Jones

We often get letters or articles of inquiry here at KotaPress from well-meaning friends and family who want to know how they can help their bereaved friends or loved ones to "get better" or to "get back to their lives" again. I do the best I can to let the friends and family know that the bereaved will simply never get better nor be as they were prior to the death of their child. I try to do this in a helpful way that will not alienate the person who wrote. I figure that if they took the time to write and try to explain everything, then they must truly care and honestly want to help.

With every hope in the world, I send back letters like the one I'm going to share with you below -- I share it in the hope that it might help some random friend or loved one out there to understand a bit more about what the bereaved person is going through. I hope gives some insight to how you can best help *and* have some chance of keeping the bereaved person in your life!!

Dearest [fill in name here],

Your friend [or family member] is lucky to have someone like you who is willing to reach out and try to truly understand what she has gone through -- what she will go through for the rest of her life. I guess the one thing I can offer is that from my own experience, it will *never* be like it was. You mention in your note:

"I can't seem to do anything right and our friendship is not the same...I want to help and I want us to have our relationship back the way it was...I want her to feel better so we can laugh and celebrate life together again."

Even if you were able to really help, to alleviate some of the pain for your friend, it just is never going to be like it was before her child died. It isn't so different from what you experience in your everyday life with your living child. Much like your entire life is different now that your child is here with you -- much like your entire life will be different for the rest of your life because of your living child -- well, your friend's life is different because of her child, too. Her child just happens to be dead which creates a whole different kind of parenthood.

It is a very normal grief response for people to feel envy, jealousy, or a general inablilty to cope with other people's children. There is an inherent fear that by recognizing and accepting the living child, that the dead child will be forgotten. People will say things like, "Oh, look, she is okay again because she can play with kids." And when people think you are "okay again" they often mean that they now expect you to be "over it" and willing to stop talking about "it" -- of course the "it" is their beloved child. So lots of feelings that are overwhelming and often unexpected come up when a bereaved parent has to see, face, deal with another family where the pregnancy was fine, where the children thrive. They may additionally feel guilty for feeling envy in first place.

Interacting with mothers whose children are living can sometimes bring up self-loathing and guilt that the bereaved mother's body didn't "do it right" or that she might have been a "bad parent" because she couldn't keep her child alive. Of course, we know none of that is true, but these are the things that sometimes come up for bereaved parents.

So, it is wonderful to hear that you wish to really understand your friend and, of course you wish she could be better and laugh again and take joy in your child and your friendship again. But bereavement complicates things in so many ways. I would offer that if you want to help your friend, then just stand with her. Don't ask her to be happy or like she was "before" or anything. Just stand next to her whatever her mood or talk might be. Maybe consider reading Flash Of Life or Dear Cheyenne. Maybe consider reading thru a couple issues of our Loss Journal online at KotaPress. Or if you wish to share your snail mail address with me, then I'll send you a free copies of our paper zine "A Different Kind of Parenting: a zine for parents whose children have died."

I would encourage you to not think about a time when your friend will be "cured" because just like you will be a parent forever to your living children, so will your friend be a parent to her child forever. Instead think about how you can "care" for her and how you might encourage her to "care" for herself and her child's memory. For instance, if you are going to have a birthday party for your child, tell her you'd like to light the candles on the cake at the party for your child *and* in memory of her child. She may or may not come to the party, but I'll lay you odds that it will be the first time someone was willing to publicly recognize her dead child in the same room with their living child.

Just my thoughts. I know how many times bereaved parents hear that their friends want them "back they way they were," and I thought to offer what I could from my own experience.

My heart to you for reaching out!

About the Author
Kevin Smith fan, zine creator, bookmaker, movie watcher, dreamer, tool of the peace movement, sometimes grumpy, would rather just write and never edit or publish again (but can't seem to extract herself from it!), sometimes inspired, always awed by the beautiful minds of people like Nash, adovacte for bereaved parents everywhere, creator of the long forgotten Iowa GRRL, and so much more. If you have questions or comments, send email to editor@kotapress.com

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