Most of us have been there, we have all at some point asked the following…
Are you close with your Mum?
I bet your Mum loves being a Nan?
Do you see your Mum much?
To then realise you have massively f*cked up! Or so you feel like you have.
It is one of those awful moments where your heart drops and you genuinely just feel like a horrendous person. Well your not, I have been on both ends of this scenario and thought it may be helpful to share each side.
This dosen’t just apply to those who have lost their Mums, it could be relatable to anyone who has lost a loved one in their life, or anyone who has a strained relationship with a family member.
For us the fact that we don’t have that person we are meant to have in our lives is an everyday reality. It may not be something that ever stops hurting but over time it does becomes our normal, not having a Mum will never feel ok but you do eventually learn to accept it.
Part of the process of grieving is knowing how you feel comfortable sharing your situation. We are all very different, I am personally a sharer – you may have noticed! My loss was very public as my Mum knew a lot of people, she also died when I had my first baby, so for these reasons I choose to share the news publicly. This meant that I avoided any off guarded questions regarding the ‘M’ word for quite sometime as most people knew what had happended.
The first few times you are asked about that person by someone who has no clue what has happened are simply the worst, you are smacked in the face with shock, I was so used to people tip toeing around me. It is a moment to define that you really have lost them – no longer can you give an truthful happy answer to what should be a normal question.
You find yourself faced with two options: you can either nod and lie ‘Yeah, she loves the kids’ or you decide to ruin someones day by saying ‘My mum passed away’…
I have now figured out my own method of tackling this type of situation. I judge what answer I will give by the person who is asking, If I think it is someone I am unlikely to speak to again. For example an innocent lady in the doctors surgery cueing over the children, saying how proud my Mum must be – I’ll give her a smile and go along with it. I really don’t want to ruin her day with my morbid news. Nor do I want her to feel bad for trying to be kind. These are the type of people who are innocently assuming life is perfect, it can actually feel nice just to go along with it, at times I don’t even feel like I am fibbing because I am sure my Mum is/would be proud.
However if I think I will be in contact or spending more time with a person I’ll be open and honest, I don’t want them finding out some other way and then worrying they have offended me. The first few times I had to do this I got teary, I wasn’t used to having to say the sentence out loud and when I did it made it feel very real. But the more I have had to tell people that I haven’t got a Mum, the more I have begun to accept it as a fact. The emotion has almost been taken away from the conversation for me.
I do still get that sinking feeling in my stomach when asked about my Mum by someone who doesn’t realise she has passed away, I don’t think that will ever go. Half of it is me being caught off guard. Then the other half is reality hitting me again. But I can assure you I have never felt upset with the person who has asked me.
The very last thing I would want is for anyone to feel like they have ever offended me by asking about my Mum. I talk about her every single day, I feel ok to do so. I am at a stage of grief where I am not on the brink of tears at the thought of her and I am capable of talking openly.
I can’t talk on behalf of anyone else, but myself, I almost feel more sorry for the person who has asked the question. I can sense their awkwardness and instantly just want to put them at ease. The fact that my Mum is no longer alive is my reality, I have it processed in my brain.
I am almost always prepared for a question regarding her to come up. However the person who has innocently asked a friendly question is completely unprepared for the answer they are about to receive, they don’t know they have just brought up probably the most sensitive subject in your life…
I can honestly say nobody has ever offended me by bringing the ‘M’ word up, in fact I am almost glad when it has been because I know I have got that awkward encounter over and done with.
The person feeling horrendous for asking…
Please don’t feel bad!!! Our situation isn’t your fault, nor have you made things worse.
In fact you are so far from being a bad person. After all you are only being kind and interested enough in someones life to ask these types of questions.
I do hair for a living which actually consists of half hair, and half talking. I’ve been in this situation so many times before, I know that awful feeling where you feel like you’ve just ruined someones day by asking a stupid question. You instantly regret opening your mouth. Then spend the rest of the day really hoping you haven’t upset that person.
It is just a normal reaction to have, If you ask a question and don’t get the type of response you was expecting then it will most likely make you feel uneasy and a regret even opening your mouth. But I am telling you from experience you are probably feeling worse about it than the person you asked. After all like I have said, this is our reality, we are pre prepared for this type of question to come up, and quite often we have the response we would give already figured out in out heads.
My one piece of advice for you if you ever find yourself in this type of situation is to try and gauge the persons reaction. Some people will give you an answer but then won’t want to talk about it anymore, it may be they aren’t emotionally ready to or they might just not want everyone knowing the ins and outs of their life, not everyone wants to share everything and thats ok. Yet some people will be more than happy to talk about their story and actually find it really healthy to get it out, better yet to a stranger that doesn’t really know them or have an opinion.
The only warning I have is after you have asked the question and been met with an answer such as ‘My Mum passed away’ don’t start flapping around, asking if they are going to cry and making a massive drama (yep this is some peoples response!) I can tell you now it is only making it worse!
For me the very best answer I have been met with when I have had to tell someone my Mum died is ‘I am so sorry to hear that’ but said with sincerity. It’s short and simple, there is no massive overreaction yet it is an open ended answer. You give the person the opportunity to carry the conversation on as they feel comfortable. You might be met with a ‘It’s ok, thank you’ and thats the end of it, they probably don’t feel like talking about it, yet you have been kind to them – they couldn’t possible be upset with you for that reaction. But you may find they want to open up and talk about their situation.
The one thing you can do for a person without really having to do anything at all is just be a pair of ears to listen. You may have no concept of greif and you might live the most perfect life, it dosen’t mean you can’t listen and empathise with someone. I am a big believer that talking is one of the best medicines for mental health and the grieving process. Sometimes the person might make no sense to you at all and you can’t relate to anything going on in their life, but for them just saying their thoughts out loud is all that is needed – they really don’t need you to have the perfect answer they only need someone to talk to.
Handling the situation key points:
- Don’t shut the person down, you may feel awkward for asking but let them lead the conversation with their answer.
- Avoid a massive overreaction, running to get the person tissues is likely just to make us feel even weirder.
- Don’t instantly start talking about someone you know who has lost their Mum/Dad/Nan/Dog/Hamster… yes it is a comforting thought to know you aren’t the only person grieving. But in that initial conversation turning the focus onto someone else is completely ignoring the fact you have just asked that person a very sensitive question – let them finish their answer.
- Just be kind. You can’t mess up if you are being sincere, people can tell when someone actually cares.
- Now this is a really weird one – when someone has told you their Mum has died, responding with ‘I don’t think I could live without my Mum’ in no way, shape or form makes that person feel any better… yep that really is a response I have had on more than one occasion?!!
- Awkward hugs. They are never minded, some peoples instant reaction to bad news is to grab that person and give them a hug. Even if you do walk away thinking why the hell did I just do that? That person won’t think you are weird, it just shows a massive level of compassion.
So to round it up, mentioning the ‘M’ word to someone who no longer has their Mum isn’t the worst possible thing you could do to us, in fact it can surprisingly positive if you choose to handle it well. Next time you find yourself in a situation like this just remember not to panic, be kind and just listen.
Thank you for reading,