(Please note that I wrote this post whilst still in deep grief following the death of our son. It is rude and full of expletives. I originally deleted it but was asked to put it back up. I’m told that it has helped both the bereaved as well their friends and family as an honest reflection of what grief can be like, which is a good enough reason for me to keep it here. My apologies in advance if it offends. It’s important that others can see the journey I’ve been on so that they know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel if they find themselves in the same dark and angry place that I was.)
People can say the strangest things to bereaved parents. Here’s a few thoughts on some of the best/worst I’ve heard so far. It’s a rude cathartic rant so please skip it if you’re easily offended.
The pain of child loss can be so self-absorbing that it’s easy to forget how difficult it is for those around you. Very few people know what to say and many struggle to find the right words. Occasionally they’ll say something unintentionally insensitive but they are just trying to show they care and I am grateful for it. I too have said some pretty stupid things in the past in similar situations before I found out what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
Nevertheless, some of the comments are tragically hilarious. They have made me want to cry, laugh, hug and punch the perpetrator all at the same time. I’m going to share some of the best of these with you, accompanied by what goes on in my head. If you recognise yourself I’m sorry, but if I can deal with losing my son, I’m sure you can handle a little bit of mickey taking.
I mean no malice and hope that other bereaved parents might find some catharsis in my humour. I apologise for the expletives, but it wouldn’t be accurate without them. Imagine Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction quoting Ezekiel because that’s what’s happening in my head.
My Top 12
To set the scene, here’s a starter. I was at a party talking to somebody I hardly knew. He was aware that Edward had died and started with the perfectly respectable ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ routine. So far, so good. However, like so many Englishmen, he found himself uncomfortable with the silence that followed. I could tell he was desperately trying to find the right words….
#1 “Well, at least it wasn’t a surprise.”
I beg your fucking pardon?
It’s always been in my nature to make a wisecrack so an opportunity like this is almost irresistible. I want to smash it for six, preferably with the perpetrator’s head attached, but it’s not fair on someone who’s suddenly been confronted by a recently bereaved parent with a very dark sense of humour.
Two things happen. The first is what goes on in my head and the second is what comes out of my mouth. For everyone’s sake, they need to be different. On this occasion, my head screamed “Yes, you moronic fuckwit, it was so much fucking easier knowing he had a heart condition. We all have to die sometime, so why not when you’re 4 fucking years old?”
Of course I didn’t say it, because I don’t really mean it, but I find it cathartic to think it. What did I say instead? A calm and understated “Yes, well I suppose there is that,” before sinking my drink and moving on.
What follows is the rest of my favourite things (not) to say to a grieving parent and my immediate reaction. Thankfully, I have not yet said any of these out loud yet, so I still have some friends.
#2: “I know it’s hard but you need to move on, and get on with your life.”
No I fucking don’t. Come back and tell me the same fucking thing if your child dies. Until then, kindly shut the fuck up.
#3: “I feel your pain.”
Not unless you’ve lost a child you fucking don’t, you patronising fuckwit.
#4: “We know how you must feel. We were heartbroken when our pet dog died.”
Our child is dead, you fucking lump of batshit. It was nothing fucking like your fucking dog. At all. Fuck off.
#5: Anything that starts with “I know it’s not the same but…..”
You’re right, it’s not the fucking same so don’t fucking say it you fucking prat. Nothing good comes out of a sentence which starts with those fucking words, so do us all a favour and shut the fuck up.
#6: “Are you actually doing anything to raise money in Edward’s memory rather than just asking for donations. Shouldn’t you be running a marathon or something?”
I tell you what, fuckchops, why don’t I run a marathon and you lose a child? We’ll soon see which one is fucking easier. I could climb Everest ten fucking times and lose my balls to frostbite and it would still be fucking easier. Get a fucking life. And make a fucking donation whilst you’re at it.
#7: “He’s not in any pain now.”
That’s because he’s dead, you fuckwit. That’s the fucking problem. He can’t feel a fucking thing. Do you want a badge for stating the fucking obvious?
#8: “At least you have two other children.”
Oh yes, of course. That’s why we had three, just in case we lost one. If only I’d fucking well known I would have had three more to make it even fucking easier. Maybe I could have so many kids I won’t fucking notice any of them dying.
#9: “It’s what he would have wanted.”
He was four years old you fuck muppet. He wanted food, fun, protection and love, not world fucking peace and enlightenment.
#10: “You look great. How did you lose that weight?”
It’s called the ‘My Son’s Dead and I’ve Given Up Living Diet’. You should try it, you fat fuck.
And finally, my personal favourite. If you have said this to me and are still alive you have no idea how lucky you are. Really.
#11: “God took him for a reason.”
The fuck he did. Do you honestly expect me to be comforted by a rationale that gives Jimmy Savile eighty years and my little boy just four? Fuck off. He moves in mysterious ways, you say? Well, why don’t I set your fucking head on fire? Would that be fucking mysterious enough for you?
And finally, a pre-emptive strike against anyone who feels that the irreverence and profanity I have just used somehow diminishes my grief and despair at the loss of my child, or makes you think less of me.
#12: “We know you’re suffering, but there’s really no need to be this rude.”
Despite what I have just written, I am extremely appreciative of the love and support that has been shown to us by everyone, no matter how they have expressed it. I write these words as a truthful reflection of the humour that has helped sustain me during the saddest and most desperate period of my life. I am not judging anyone, just letting off steam. These are the humorous observations of a broken heart.
I also know how difficult it is to talk to a bereaved parent and I am grateful for any words that you have said to us. Almost anything is better than nothing, which is the worst thing you can do. Even if you say any of the above, deep down I know you mean well.
There is a picture of Edward behind my desk as I write. I often imagine that he ‘sees’ these posts, and I want him to be proud of my defiance, because that’s what this is. I refuse to be defeated, and humour is just one of my weapons.
Now please look after yourselves and your families. I mean it, from the bottom of my heart. Nothing I have written here dilutes what I have learnt from our beautiful son about love. It’s the most important thing in the world, and even if you think I’m swearing at you (I probably am), I still love you. I just have a funny way of showing it. Now fuck off.
Both laughing and infuriated at this post. I was thankfully spared most of these, but your third to last paragraph was identical to my thinking when we lost our Dylan when he was a week old back in 2015. One thing that will always stick with me was a family BBQ, the first time we had seen extended family since. Most people completely ignored it, not knowing how to breach the subject or not wanting to remind us of it (as if you ever forget). But one uncle came over and burst into tears, explaining how heartbroken he was for us whilst apologising profusely for getting emotional. I’ll never forget it. Thank you for writing this.
He sounds like a lovely uncle to me. I remember the friends who were brave enough to talk about Edward – it really made me feel that they genuinely cared. I’m very sorry for your loss too. Lots of love to you, your family and Dylan.x
Floundering around is so “English”…we were so far removed from death and what it really means for so long, until covid and until someone tells us their child has died. Then we flounder even more, because the words are there but can’t come out properly, sensitively, empathetically. We’ve lost the art of talking directly to people because social media allows us to post bright shiny things from a safe distance without confronting the raw pain head on. It’s shit, totally shit, totally totally shit.
It been 14 years since our 39 year old son died of cancer, and this made me laugh out loud. Almost all of these things were said to us, and like you I thought these things in my head but didn’t say them out loud. I’m afraid that I also may have said something stupid to grieving friends before I suffered the death of my son. We are so inept when it comes to grief, so unprepared to help someone who is grieving. I hope I’m better at offering comfort now, but how sad that I had to experience it myself before I knew better.
Yep pretty much all of the above. It’s the dark humour ( on my terms) that sometimes gets me through the bleak days. “It’s been 11 yrs you must be getting there “ I still don’t know where “there is” but no my son still isn’t here. You can’t act like that just because your son died – watch me . I m so sorry for the loss of your son Edward. Thank you for this . I just wish you didn’t have the need to write it or for me to relate