First off, thank you so much for your condolences and for sharing that post. Even now, 8 years later, it is music to my ears to hear people say they are sorry for my loss. To see Meghan's name, especially those of you who said you listened to Meggie, made me smile. You acknowledged her life, her meaning to me, her spirit. Her name is sweet music to my ears. Hearing how her story has been shared and shared again (that one post has been viewed more than 270,000 times thus far) is so overwhelming, it makes me SO very happy and grateful. To know that many more children will sleep in safer rooms and homes tonight because of Meghan's story is exactly why I wrote about it. Thank you.
In reading everyone's comments there are several common themes and emotions expressed. Sadness was probably the prevailing emotion. So many of you wrote through your tears. I am deeply touched by it. I must say I am both sorry I brought so many of you to tears yet in another way, so glad I did. Choosing to write such a personal, detailed and raw emotional account of that day was not made lightly. It took 8 years for me to feel comfortable enough to put my heart out there for the public to see. It was not without risk. People don't like to talk about death. They don't like to think about death. They have no idea what it's like to hold a dead child, unless they've experienced it themselves and no one ever wants to think about that. I threw it out there in everyone's face. Exposing oneself in such a vulnerable state, you never know if or how people will respond. I hoped people would be supportive, that they'd be able to *be* with me, that they'd be moved by our story of love and ultimately it would make children safer.
I know it was not easy for many to read. I know not everyone was able to read it or all of it. Many of those who commented had near misses with falling furniture or TV's and their children and it hit really close to home in a 'it could have been me" sort of way. To all of those parents, I'm so glad it wasn't you and I'm so grateful for your support and sharing of Meghan's story.
Others had lost children to other causes. Cancer, stillbirth, prematurity, car accidents, genetic diseases, fires, suicide and more. I am so very sorry for their losses as well. I can't imagine their experience, for it's different, yet the same. Reading my account of Meghan's angel day brought back their own experience. Some are just not able to go 'there' into their pain as I did. It triggers their pain and grief. I understand that. I respect that. I knew it was likely to happen for some people who read it. We all grieve differently. We all process differently. There is no right or wrong way, just your way. This is a very important lesson for those supporting someone who has lost a loved one to know.
My way is (obviously) to write and talk about it. It's how I process. It's how I heal. I know not everyone wants to hear it or can handle it. While I understand, appreciate and respect that, I still have to do what's best for me. Because in the end, only I know what's best for my heart and soul. There is much more to it than that, but that's for another post on another day.
Many who have lost a child or loved one commented on how it reminded them of how they felt the day of their own child's death, how they wished their friends and family knew what their experience was like, even now, years later. Many shared the same frustrations with how people respond after the death of a child or any loved one, thinking they are being helpful in what they say or do but really just adding salt to the wound. In a way, it helps us parents who are members of this club we never wanted to be a part of know we are not alone. That our experience of grief is our own and different, yet much the same. Being able to connect with someone who understands that is healing and validating in and of itself.
Many of you commented on my 'strength'. It is not about strength at all. Strength is a physical attribute. My desire to write, to talk about, to share Meghan's life and death, and the mission I have in Meghan's Hope is all about love. Nothing but love. Love for my daughter, love for families of all kinds and L.O.V.E. I am not strong. I just want others to learn from my mistakes. I'm just a mama who loved her daughter and never wants another mama to ever know the pain I do, to never have to go through what our family did. It's really that simple. Love.
Here's the crux of today's post: Feelings need to be validated!
The one thing people have said many times over to me over the years, whenever I've expressed how I feel responsible for Meghan's death is that I shouldn't feel guilty, that it was not my fault. Many who have commented on my blog posting have said the same.
Guilt is defined as a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some event...whether real or imagined per Dictionary.com
While I appreciate that those who told me it was not my fault meant well, what they don't understand is that no one can help how they feel. It is what it is. Would you say the same to me if I said I felt sad or angry or depressed because of Meg's death? Probably not. Those are more 'acceptable' emotions for people. Guilt is an emotion we as a society are not comfortable with. Responsibility is often a concept we as a society are not good at. We like to blame anyone and anything but ourselves. In times of grief there is a tendency to want to 'make it better' with platitudes. It rarely makes it better for the person experiencing the grief.
There are certain facts in the story of Meghan's death.
- Her dresser was not secured to the wall
- It fell on her and killed her
- As her parent, I would be the one responsible to do something to protect her, whether or not I knew to secure her dresser or thought it was necessary are secondary.
- Had her dresser been secured to the wall, it would not have fallen on her that day and she would be alive
- I could have easily blamed any number of other things. Her father for convincing me it wasn't a danger, the manufacturer, the pediatrician for not warning me like they do about other childproofing 'necessities', 'bad luck' or 'God' somehow needing her. None of those things resonated with me. I don't believe in being a victim. I don't believe in blame. I don't believe in 'luck' or 'coincidence' or even a God that would think a child should be anywhere else besides their mother's arms.
In saying that it was my fault, in saying that I carry guilt in my heart for not keeping her safe, I'm telling you how I feel. I feel sad that she died. I'm sad that I didn't do everything I could have to prevent it from happening. I am accepting responsibility for my in-action. No, I didn't think her dresser would tip. Still, I had other things secured to the wall, I could have done the same to her dresser, I didn't. I let others convince me it wasn't necessary. I was wrong. I paid for it with my daughter's life. The harsh reality is her death could have been prevented. Nothing will ever change that in my heart, my head or my soul being. It is how I feel. It's how I will always feel. Nothing anyone can say will ever change that.
It doesn't mean I'm stuck there, for I'm not. If I were, I'd probably never have ever gotten out of bed again. I certainly wouldn't have been able to write all that I have. I wouldn't be able to function the way I am. I don't wallow in it. I've processed it. I've accepted it. I've integrated it. It's part of who I am. It's changed who I am. I can only hope I'm a better mother, educator, and human being for it. I can only try to prevent it from happening to others.
The thing is, accepting responsibility for your role in and accepting your feelings of guilt over your child's death are not bad. It can be a very important part of healing. Not everyone feels a sense of guilt. Yet so many other parents feel responsible for their child's death, especially those who were born premature or were stillborn or lost shortly after birth. There was likely nothing that could have been done to know or prevent their deaths, but yet they feel responsible, somehow guilty. If only they had.... They need their feelings to be acknowledged and heard. They often carry that burden with them to their own grave, too afraid to speak it, too afraid to own it because society has assigned such a stigma to it. Because everyone tells them it's not their fault and not to feel guilty. Imagine how painful that is, to feel so strongly and yet no one is willing to engage in conversation about how YOU feel because THEY can't fathom it or are not comfortable with it.
Here's a secret, it doesn't change how we feel. We feel the way we feel. We can't help it. It's a part of us. It may or may not be 'true' to you, but it is to us. No matter what you say, it doesn't change how we feel right now. In fact, it can make it worse when well meaning people tell us not to feel a certain way, because our feelings are not being validated and accepted for what they are. Grief is hard enough without people telling us what we feel is wrong! Frankly, no one knows how we feel except for us. What all grieving people need is to be supported in their grief. To be listened to and heard. To have their feelings validated, accepted, explored. Whatever those feelings are and no matter how often they might change. Be a good listener. But don't tell them they are wrong for how they feel.
Please don't take this the wrong way. I deeply appreciate the sentiment and well-intentioned statements of everyone who told me not to feel guilty and that it wasn't my fault. I really do. I see this as a tremendous opportunity to share with you how I arrived at that place in my heart and head and that it's really OK. I'm OK. I want to shed a bit of light on what is helpful and what is not to many who are grieving. They don't need to be told what is right or wrong. They need to know whatever they feel is OK and you are there to listen whenever they want to talk about it.
What's a better thing to say to someone you know who is grieving? "I'm so sorry, I can't even imagine what that's like" "Do you want to talk about it?" "Tell me more about how you feel" "Can I do anything to help?" "I'm here for you. Anytime you want to talk, just call" Or how about a hug, some shared stories and tears and some tea... or chocolate? Listen. Be there. Surround them with love and support. That's what they need.
Thank you, for listening. I'm going to go have some chocolate. Care to join me?