• “You must be thinking of Natasha a lot today,” instead of, “Happy Halloween,” “Happy Birthday” (or “Happy” anything).
• “It’s so unfair that Natasha passed away,” rather than, “Are you getting over it yet” (or the more tactful version: “Are you feeling better yet”).
• “Tell me about your favorite Natasha memory,” after you’ve updated me on your child’s latest milestone. (I might hesitate and stumble; I might not come up with a very revelatory memory. I might even cry, but I will so appreciate you acknowledging my child’s life.)
• “It’s hard for me to see you suffer,” instead of changing the subject when my social mask slips and the tears fall.
• “It’s good to see you,” instead of, “How are you.”
• “Remember that time when Natasha …” My daughter loved many people. She may have loved you or your child. Share your memories with me, please. You are validating her life for me, not reminding me that I had a child that died.
• Instead of saying, “I hope you’re well,” in a letter or e-mail, I wish you’d say, “I was thinking of Natasha today.” (Yes, I am well, if “well” discounts the fact that I'm unable to sleep without meds, unable to lose myself in a book, to truly laugh or experience real joy, or to be in any place closely associated with Natasha without feeling crushing grief. And her name is Natasha. Say it for me, please. It’s a beautiful name.)
• Nothing at all when I start crying. I do it every day. It’s my normal and if you give me a minute or two, I’ll probably be able to put on my social mask again.
• Some kind words to accompany those pictures of a new family member that you’re sharing with me. To bereaved parents, seeing a newborn can be a cruel shove back to the time when our world was safe, when our late child was an infant, like the one in the pictures you're showing me, destined for a future full of love and full of light. An infant that blossomed into a gorgeous girl. A girl that left this world about 70 years too early.
Thank you to the friend who sent me this e-mail after the birth of her child: “I am sending you pictures of [Baby X]. He has Natasha’s big eyes. I know Natasha would love to play with him and I wish that she was still here with us to enjoy him.”
Suzanne Leigh is a freelance health reporter, a Huffington Post blogger and the mother of two gorgeous girls. She blogs about her family at: www.themourningafternatasha.wordpress.com